Updated: Feb 26, 2021
This interview was given in the Summer of 2020, about 5 months into the covid-19 pandemic. Mike Tyus, dancer, choreographer, and creator, discusses his work in the 2020 pandemic and recent rise to notoriety on Instagram.
"As soon as I feel I stop dancing, I stop living."
- Mike Tyus
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Meet Mike Tyus...
My family is a smorgasbord of Korean, German, Black, & Irish.
There is no end to the identity crisis that is found within my body.
I feel like an American boy.
I am an American story.
I'm a mixed hodge-podge, divided-yet-together type of person."
"I found that the collective consciousness of the world had been synced because of the pandemic. "
The fascinating aspect of creating dance in 2020 was simply the reality that if you were creating, you weren’t allowing fear to stagnate your spirit.
We all generally felt the same way and were limited by the same things, thus, the work created always spoke to the masses.
Works that may not have been as beautiful or poignant last year had become just that simply because of the collective experience of the pandemic and the chaos unfolding this year.
Our lives are now divided into two sections, pre-pandemic and post-pandemic.
My work pre-COVID was geared toward still imagery. My collaborators were photographers and I wanted to explore the world of modeling. It’s also a great way to learn about composition and made entering the world of moving pictures much easier.
The rules of society were rudely re-written over night when the WHO declared the Novel Corona Virus a pandemic on March 11th.
My page post-pandemic has become a stage of sorts. All my movement concepts and projects that I would have been filling stages with this year have been moved to a digital space. I also began creating work with the knowledge that people were confined to their homes and I offered them a small window to the outside world.
Instagram and it’s uses have evolved much like myself and my work. I shared much more of my personal life in the past, including my political thoughts and my family life. I found myself overwhelmed with everybody’s lives and opinions. Much of my focus started turning towards pages filled with art and ideas. Things that inspired and moved me. That’s what I want my page to be. A place to find peace, inspiration, hope, and a good idea.
What was it like going viral?
It happened very fast. Jacob Jonas and I had done a photo shoot at the beach during lockdown. I think we were feeling scared and needed to make something. Joy Brown had also come to shoot with us. She caught a slow motion jump on her iPhone that really spoke to the times. It was freeing and beautiful and cathartic. I put music to it “Just Breathe” (link) and posted it. People immediately connected to the feeling. It was the turning point in what and why I started to make work. I wanted my audience to feel free.
I wanted my audience to feel free.
And after this turning point?
My friends and I began strategizing the best ways to share dance work on Instagram. We started small and short and from there we have grown. It all truly spawns from our desire to create and our love of the art of dance and because of Instagram I’ve now fallen in love with film.
We share past work from time to time. It’s always nice to remember where we have come from. But I push myself to continuing to make new things.
I want to relate to the times in which we live. So my life has become a work in progress, filmed and danced and sometimes scored.
This is a remarkable point in history and much of what we do now will stand in memory of this moment. Is art created specifically for Instagram valuable?
I think art created for Instagram is both valuable and versatile. Much of the work my community of artists share on Instagram can be translated to the stage, TV, music videos, fashion campaigns, commercials, musicals, etc. Not only is the art valuable but the communities created by the act of making and sharing art has become invaluable.
Will you be translating the online work into live performance or to the stage?
Yes all the work I’ve done this past year will show up onstage and on larger platforms. Instagram has become a bit like market research and development for me. I find out what people like and why. It gives me a place to share and a reason to create.
It gives me a place to share and a reason to create
Publishing instantaneous art to be consumed immediately is novel. The past 10 years have been a revolution for dance media and how audiences consume it.
I do use Instagram to help inform my work. I don’t consider it pandering as much as just simple consideration. Have you ever received a survey after a show at a theater? “Did you like the work? Would you come back?” Etc. That’s how I see the feedback from my audience: A gauge on how engaging certain concepts are.
Does it guide all of my choices? Absolutely not, but it’s a powerful tool and a lot of fun to connect so closely with people from all over the world. I also have a hard time creating in isolation. For me creation is an active relationship with yourself and with others. Even if I were to create an introspective piece I’d call upon those that know me best to make it.
What offline opportunities are springing from your new online notoriety?
It’s been wild! If it wasn’t for Instagram I don’t think I would be able to pay rent for the last three or four months. All my opportunities have been because of the reach I have gained online. I’m so grateful that people are connecting and I don’t want to stop. I want to push beyond Instagram and be a true artist of my generation.
I want to push beyond Instagram and be a true artist of my generation.
There is not much discussion around online sharing etiquette around art. What has been your experiences with receiving credit with all the online sharing and re-posting of your work?
I’ve truly been blown away at how much people like to share my work. I try to say “thank you” as much as I can. Maybe it means too much to me but I’m always so moved by it. I’m moved by the fact that I move others. Its the absolute dream of an artist. People tag me and I am grateful. When people don’t, I reach out and ask for credit, it’s not a fight. Some people just forget, others don’t realize the effort and love that goes into making a silly little video. Some people are really generous and ask before they share. It’s not necessary but I appreciate the respect.
I’m moved by the fact that I move others.
Do you hold reservation or about sharing your content online?
Lately I have started questioning how much I share. As my projects get bigger and money is involved I fear that if I share to much it won’t be as exciting to see the finished project or the concept will be used before I can truly develop it on my own. But I will admit. I love sharing. I want to continue to inspire and move people even while making work for money. I think people are seeing the power of Art making and I am finding that compensation comes more often than not. I hope that continues. It’s not about the money, it’s about where you put your value. If you value what I do show me.
In a climate steeped in identity politics, how have you navigated your identity with your art, your collaborators, and your audience?
I’d like to think my art transcends identity. I want to find that which unifies us. I want to speak to matters that our beyond flesh and bone. Our potential for greatness lies within our ability to let go of ourselves.
I want to speak to matters that our beyond flesh and bone.
How much should dance artists be advocating for choreography and dance payment rights?
I wish this was something that was taught after every dance class. I’m just now learning how to negotiate contracts and receive proper credit and compensation. I’m 30. That’s too late to be learning such things. Don’t just advocate, educate. First yourself and then others.
Don’t just advocate, educate. First yourself and then others.
Should online art be included in curriculum and studios?
100 Percent. If 2020 has taught us anything...
How will you preserve and present your online work for future exhibitions? Are there online exhibitions for dancers? Are film festivals an avenue you are exploring?
I’m currently placing a few of my longer works in online “pay to watch” channels as an experiment. I’ll be looking into film festivals soon. For now I’m being commissioned to create my work for fashion lines and museums which has been an absolute blast. I hope that I can breach the world of dance and spread my work all over the world.
What is the role of technology and cameramen in this new era? Do you feel your work is continuing to build on other dance for camera pioneers - or are you focused on creating anew and intuitively doing what works?
I work closely with Joy Brown. She’s my roommate, creative partner, and fellow movement artist. She has the camera skills. Our partnership is the only reason my w
ork has gained the traction it has. I’m lucky to work with somebody who has such a great eye for composition and movement. We are always watching dance for film and seeing what we like and what we think we could do better. We have been collaborating with other directors and cameramen and picking up skills as we go along. At the end of the day I’m always led by intuition. If we are stirring the human spirit we are on the right path but technical knowledge can often take you to the next level.
Are any other platforms or apps interesting to you?
The silver screen is a platform I can’t ignore. It has always been a dream, aside from that, I can’t wait to be back on stage.
What do the next 6 months look like for you?
Creating creating creating. If I’m not creating for others I’m most certainly creating for myself. It’s become my spiritual practice and my life’s calling. I would have it no other way.
Are you optimistic? Why?
I am optimistic. I’ve been fortunate throughout this year. It’s been tough but the opposition and the feeling of impending doom and hopelessness only means I need to shine brighter. I need to make more. I need to press on. The process of making dance has revealed to me the endless potential of the human spirit. We have a lot of work to do but that’s why we are here. To build and innovate and grow and try and fail and succeed and most importantly dance.
We have a lot of work to do but that's why we are here.
Tell us about your upcoming projects and collaborations.
I’m currently in Seattle working with @whimwhimgram on an episodic dance film. I just filmed a project for @thebroadmusem in LA premiering in September. I have film premiering on September 4th on FLTPK.com a Patreon account for dance choreographers started by Trey McIntyre.
I’m shooting a fashion campaign in October but I can’t tell you who yet. I’m proud of all that is happening. For a second I thought I’d be homeless and unknown. Although these projects will come and go they have given me hope and a roof over my head.
For a second I thought I’d be homeless and unknown.
Any influences or role models you would like to thank or mention?
Jacob Jonas is a huge champion for dance and a dear friend. Joy Brown is more special to me than I care to admit. Damien Jalet, Juliano Nunes, Celia Rowlson Hall, Bobbi Jene Smith, Paul Lightfoot, Alexander Ekman, Crystal Pite and the countless others who have dedicated their lives to painting the universe in their stories and visions. You are recognized. You have changed the world.
Thank you very much Mike Tyus.
Any fans can reach Mike Tyus through his Instagram.
Recommended Playlist by Mike Tyus
Nina Simone - “Isn’t It a Pity”
Miles Davis- “So What”
Dave Harrington- “Pure Imagination”
The Acid- “Onyx”
Leifur James- “Osho”
Mike Tyus Quote Page