An Interview with Sammy Wong
Sammy Wong is a professionally trained dancer / choreographer based in New York City, USA. From what I have seen of his movement, he maintains a really unique style of pole work that he been able to build in only two years of practicing pole. His views about the time it takes to move through a creative process and how, if you dance with a pole, you should have a purpose for it being there really align with many of the topics I was discussing and thinking about when I published “Speaking Through Movement”. Enjoy this interview and Sammy’s beautiful movement.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m from New York City, where I currently still live. I started dancing when I was about 17 in my last year of High School, though I had been doing theatre nearly all my life. I always loved being on stage but hated using my voice (as I’m a very fast talker), so when I found dance it immediately felt right for me. I started studying dance more seriously in college and then went to a contemporary ballet conservatory after. I found pole dancing a little more than 2 years ago and have fallen in love with it ever since.
When did you choreograph your first piece of work?
I choreographed my first dance work when I was 17 and still in high school, and then continued to choreograph and study choreography in college. After I graduated I briefly had my own modern/contemporary dance company in New York, but left it after realizing it wasn’t the right path for me. I’ve still managed to choreograph a good number of solo, duets and group works, though had the chance to present work all over! For pole I started choreographing full pieces of work about a year ago when I signed up for my first competition. In making a new pole work, it takes me about a month to listen to different music and plant a seed for an idea for a piece in my mind. Then it takes me about 2 months of almost daily studio time to figure out the movement/details/musicality of the piece. Then I can present it but it usually takes me about another month to really clean / edit to the point where I feel like it’s really a finished piece of art. It’s quite a journey!
I’m really inspired both by music and basic human emotions and desires. I spend a ridiculous amount of time listening and searching through different songs to find something that speaks to me. When I hear something good it makes me immediately feel a certain way or just makes me want to move and melt into the floor. To start with something you find beautiful, it’s hard to not make something that is beautiful as well. And then I’m also constantly interested in making things that anyone can relate to. Sadness. Happiness. The desire to live and not die. The idea that we are all people with layers and inner conflicts.
How do you think your experience as a professional dancer/choreographer has informed your pole practice?
It’s definitely helped a lot and given me the tools to work towards what I want to achieve. Mainly I prefer to present work that comes off as art rather than just making a boring but competitive routine to win a competition. To already have had a personal and unique style of movement before I started pole was definitely an advantage, though it certainly hasn’t fixed all my problems.
The experience I’ve had with choreography is valuable, because the line between a dance routine and a finished piece of choreography as art is easily spotted but often hard to explain…I think a lot of it just comes with time and practice. I think if I hadn’t had experience with choreography before I came into pole I would have struggled a lot more to make cohesive works.
What is your favourite part of the creative process?
I love the feeling of bringing an idea to reality. I have a playlist of about 30 songs on my Spotify labelled “Pole Possibilities.” Each song I have is basically a different idea for a pole piece. Obviously I don’t have the time / energy to make 30 different pieces right now, but I feel lucky to get to bring a few a year to life, to take an idea or concept I’m really interested in and get to actually make it a reality.
Sometimes I find it hard to know when to stop editing and stop coming to the studio with new ideas, partially because there’s usually a deadline I have to adhere to and at a certain point I need to just be running the piece as whatever it’s going to be on stage, though often I’m still editing and changing in my head until the moment I get on stage (not recommended). So I need to learn to cut myself off sooner. Also I find costuming to always be really challenging, especially in pole where functionality often trumps appearance.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
Movement-wise I’m constantly inspired by Yvonne Smink, who did not come from a dance background and has absorbed what seems like almost every vocabulary of movement and combined them into something awesome. I also love Marion Crampe’s art and the way she engages and presents it. And of course Magnus Labbe and Shaina Cruea who have basically raised me into the pole dancer I am today.
What, if any, do you think are the psychological benefits of creating your own work?
I think creating your own work can often be therapeutic. It’s getting the chance to process something you have deep within you, in ways we often can’t really understand. People who get to create their own work are extremely lucky, it’s like getting the chance to speak and express yourself in a different way and share something unique about yourself with the world.
You sent us the work above as a favourite performance of yours; can you tell us how you prepared for this work and what your process was like?
This was a challenging piece for me because it involved lots of different people that I didn’t have working with me until about the day of the performance. So I was constantly creating in my head and with other people around me, and hoping it would all work out. The preparation was a lot of time spent listening to the music and making notes and editing on paper before it even got to the studio or stage. I was lucky to work with great people on stage and helpers off stage to make sure it all came together
Do you have a particular creative method that you work from?
I love the idea of the Laban cube and Kinesphere. Basically imagine yourself standing in a room. You have a cube with points (or a sphere) all around you. You can reach out and touch any of these points in the sphere in all directions. I love thinking about movement as directions on the cube, with each point that you touch next being an unexpected decision from the last. To me that’s how a lot of interesting choices get made.
Usually it’s an idea that comes first, and then they both come at the same time. Floor work usually comes easier so I try to push myself to work on pole first, though.
Since creating your first solo, how do you think you have grown as a choreographer?
I think I’ve learned a lot about the limits and possibilities of pole since I’ve started, which has helped me create easier. Also, really educating myself (and being educated by others) about what has already been done in pole has helped me figure out what else can be contributed that has not yet been touched.
If you could give readers a piece of advice for creating their dance, what would it be?
If it’s for pole, think about why there’s a pole involved the piece. There are so many reasons why you would involve this extra dimension into a piece, but so many pieces I have seen just use the pole because there’s a pole. Why are you deciding to go up or down? It doesn’t have to be literal, like climbing a ladder or being in the sky (though it can be). It can be emotional or energetic. Maybe you’re escaping something or wanting to go toward something. But it’s good to at least have an intention or reason (even if not exactly clear to the audience). It tends to make pieces more whole, in my opinion.
If you were hiring a dancer to perform your work, what would you look for in them?
I’d want to work with someone who has their own specific style. And of course being easy to work with, working hard, and having good technique are all super important. That’s what I look for if I’m hiring and paying!
What sort of time frame do you give yourself to create a new piece of work?
If I had my way, I’d get to have 5-6 months to make a fully developed work. Usually, I’ve worked successfully with 3. Though I just started the process for a new one a few days ago that needs to be ready in 6 weeks! So we’ll see.
Finally, what does pole dance do for you?
It’s a new and exciting vehicle for art. It’s totally amenable to almost every style of dance and art and it holds so much possibility. I’m so excited to see all the places it can and continues to be taken. Thanks so much for interviewing.
If you want to learn more about Sammy and his work, you can find him on Instagram and appreciate his movement every time he uploads. Also, don’t forget to check out Pole Choreography cards if you want to take your creative practice to another level.