Dancer and choreographer Sandra Parks is using the universal language of dance to promote female leadership in male-dominated fields. Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, the NYU Tisch School of the Arts alum sparks conversation about women in performing arts through Women in Dance, a 4-day annual conference she founded in Baton Rouge in 2013. Sandra also recently toured with the Chinese Arena Football League as a content producer, where she was the third female announcer in the history of the league and the first to speak both Chinese and English.
Sandra is presenting a work that includes interactive multimedia, graphic design, and live music for TEDxLSU, which is coming up on March 11. She took a few moments to discuss her career, the art of dance and her international travels.
What would you label your profession as?
Artist is probably the best description of who I am, since it includes much more than just creating dance. I create connections between people, between cultures. I create opportunities for whoever I can. Obviously creating dance to express my emotions and ideas is one of my passions, but creating videos to tell stories has been very important to me lately.
When you think about what you have accomplished so far in your career, is there any specific moment you can pinpoint that set you on your path?
Graduating with my master’s degree propelled me to teach in higher education, which was my passion and then became my career. I also think some life experiences made me look at other directions. When I was getting my master’s, I had to focus on studying and couldn’t teach as many dance classes. I had to look for other opportunities to be financial stable and that’s when I looked into translation work. That experience lead me to work with the New England Patriots Chinese Initiative, and more recently the Chinese American Football League.
What was your motivation behind founding Women in Dance?
The question of why the lack of female leadership in dance has been in my mind since grad school. Up until then, I had only worked with male directors and choreographers. I hadn’t thought twice about it until I worked with a female director. It was so refreshing and so different, and I began to wonder why that was. Throughout my career teaching, the dean and chair positions were often male. And then I got to LSU. Every single person I met associated with dance was female, and I think it still is. Baton Rouge was the first place where all leaders in the local dance community were female, and that’s the main reason I started there. To promote that idea of more female leadership not only in dance, but in other male-dominated professions as well.
You work collaboratively with people from various fields. What do you see for the future of dance in Baton Rouge?
I hope that the next generation will continue to come forward and come out of different programs; perhaps dancers leave and come back, just to move it forward. I definitely see a great future, not necessarily just in dance but in arts-making because the Arts Council has supported local artists and have been promoting forward thinking work.
What has been the most fulfilling moment of your career so far?
I would have to say my opening speech I gave at the very first Women in Dance conference, the one where I welcomed everyone to the first evening show. I think that moment was fulfilling because I served a purpose. My work was no longer about me. It was about what I could do for the community that’s much larger than myself. Hopefully I’ll have more like that.
If you could switch jobs with any 2017 TEDxLSU speaker, who would it be and why?
I would want to switch with Jay Ducote because I love cooking. It’s definitely an artform and in a way similar to dance. Your take raw materials and go through a process and hopefully magic happens. You think you made this beautiful dish, but it’s all up to whoever tastes it and gives their opinion. It’s exactly like dance. You pour your heart and soul into one work and then present it on stage. You have no control over it afterwards.
Do you have any favorite dishes you like to cook?
My favorite to cook is this dish my grandma used to make. It’s chicken with these special noodles, kind of like angel hair, but they’re made of beans. It’s an easy dish to make, but it’s my favorite. It’s my family’s favorite. I’m not even sure if there’s an English word for it. If I have time, that’s what I make.
When you’re not developing new choreographies, what fills your days?
I read, I watch movies, I watch videos of other people’s work. I consider that relaxing because I’m not focusing on what the task is. I don’t necessarily separate my work from my life much. I don’t think I will ever stop thinking about how to teach or how to make the next dance. That’s just not me. For some people that could be a bad thing, but I make it work.
To learn more about Sandra or about TEDxLSU 2017, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Reserve your seat now to experience Sandra’s dance piece, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2017 speakers.