Cherrise Wakeham started Project 7 Contemporary Dance Company as a performance group so she could work with people who inspired her. The group now also conducts iN House Workshops: one- or two-day experiences that Wakeham takes into individual studios in the Southeast. Students participate in six classes a day in different styles and techniques, audition for scholarships or to be chosen as a company apprentice and perform a final showcase for friends and family. “Not every kid is a convention kid, but they'll still thrive in the energy of an intense 'master class' setting," Wakeham says, “so we bring that push and positivity to them with a professional company atmosphere."
Although she considers her choreography to be contemporary, Wakeham draws elements of theater and hip hop into her work, allowing inspiration to strike rather than starting with a specific concept. “I love to just absorb my surroundings. It could be the way the wind is hitting the leaves, and then I hear a piece of music and it all starts to connect in my mind," she says. “When I first started, I thought I had to always have everything plotted out, but now I'll think about where the piece should come from and where I want it to go. Besides that, it's really whatever the music calls for and how my dancers' movement inspires me." DT
Song: “Never Been In Love"
“I'm using this for my P7 iN House Workshop teen/senior room combo right now. It's dancehall/reggae style that's an upbeat, summery song I think teenagers can relate to. It's so great sometimes to dance to something that just allows us to let go and fly, so I tried to choreograph something that would allow them to do just that."
Song: “Real Love"
“I like doing crunches to this during warm-up because it is energizing, but also has an easy feel to it. I like dancers to engage their cores in crunches by thinking more about 'floating upward' rather than jerking their bodies forward. I think this song lends itself to that more mindful, less stressful approach."
Song: “In This Shirt"
“This is the song I chose for my A.C.E. Award–winning piece. I knew I wanted to choreograph to it from the moment I heard it. The layers, the lyrics, the arrangement...the artist spoke to me and continues to speak to me with his voice and instrumentation."
Song: “Shake It Off"
“This song makes a regular appearance in my warm-up. Even though my warm-up is pretty hardcore, I love to groove through it with songs that remind dancers to breathe, chill out and not take themselves too seriously."
Song: “Pink Medicine"
“I have certain songs that get me pumped and motivated for when I have a heavy workload of choreography on my plate. Basically, when I'm up to bat, this is my walk-up song."
Photo by Roman Naumov, courtesy of Wakeham