Meet Ron “RJ” Davis, a 27-year-old contemporary dancer who lives in North Park and prefers to be called “just RJ.”
He’s a budding choreographer, an in-demand performer and a company member of the PGK Dance Project who is making his mark on San Diego’s dance scene.
“He is actually a very subtle, supple dancer, despite his muscular frame,” says PGK artistic director Peter Kalivas. “He has a very sweet, kind personality ... a good listener, and sensitive to when and how to move with the group. The audience is enthralled by him.”
Davis also has performed with San Diego Dance Theater, Culture Shock and choreographer Erica Buechner, who says he “uses dance to explore emotions that can be both witnessed and felt.”
Upcoming performances include the PGK premiere of “GAY (as in happy) Songs & Dances,” a cabaret-style show, April 6-9, and “Vets Break It Down With PGK Dance” in May at the Veterans Memorial Museum. On June 30, Davis performs in the PGK “Welcome to Summer” show at Spanish Village in Balboa Park. As a choreographer, he will create a dance this year for the transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project as part of its 2017 San Diego International Airport Performing Arts Residency.
When did you start dancing?
I became a dancer when I was about 15. I was in 10th grade and transcenDANCE held auditions at Gompers Middle School in southeast San Diego. I wanted to experience something outside of school and be involved in the arts. I thought, “I’m just going to do it.”
Earlier this month, you competed with a five-member African-American cast in the annual Young Choreographers Showcase, staged by San Diego Dance Theater. You won Most Compelling Choreography/Audience Favorite and Best Performance by an Individual Dancer with your work “Pulling Focus,” a term cinematographers use that relates to anticipating and capturing movement that directs a viewer’s attention. Tell us about your choreographic vision.
I want to approach the topic of racism and the identity issues regarding people of color because it’s relevant and needs to be talked about. I chose “Pulling Focus” because I feel that often, people of color stand out - good, bad or indifferent. Being an artist and being a person of color, there’s an extra thing we have to go through. I want people to get an idea of who we are as individuals, to see beyond the color of our skin.
Have you faced discrimination?
I felt singled out. In high school, there was a point in time when I was encouraged to play football. Because I’m an athletic, black male, people thought I would do well, but it wasn’t something I was interested in. Sometimes, we are perceived to be something based on what other people think. How do we steer away from that, and how do we get to know others as individuals?
“GAY (as in happy) Songs & Dances”
When: 7 p.m. April 6, 8 p.m. April 7, 2 and 8 p.m. April 8, 2 p.m. April 9
Where: Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights.
Do you ever feel that being black has its advantages?
To a degree, every race has advantages, depending on the situation. Many of us have been good at singing, dancing, football and basketball. We fit in there, and it’s a perception that has worked in our favor. That’s something I have to combat in myself because even I perceive that in my own culture. As hard as that might sound, that’s the reality of the situation.
Who inspires you?
I love working with director Peter Kalivas, and I believe in his artistic vision. He produces dance in places that you would never think of, and he’s a great artist. And Ronald K. Brown (founder of the contemporary dance company Evidence in New York) approaches the things we go through socially and emotionally, whether it’s about race, inequality or topics that we shy away from. That’s the kind of work I want to create. I want to go in depth about what it means to be a human being in this world and what we have to go through to live.
Locally, one of my favorite artists is Anthony Rodriguez, a hip-hop instructor at Culture Shock. I danced in his piece for the Young Choreographers Showcase five or six years ago, and he has always inspired me to be myself. He’s not afraid to speak his voice.
Dance is competitive and one of the most underfunded art forms. Is it difficult to make a living?
It’s been somewhat difficult, but I’ve had so much support from the dance community. I have to work outside of my dance schedule with a 9-to-5 just to maintain being an artist. But whenever you love what you are doing, you will make the sacrifices and do whatever you can to make yourself happy.
Manna is a freelance writer.