Andrea Ordaz is a freelance dance artist, choreographer, and educator based in Los Angeles, California. She began her professional dance training at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and received a BFA in Performance & Choreography and an MFA in Dance from from the University of California, Irvine. In her thesis, Mexican-American Female Identity in Choreographic Process, Ordaz explores the ways in which her bicultural identity and femininity manifest in her choreographic work. As the founder and director of A. Ordaz Dance, 一a collaborative space dedicated to making and sharing dance一she has presented Agave Americana, Tierra Intocable, and Fotos Antiguas, choreographies that pay homage to her family roots while helping her to carve her own identity as a first generation Mexican-American dance maker.
Last summer, while isolated at home, Andrea and I met for the first time over Zoom. We continued our conversations via email. We talked about her upbringing, how and when she became conscious of her cultural heritage, her creative process, her current and past works, and plans for an uncertain future. I’d like to express a special gratitude to Andrea Ordaz for reaching out to Instruments of Memory and her patience in completing this interview. During this process I have learned more about her practice and I look forward to the day that I can see her and her dance company performing live for an audience.
Claudia Pretelin: When did you decide that movement was your preferred language/artform?
Andrea Ordaz: At a young age, movement and the practice of dance was simply my way to engage and express. I hold my inner child while growing into a professional career by still investigating curiosities and expressing my discoveries through dance and performance. Movement is my language, it anchors my identity and makes space for me to feel understood in my truest forms.
I view the body in process, movement as process, making dances is process, and I am inspired by the intersectionality of all these motions of humanity. Across cultures, words can sometimes create barriers where then movement becomes a way of understanding one another. Through experiencing movement, embodied forms, I think our world gets to feel the despair, the beauty, the dance, the human — that’s my preference.
CP: Through your work, you consciously explore your Mexican-American female identity and the ways that it informs your choreographic process. Can you talk about what being Mexican-American means to you and when decided to incorporate these ideas into your practice?
AO: As a Mexican-American choreographer, I create dances with a language that gives voice to my body. A body that is female, free, and echoing history. I perceive the world in this manner and continue to grow this perspective when I collaborate and create dance works. My American identity that is rich in Mexican heritage means home and family, individual and community, and it also means layers.
I feel a particular closeness to my ethnicity because it anchors my most important relationships and evolving cultures. I am a storyteller that deeply senses self to make work that is insightful with attempts of locating a type of wholeness. Consciously, as a dance maker I take parts of myself and turn them into concepts to explore. From those ideas, my job is to teach and learn alongside other bodies and to do so in a way that pays homage to all the parts of identity, including feelings of in-betweenness.
It was in graduate school at the University of California, Irvine where my feelings of a perceived gap between Eurocentric dance studies and my ethnic background revealed itself more loudly. I expanded upon my values and philosophies from home, taking into the studio moods and sounds, to create dances with various bodies. So much self discovery occurred during the making of Fotos Antiguas, Tierra Intocable, and Agave Americana. And they continue to inform the ways in which I enjoy my line of research to generate material for choreography.
CP: In your MFA thesis, you talk about the invisibility of Mexican-American female choreographers and how scarce they are in your field. What are some of the opportunities and incentives that you had to become a dancer and choreographer in California?
AO: Pursuing higher education always aligned with my dance training. I remember searching and applying to various scholarships and institutions. There was also a seeded passion for intellect and fostering awareness of artistic pathways that continues to steer me. I had amazing teachers and role models, along with my parents, that encouraged an honest route. Growing up a dancer in Los Angeles and attending schools like Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and University of California, Irvine set my course. My education, which is fully entangled with dance, is why I am able to arrive today in places with more questions and understandings surrounding my identity.
When my research began, the gaps felt wide and in many places they still are with little visibility and economic opportunity for female artists of color. However, moving forward into the contemporary, I feel my cultural identity and west coast dance education meshing and folding more and more. I discussed the scarcity of Mexican-American female choreographers in my MFA thesis because it stood out when I looked back at the beginnings of my dance background. My eyes were not seeing people like me — I became genuinely curious thereafter about Latina dance artists in Los Angeles. Perhaps I missed something growing up, or my reality of feeling as if I was doing something different felt true because of the lack of representation around me. Slowly, my body, through emotion, revealed the importance of the matter which led me to making work.
CP: When choreographing a piece, how do you approach the idea and how does that idea evolve? Can you talk specifically about your experience choreographing Agave Americana?
AO: It is a very personal process when I begin to make a dance. I pull from self and search for anchors: memories, symbols, tones, textures. My mind is separating and shifting through concepts while the body supports the form of ideas. Dance making is continuous, collaborative, and intuitive for me. My choreographic process is very similar to how I often describe my identity as being layered.
When choreographing Agave Americana, a main anchor was a feeling of no longer wanting to look for myself in other people’s works. I wanted to tell my story; the story of my family and to celebrate my ethnic and multicultural perspective. Those feelings transgressed and encompassed various forms: memories of my family, symbols like the calla lily and agave plant to direct narrative, rhythmic sounds with nostalgic tones that shaped the body, and embroidered textures that carried sentiment. My experience choreographing Agave Americana was deep, familiar, and informative. The dance really feels like a portrait of me and my family.
CP: As both a dancer and a choreographer, what is the hardest part of the rehearsal process?
AO: One of the biggest challenges of a rehearsal process is financing the time it takes to make a dance. As a young choreographer, the biggest hardship is budgeting for studio space. There is so much value in exploring ideas through mind and body with other bodies but space and time is needed to do the work. It becomes a strategic process of feeling held by something while teaching and searching for a sense of freedom in the hour or two inside the studio. Difficulty appears when things feel incomplete and disconnected due to a lack of depth. Money and time challenge me but it is about facing these difficult parts of the process with advocacy and camaraderie.
CP: How do you envision A.Ordaz Dance reaching out to the Mexican-American community to foster knowledge and to bridge feelings of splitness between cultures through dance?
AO: A.Ordaz Dance is a space to think choreographically, experience, and connect. When I am making and preparing to share a new work, I envision engaging my community at different levels — teaching young artists and being an insightful role model, advocating for Latina choreographic research in the dance field, and building partnerships that share the importance of celebrating multicultural identities.
CP: How can other audiences and organizations get involved in supporting your work and other Mexican-American choreographers in the US?
AO: We need to see more choreography that showcases the exceptional level of artistry Latina women are capable of generating. Support and opportunity, but more importantly investment. Audiences and organizations can contribute to Mexican-American female artists in the US by shattering bias, including us in conversations, and attending performances — to listen and act. Many artists are struggling to balance health and household safety while keeping creativity alive during this covid-19 pandemic. It is a constant dialogue about how our work can continue to exist while theaters are closed. I miss choreography, like many of my colleagues, and await our return, but I hope to see more amigas taking the reign this time around.
CP: What are your professional plans for the near future?
AO: Many things still feel uncertain in the dance field with this pandemic. However, I will continue adapting and being creative in ways that are possible. For example, A.Ordaz Dance’s latest work I see you. Do you see me? was presented virtually in October of 2020. The short dance film was created out of an exploration of needing to draw in, evoke, and let go. It is still available for viewing upon request.
Time has felt static this past year but there seems to be a slow rumble of ideas and inspirations brewing up for me now. I feel I make dance every day moving through my home. In thinking about the future, I have pieces of ideas that I want to develop with collaborators — but I am taking my time. I continue to miss choreography and want to present a live work in a theater when it is safe but remain cautious about comfort levels for audiences. Will people be comfortable sitting around strangers? I will continue budgeting for the production of a new work and I look forward to the day that I can begin that new process with other people in the flesh.
CP: What’s your favorite instrument of memory?
AO: My instrument of memory is Body in Choreography — cultivating a relationship with its history, moving the contemporary, and chronicling life transitions through dance.
CP: Thank you, Andrea!
Andrea Ordaz is based in Los Angeles, California creating modern dance choreographies. She received a BFA in Performance & Choreography and an MFA in Dance from the University of California, Irvine. As creative director of A.Ordaz Dance, she makes and shares dances inspired by human connection and cultural landscapes. She utilizes her first-generation American perspective to advocate for deep thinking and profound opportunity in varying capacities such as dance and higher education, women in contemporary arts, and Mexican American contemporary dancing bodies and makings.
In addition to this interview don’t miss Andrea’s takeover for the Instruments of Memory Instagram account!