Heather Britt on DANCEFIX, Ballet, and Breaking the Rules
We sat down with Heather Britt on a hot afternoon in July. Heather Britt is an entrepreneur and artist with a knack for bringing people together. As a professional dancer, dance educator, and choreographer, she connects communities through dance. Nowhere is this better illustrated than through DANCEFIX, a high energy dance workout that is, hands down, my favorite place to sweat away stress. Aptly named, DANCEFIX is known by students as both a drug you crave and a therapy you need.
What do you do?
I’m a choreographer, performer, and dance educator, so I have all these different jobs. I’m the owner and founder of DANCEFIX, and I run that business all the time. Then I teach all different styles of dance: contemporary, modern, jazz, and some ballet to younger kids. I also choreograph for many different organizations – for ballet companies, for various groups like Exhale Dance Tribe and Playhouse in the Park, and then I do commercial work like music videos and commercials. For the Cincinnati Ballet I’ve done, I think, eight world premieres for their New Works productions. I recently choreographed works for the Nashville Ballet, Kansas City Dance Festival, and Moving Arts Cincinnati, which toured from Kansas City to Cincinnati. I did the education and outreach here at the Ballet for five years; then I joined the faculty at Northern Kentucky University for eight years, teaching dance and choreographing musical theater productions.
It seems like dance is infused in all of your life. Where did that start for you?
Well, I always loved it. I started dancing when I was 3. I took dance as a kid, but we didn’t have very much money at all. When I was in 4th grade, I auditioned for SCPA [School for the Creative and Performing Arts]. I didn’t know that access to the arts was difficult if you didn’t have money. I luckily got in and was able to have an outlet to express myself through dance every single day from 4th through 12th grade.
You’re an incredibly motivating, energetic person. What were you like as a kid?
Oh my gosh, spastic. I would make up dances in the yard and people would come over and my mom would make snow cones. When I was probably about 20, I was at a college party here in Clifton, and I ran into someone who remembered me from growing up, but I couldn’t place them. To jog my memory, she said, “I was in ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in your backyard!” And I was like, “That was me for sure.” My mom said that her friends would call and say, “I saw Heather at the bus stop and she was spinning in circles and spacing out. She’s gotta pay attention…” I was a little bit in my own world, but having a great time.
One of my favorite aspects of DANCEFIX is the amazing community. There’s a magic in it.
I was thinking about this today, how DANCEFIX is super connected and where that came from, and it really goes back to my experience at SCPA. SCPA did such an awesome job of creating this great equalizer through the arts. It didn’t matter what your background was, what your race was, if you had money, if you didn’t, your socioeconomic status, whatever. It really was: Are you talented in your art, period. So that really influenced me as a human. And then I think from that point, I tried to recreate that community in my life subconsciously.
I hate rules.
What DANCEFIX is to me is… It’s like that equalizer. You walk into the room and you have no idea what anyone does for a living, what neighborhood they’re from, or whatever. They’re all dancing and sweating together and expressing themselves. And that is the awesomeness of it, that we get to connect that way. The desire to dance and sweat and get a workout is what brings people through the door, but then it’s something else, this bigger thing, that gets them to stay. In that room, it’s a healing place to let everything else go and say, deep down at the core, “We’re all doing this together...”
It’s also the instructors. They get it. They get the mission. I’ve been so fortunate to have them be so true to the program, but then to also help broaden our community even more. We have this diverse group of instructors from all these different dance backgrounds, and they’re all so talented. Students can see a reflection of themselves within the different teachers instead of just me. And because we all choreograph and collaborate, the class really has something for everyone.
You have translated your love of dance into something so fun and connecting. Has that always been your experience with dance?
During my teen years, especially, I had a love-hate relationship with classical ballet. SCPA was intense training. They are preparing you to be a professional artist – learning that craft and really honing in on, “How can I point my foot exactly, perfectly turned out from the hip, elongating without letting it affect my torso…” You can get a little bit lost. The joy can get a little bit lost while you’re seeking perfection.
I get to throw it all out the window with DANCEFIX and have the whole other side of being able to just connect and sweat and scream and flail around.
When I started to develop, there was a conversation that I was becoming too womanly and that my body wasn’t necessarily a ballerina’s body. Basically my teacher said, “You’re talented and we want to start pushing you in a modern dance direction because we think you can be successful in that way.” So there was an honesty there that I appreciated, but there was also this feeling of being turned down almost. I started to rebel completely against ballet – I’d skip class or I would refuse to put my hair in a bun. Or I would decide, “I’m not going to wear my pointe shoes ever again.” At that time I felt like ballet was so, basically, anti-woman. I mean, classical ballet has a lot of “The woman as the muse.” And there are so many rules. You have to be in perfect unison with everyone else. I was really into doing my own thing. [Laughing.]
When I graduated from SCPA, my teachers got me an audition at Kent State. My family, like I said, didn’t have money, so it would have been a chance for me to go to college. I went and auditioned, and I got offered a scholarship, but I didn’t take it. I was still rebelling. I felt like dance was so restrictive. I was like, “I’m moving to the mountains. I’m not going to dance anymore.”
How did you find your way back?
I moved to Colorado after graduating from SCPA. For the first year and a half, I was snowboarding, mountain biking, and teaching aerobics, but I was longing for a dance class. I ended up stumbling into this community dance company. We performed all over the town of Durango, and I would choreograph for the dance troupe. If you looked back at the performances now, you would crack up. We would dance at the mall to Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do.” It was really fun! It was like getting back that piece of me, that love of performing.
After Colorado, I moved to San Francisco. I wanted to get back into dancing professionally. I was still anti-ballet a little bit. I had taken a lot of African dance workshops, so I decided I was just going to get into an African dance company when I got to San Francisco. My first year there, I literally took African dance every single day. I was way in! I was like, “This is what I’m doing.” But then a friend said, “I have this guy in my building who has a modern dance company, and I told him all about you, and he wants you to audition.” And I’m like, “I’m an African dancer.” [Laughing.] Anyway, I auditioned and got in.
How did you start choreographing for the Cincinnati Ballet?
So that was kind of weird how that happened. I choreographed a piece when I first started at NKU and Victoria [Victoria Morgan, Cincinnati Ballet CEO and artistic director] came to the performance. She asked me to choreograph for The Company. I was worried I wasn’t qualified enough. The rules are: You dance for a company forever – a ballet company – and then you eventually become a choreographer that then choreographs for ballet companies. But she was just like, “Hey, do you want to do New Works? I would love for you to choreograph.” I didn’t really sleep and I freaked out, but I said yes because it was one of those opportunities that you’re like, “I can’t say no. I have to go for it.” Then she asked me every year for eight years. I totally love it now.
Do your work with DANCEFIX and your work choreographing for ballet companies feed you in different ways?
Definitely. I get to be really particular when I’m choreographing. I love a good line and I love contemporary modern movement on ballet dancers because I appreciate that technique that I’ve studied my whole life. But then I like to twist it and turn it and make it something different. My training in different styles – my African, my Capoeira, my gymnastics, my modern, and then my ballet – all come together to influence what I choreograph.
The joy can get a little bit lost while you’re seeking perfection.
But then I get to throw it all out the window with DANCEFIX and have the whole other side of being able to just connect and sweat and scream and flail around. So, that’s why DANCEFIX exists. Selfishly, it’s what I needed. It’s definitely therapy for me, too.
What’s the “fix” part of DANCEFIX?
It’s got a double meaning. So the “fix” is obviously like your addictive drug. But it’s also, “We’ll fix you in whichever way you need, or… You’ll fix yourself,” because we’re not that codependent. [Laughing.]
That’s the other thing: I’m not like, “Let me coddle you.” We basically create the space, we create the material, we create the welcoming atmosphere, and you come and get out of it whatever you need. Sometimes I think because of what people get out of it, it can start to seem like we’re in there massaging people or something. [Laughing.]
I had never taken a dance class in my life before DANCEFIX. The choreography we do is challenging, so I often find myself wrapped up in how I’m doing a movement wrong or messing something up. And when I’m in your class, it feels like you’re yelling at me to get out of my head and just move.
I hate rules. And DANCEFIX lets you do all of these things that dancers get to do, but they have had to follow 300 rules before they’re allowed to do it. And I’m basically saying, “Just do it! We’re just gonna do it.” We’re giving you permission to not have had 20 years of ballet before you get to leap and do this Grand Jete and we won’t even call it a Grand Jete. We’ll just call it “leap over the puddle.” Don’t overthink it. Just go for it.
Is there a woman who’s been an inspiration to you?
I have been so lucky to have had strong women mentors throughout all of the different stages of my life and career, inspiring me and helping to lift me up and cheer me on. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
But the obvious one for me is my mom. From a very young age my mom made me believe that I could do anything. Really, anything, as long as I worked hard. And I believed her.