A Conversation with Inspiring Artist, Professional Dancer, and Aerialist Savannah Louis
Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Savannah Louis (she/her)
Current Location: Long Beach, Ca
Savannah, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I grew up dancing many styles, including jazz, tap, ballet, acrobatics, and contemporary. When I turned 7 years old, I started training at the Long Beach Ballet Academy and focused solely on ballet. I worked very hard to achieve my dream of becoming a professional ballerina, while also achieving high grades in honors and AP classes at Los Alamitos High School. I competed in many prestigious competitions, including the Youth American Grand Prix where I was asked to compete at the NYC finals several times. At the age of 17, I was invited to compete at the USA International Ballet Competition which is held in Jackson, Mississippi every 4 years. I proudly represented the USA as one of 99 total competitors.
After graduating high school in 2015, I went on to dance for Eugene Ballet Company as an apprentice. I toured the Pacific Northwest with the company, performing in many popular shows, such as The Nutcracker, Gisele, Sleeping Beauty, and more. In the middle of my second season however, I felt a shift in my love for ballet. The environment slowly became overwhelming, and the toxic attitudes that ballet is known for really began to take a toll. So I decided to go to a random audition for Tokyo Disney Resort just for fun. I surprisingly loved it and knew that it was time to make a change.
In January 2017, I picked up and moved to Tokyo, Japan for a 9 month contract with Tokyo Disney Resort (TDR) performing in a show called King Triton's Concert as an aerialist. I thought that I would only be there for one short contract, but I fell in love with Japan and working for Tokyo Disney so much that I knew it would become home. I was offered several contract extensions, until I decided to come home for a short break in October 2018 to rest my body and visit family. I then returned to Japan to work on a new project at Tokyo Disney, the parade, Dreaming Up. This was an exciting new challenge as the aerial work involved a lot of partnering, unlike the first show I did. Within the two contracts I did for that show, I also got to perform in the Electrical Light Parade and a small atmosphere show called Wind Wandering. I really loved working on all of my shows at TDR, as they were just as challenging as ballet, but way more fun!!
Unfortunately, in March 2020, I was sent home from Japan before the end of my contract due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was offered to return to TDR in January 2021, but the borders sadly closed again 4 days before my flight. The contract has been postponed until further notice. So until then, I am living at home in Long Beach, CA, training at OrangeTheory Fitness and working small jobs. I really hope I get the opportunity to go back to Japan soon!
The life of an Artist can be a hard one. Can you tell us what you think are the biggest barrier(s) or challenges to you being an artist, and how you've worked or are working to overcome them?
Being an artist is very rewarding, but of course comes with a lot of challenges. For me, I have always had a hard time with how much pressure is put on a dancer's body image. Being a dancer means sculpting yourself to look how the director or choreographer envisions their work being portrayed. This can mean a lot of different things to different people. I have been told I'm too muscular, too short, my butt is too big, etc. and those things can eventually start to weigh on you.
For me to overcome this mental challenge, I had to put myself in a better environment. I always thought I wanted to be a ballerina, but I am much happier doing other kinds of work where my body type is more appreciated. Not only this, but I am able to take care of myself better and rise to the occasion because I am simply happier. Of course, I will always have to work on having a positive body image as the professional dance world is competitive and has high expectations no matter where you go, but I am overcoming this by finding where I fit in best rather than forcing something that doesn't feel right.
What piece of advice would you share with the next generation of Artists?
My biggest piece of advice would be to continue pursuing art that makes you happy. Just because you trained in one form of art your whole life doesn't mean that, that is what you have to do forever. Art comes in all shapes and sizes and can inspire us in many ways. So take a chance on new things and NEVER let somebody else choose how you should feel. Go with the flow and follow your heart! A smaller piece of advice: in performing arts, your body is your tool. Be kind to it. Treat it like you would any other tool... nourish it and love it for being one of a kind!
Can you tell us about your creative process when creating Art?
When I am preparing to perform, I like to try and embody the character I will be portraying as best as I can. To do so, I do a lot of research! Watching movies, reading books, listening to music, and finding any other information that is relevant to my character really helps me to feel like I have stepped into their shoes. Once that part has become natural, I really try to just focus on having fun and creating special, magical moments for as many guests as possible. I want each person to walk away with a personal moment they will cherish for a long time.
Creating a community can be beneficial as an Artist. Do you have a network of other artists you rely on? In what ways do you support each other?
I definitely do!! My network of artists has changed throughout my career -- now they are mostly other artists who have also worked for Tokyo Disney Resort. Living and working in Japan is a very unique experience that not many people can relate to. Especially with everything that has happened in the past year and half, we have all supported each other as best as we can, as we all lost something that felt like a part of us! We send each other inspiration, audition postings, motivational messages, little tokens that remind each other of Japan, and share memories of the good times! I have friends who I study Japanese with, friends who help me in artistic areas that I'm not as strong in, friends who I facetime with regularly, and friends who I grab coffee with occasionally. As an artist, having friends that you can relate to and who you can rely on to push you through the tough moments is really huge.
Who has influenced you the most on your journey as an Artist? Where do you draw inspiration from when creating Art?
One of my greatest influences throughout my training and career has been my teacher, mentor, and friend, Melissa Sandvig. She has helped guide me through my most difficult times...the competitive world of ballet, body image issues, leaving ballet, finding what makes me happy, and letting go of what no longer made me happy. Her career is incredible and I only hope that one day mine will be as influential to someone else. Other than this, I really love to draw inspiration from people's stories, other artists, and the characters I am tasked to portray. Most performances have a hidden message in them that the audience doesn't always know about. I really try to hone in on whatever that message is that the choreographer is trying to portray.
How do you seek out new opportunities to create?
Mainly, I try to attend many auditions so that I can give myself the best chance at creating art. I also like to go support as many other artists and shows as I can. It allows me to meet new people and get involved in their art as well. Social media has also become such a huge tool in this industry. I love trying to get involved in dance through that platform too.
What do you consider to be your greatest, professional or personal, achievement?
Professionally and personally, I believe my greatest achievement has been working for Tokyo Disney Resort. Out of all the Disney Parks, it is regarded well for its entertainment. Many performers strive to work there and I am very proud to have built myself a good reputation there.
What are your hopes, either personal or overall, for the future of the Arts & Entertainment industry?
Personally, I would love to continue working with Tokyo Disney Resort and continue performing in their new projects. Eventually, I hope to move up into casting, entertainment management, or something else on the other side of entertainment, when the time comes.
Overall for the arts, I hope to see improvements in several areas. I hope all performers will be paid what they are worth. This means more funding and appreciation for the arts by the general public. I would also like to see the arts take better care of their performers in the mental health category. I think it has been ignored for far too long and while changes are slowly being made, there needs to be a wider recognition. I have had too many friends struggle with many of the same things. I know I have, and have other friends who have experienced worse. It's time to build a better approach to mental health in the performing arts industry.
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Gabriel Encinas Colton West
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