Jenelle Figgins, Dance Theatre of Harlem and twin sister, Samantha Figgins, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
Growing up as twins, did you always take the same dance classes and train together? Did you go to the same summer programs, dance schools, etc? JF: Yes, our training is as identical as we are! We've been in all the same programs and schools together so it's interesting to see how much our dancing and our careers differ. SF: Yes, Jenelle and I trained together all the way through high school at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and also at many Dance Theatre of Harlem dance programs. After that, we went to the SUNY Purchase Dance Conservatory for college together. There, we were able to take separate dance classes and build our class schedule to cater to what we were most interested in. How would you describe your different strengths as dancers? JF: Sam and I are very different. I think we share a similar strength in our general presence and energy, but on stage that differs drastically. I've always admired how Sam can be in total command of the stage but in the coolest and calmest way possible. She exists on stage the way a cool breeze blows through a room and I think its the most serene and encapsulating thing to watch. I on the other hand, I feel my presence and energy is fiery. I try to be as big as the space and blinding in my aura and presence. SF: Right off the back, you can see our differences in the styles we chose to follow with Jenelle focusing more on classical ballet and me embracing contemporary ballet and modern. I feel I'm a very athletic dancer and enjoy big expansive movement as well as floor work. Jenelle has really incredible foot work is really strong at petite allegros and anything with a Balanchine flare. I understand that you both have an older sister who also dances professionally. How did your family get so involved in the dance world? JF: My sister, Dionne Figgines, initially got into dance because she was so clumsy, but that led to an obsession with it which led to our connection with the historic Jones Haywood School of Ballet in Washington, DC. This school has trained some of the most prolific dancers of color in this century (Chita Rivera, Hinton Battle, etc). There we all trained under Sandra Fortune Greene and she really changed our lives as dancers. She made sure that we explored more than what's in front of us. I think her involvement in our lives gave us the motivation to get involved in the dance world beyond just Saturday morning classes. SF: I feel like dance found us in a way. According to my mother, my older sister was a really sums child and she enrolled he run dance classes to help her with that. With Jenelle and I not only did we follow in my sisters footsteps, bu my mother said that we were very "spirited" children. So we were able to put use all of our energy into dance instead of scaling the walls in the house. It's amazing that we all connected with dance so intensely and it's nice to be able to share that with my sisters.
Other than dancing, what other interests do you share? JF: I think we are both really interested in music and the creation of that. I use to do music in my spare time and Samantha can really sing also. Between finding new music and enjoying that together or goofing around and making up random songs about anything we definitely share a love of all music. It informs everything I/we do. SF: I have many interests outside of dance. I really enjoy the whole technical theatre aspect of performance arts. I've worked on a couple of shows in the city as a stage hand for a deeper look into the other side of theatre. I am also an avid baker and enjoy making cakes and other desserts in my off time. Reading, singing, cooking and spending time with my friends and family are other things I like to do with my leisure time. You've taken different roads in the dance world - with Samantha in Alvin Ailey doing more contemporary work and Jenelle doing more traditional ballet at DTH. What made you both choose to go such different directions? JF: Samantha and I are fortunate enough to be very versatile and well versed dancers. We both can do multiple genres of dance. I think its just a matter of what spoke to our souls the most. I feel more happy in a pointe shoe while I don't directly relate to classical ballet at all. I love the purity of it and classical ideology of wearing pointe shoes to appear other worldly and non secular. The funny thing is though that a lot of people don't realize that Samantha is just as much of a classical dancer as she is a contemporary. I remember in our training during high school we both auditioned for this really exclusive and top tiered ballet program through the Kennedy Center and they had already told us that there was only room for one of us. We both wanted it so bad and in my mind I thought that I had it because I've always been the one more into ballet but they chose Samantha. It was the first time I had faced rejection and at the same time loss something I really wanted to my sister. She deserved it and was better for it than I was at the time but she didn't end up taking it and is where she is now. I think anyone has the physical capacity to do anything the want but ultimately your heart will decided what's best for your body in dance. SF: Being a twin and wanting to embrace our differences, along with our different passions, I feel led to our choosing different paths in dance. I've always been adamant about being as versatile as possible, so keeping my classical ballet technique sharp has always been a priority for me, but there's the freedom of individuality that you are able to explore more with contemporary ballet and modern. What is the best part about having a twin sister who is also in the dance world? JF: The best part about having a twin sister in the dance world is that you have a constant source of inspiration and motivation. I love to go see my sister dance. It makes me consider how I appear on stage and just makes me want to be as amazing. You also have someone who knows exactly what you may be experiencing. Sam is injured right now and I totally feel how emotionally/spiritually paralyzing that can be because I went through the same thing around this time last year, but I can be there for her and support because I know how she feels from personal experience. Its also nice to know someone will honestly tell me that my feet aren't pointed at the end of a show and not be mad about it. SF: The best part about having a twin sister in dance is the support I have. I know she understands what I'm going through because she has been there from the beginning and she's going through it too. I trust her to give me notes and tell me when something wasn't so good and if it was. The dance world is difficult and I can't imagine going at it alone.
There are a lot of siblings who both dance. Would you have any advice for them- especially the younger dancers? JF: My advice to anyone with a sibling in dance is to never let the natural competition affect your relationships and to have an appreciation for yourself as an individual and as a member of your dancing family. Its important to know and understand all of your good and bad qualities without judgment and take ownership of them. This way you can focus solely on bettering yourself because you have come to terms with all aspects of your individuality. I think twins and siblings in dance easily get grouped together and that can feel like you are only valuable because there's two of you. I struggled with this because I felt my individual voice so clearly but no one seemed interested. I assumed they only wanted the twins or only knew me as Dionne's little sister. I saw this as problematic but only because I hadn't taken ownership of my talents and because I didn't see the value in the collective. You are powerful on your own but your more powerful together. SF: My best advice for younger dancing siblings would be to support each other. The dance world is already full of hundreds of people constantly comparing you to others, especially your own sister. It's easy to fall into that and that only breeds unhealthy competition and negative feelings. So, being a strong support system nd pushing each other in a healthy way will take you both farther than you could ever image. When one succeeds, you both come out on top! How did you develop your own identity as a dancer? JF: I began developing my identity as a dancer while I was a SUNY Purchase. They have a great program and environment suited for exposing yourself as an artist and training intensely in that vulnerable place. The conservatory offers improv classes for your freshmen year. Our instructor Nelly Van Bommel was one of the first people to challenge me to discover how I like to move and what feels good and natural to me. Its important in improv to be committed to your movement and your ideas. My classmates encouraged each other in improv and even started having our own collaborative jams throughout the year. It was in those really intimate improv jams that I came closer to myself and was able to begin formulating the type of artist I want to be. SF: It's always been there. We are two totally different people, with different thoughts, passions and interests. As we got older, went through college and post-college we and separate experiences and have worked with many different choreographers and dancers who have influenced and helped shape us to be the dancers we are today. Being in Complexions and working under Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson really helped me to "own my brand". Their whole goal is to have a company full of soloists - so it gave me an opportunity to explore what exactly my brand was. It changes all the time because I am always learning something new and exploring all the possibilities inside me. What career would you have chosen if you could not be a dancer? JF: If I weren't a dancer I'd want to do a lot of different things. I'd want to be a song writer or musical arranger. I'd want to pursue a career in Track & Field; I ran in Junior High School and was actually pretty good. I'd like to be an philanthropist of some sort or maybe a Museum curator. Those all sound like pretty epic careers but I think I'd always be involved in the arts somehow. SF: If I could not be a dancer, I would want to be a concert flutest. I used to play the flute in Junior High. Is there a healthy competition between you? JF: Of course!! Its impossible to say that there isn't a hint of competition but it is the most healthy competition there could be. Sam has an amazing life and talent and we just constant push each other even if we don't acknowledge it. SF: Yes there is, but I would like to say that she inspires me. If I see her perform or see her in class, I immediately think "Oh, that's what it looks like! I need to get it together". We both inspire each other to be our best. If you could be an animal, what animal would you chose and why? JF: My favorite is an elephant but I think I'd be a cheetah. I think they are such powerfully feminine animals and they're really nurturing of their offspring. Its cool how calm but explosive they are. SF: I would chose to be an Ocelot. It's a wild cat similar to a leopard. I really connect with cats in general. they are such beautifully striking animals. An Ocelot or any wild cat is, yes cute, but there is a ferocity, elegance and ease about them that I admire and try to put into my everyday life. Which person (dead or alive) would you most want to dance with if you could? JF: If I could dance with anyone dead or alive it would have to be Jackie Wilson! He was such a good dancer, I want to 2 step with him! SF: I have a lot of people in mind, but I will say currently Nelson Mandela. he was such a strong world leader and activist who has seen the darkest of times in his life but he truly understands and practiced the healing powers of dance. Through all this hardships he celebrated life through dance and that is something I connect with also. If a child told you they wanted to be a dancer, what would your advice be? JF: I'd tell them to go into it with an open mind, find what it is that speaks to you the most and never look back because its an amazing career that can free a person up to see and be things they wouldn't have considered for themselves. SF: I would advise them to approach everything with love and respect. Love and respect your talent, the art form, your peers, your teachers and your dreams. Also, some advice that I have gotten and lived by is there is no need for a Plan B. If you invest your time, efforts and thoughts in the goals you have in mind, then the universe will manifest that for you. Any time invested in what your doing is fueling your main goal. Just have faith. What is your greatest indulgence? JF: I'd tell them to go into it with an open mind, find what it is that speaks to you the most and never look back because its an amazing career that can free a person up to see and be things they wouldn't have considered for themselves. SF: My greatest indulgence is good. I love to treat myself sometimes and go out and eat an amazing meal. I sometimes bake myself a really intricate dessert I found on Pintrest. Or make myself some of my favorite recipes from my mother. Thankfully I'm a dancer, so I can work it off. What is your favorite city to tour to and why? JF: My favorite city thus far is Tel Aviv, Israel!!! I had such an amazing time there, that city is alive and vibrant and they have a really awesome art scene there. I felt like charged and ready to work while I was there so I'd love to go back there to live and work. SF: So far my favorite city has been Copenhagen, Denmark. I love how relaxed and eco-friendly it is. Biking t the theater, which is in the middle of an amusement park everyday was so much fun. It's a very relaxing city where I can definitely see myself staying for a while. What is your idea of perfect happiness? JF: My idea of perfect happiness is having very little materials but the ability to create, travel, be inspired and inspire. To be at peace with all and with myself. SF: My idea of perfect happiness is accepting this life we were given and celebrating how effortlessly perfect we are in it. Flaws and all. Life is going to throw you all types of obstacles and it won't always be pretty, but trusting that you have all the tools you need and knowing that outside of everything you are perfect, just the way the creator intended, will bring you happiness. It's easier said than done, but when you find it, life will show you all that it is capable of.
Hair and Makeup by Juliet Jane
Leotards by Ballerina Couture