By Jacob A. English
When I was five my mom signed me up for Tap. It was cute and all, but I always found myself sneaking away to watch the older kids in the Ballet classes. I remember watching their movements, and I was enthralled by the joy they exuded with every turn and leap. At the time, I could not identify the emotion that I felt when watching them dance. Now, I can call it what it is - liberation. That's the emotion I felt. There was a sense of freedom that those dancers moved with and that resonated with me. I remember going home and telling my mom that I didn't want to tap anymore, and that I wanted to sign up for Ballet. She responded, "Your feet are too big." I laugh about that until this day, and understand that my mom was protecting me from the ignorance of society about 'men who dance,' but damnit, I wish I could have danced.
I stayed connected with the dance world throughout the years, mostly in my 20s, by attending performances, watching YouTube videos, and following talented dancers on Instagram. My favorite performances have been those of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Recently, I came across a talented young dancer on Instagram (who has ties to the Ailey Dance Theater) who is a recent college graduate and rising star. When he moves, he is telling a story. Fortunately for me, he is also one of the nicest people that you will ever meet and was willing to share with me the story behind his dance. He provides a candid look inside the world of professional dance and how he is making his own path (like deciding to major in Dance and Economics at Fordham University).
For Chambers Features highlights the paths of folx in our community, who let us in on their journey. We hope that a peek into their journey will help you along your own.
Next Up - Dancer, Artist, Creator, Podcast Host, Emerging Economist, and Self-Proclaimed Nerd, Charles E. Scheland.
Check out his story below!
Hey, Charles! I’m so glad that our Instagram profiles crossed paths. First question – Who is Charles E. Scheland? How would you describe yourself? Yeah I'm glad Instagram hooked us up! Who am I? That's a loaded question. I'm a dancer, nerd, cat parent, New Yorker, liberal, and so much more. Most of all, I'd probably say I'm an artist and creator, but I'm also one of those people who doesn't want to just be defined by one box.
Charles E. Scheland, from charlesescheland.com
You are a trained dancer. Tell us about your journey to Dance. I was always a crazy crazy kid and had way too much energy. We had a family friend who was a dancer, and they said "get Charles into dance class." I started going, and my family moved around a ton. Each time we moved, my parents always asked: what do you want to do after school? I always chose dance and added more and more dance things to my schedule. By the time I was a senior in high school I was dancing 7 days a week, and I knew I wanted to do it professionally.
Charles, Photographer: Keith Lowry
What challenges have you had on your journey, and how did you overcome them? Men have an easier time in the dance world when it comes to empirical success and work opportunities. There are simply so few men in dance, so there is less competition for us. But the journey there is tough because most male dancers are bullied during training; I was no exception. Dance is never considered an acceptable hobby, so it is frequently an easy target for bullies. Dancers do also frequently experience difficulties with body image. Luckily I have generally had a good relationship with my body and food, but there have been some challenges for sure. Dance is just also very physical. After a full day of work you're emotionally and physically tired. And it doesn't get easier once you become a professional.
Dancers are athletes. How do you stay healthy? Daily exercise, daily dance class, adding strength training, flexibility training, and cardio. Those are the base of what is required just to physically be able to do the work. Then you augment that with a supportive diet. Not a lot of alcohol, and a good understanding of nutrition. I always build my meals around a mixture of healthy fats, simple starches, and more complex carbs. On a full dance day I start with two eggs and an English muffin because there's protein in the white, healthy fats in yolk, as well as some longer lasting carbs, and the English muffin gives me easy carbs to start the day. And then during a full dance season we do that calculus all the time.
He Missed His Prom to Dance, Dance Film by Hayim Heron
What are some misconceptions about dancers? I think the glamour and ease are the biggest misconceptions about dancers. Because we work so hard to make everything look easy and beautiful, I think we are frequently under undervalued and underestimated. It's a lot of work, and we are one of if not the lowest paid arts profession. It's a bit of a self-fulfilling curse.
Charles, Photographer: Michael Andre
You graduated from Fordham University with a double major in Dance and Economics. What was your motivation for pursuing such a unique combination of majors? I chose my alma mater because I always knew I wanted to do a second major. Dance is my passion, my love, my goal, and my life. But I know that I won't always be a full-time professional dancer, and to be perfectly frank, I need a break from artists every now and then. I chose economics because I wanted something radically different than creative arts, and because I figured it would be a good preparatory step for my master's when I want to take the next step in my career in admin.
Charles, from the Fordham Observer
We’re huge fans of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Can you tell us more about the Ailey/Fordham Dance program? How was your experience? Yes! I love talking about my alma mater. I worked in the admin offices and used to give tours to prospective students, so I'm a big advocate of the program. Essentially, Ailey/Fordham a first of its kind unique partnership. In the program students attend both The Ailey School and Fordham College at Lincoln Center as full time students. You take academic coursework at Fordham and artistic coursework, studio classes, and rehearsals at Ailey. At the end we get a Bachelor's of Fine Arts Degree from Fordham after well over 120 credit hours. Something really special about the program is that seniors who receive full time paid work can actually have their jobs count as credit towards graduation. So my senior year I didn't take any in-person coursework, my bosses at the dance companies gave me my grades.
How has the pandemic impacted the dance community? How has it affected you? Unfortunately performing arts have been effectively devastated by the pandemic. It's simply not safe to have live audiences. The dance community has been working to adapt with some successes. But before the pandemic I had my primary dance job which was 40 hours a week, and then a bunch of side projects as well. None or basically none of that is happening right now, and the worst part is the uncertainty because there is no way to know when we will be back at anything close to normal for artists. I'm very fortunate to have had at least some artistic work lately, most dancers haven't had anything. But it's been scant.
Charles, Photographer: Vasilis Argyropoulos
In addition to being a talented dancer, you’re also a podcast host. Tell us about “Throwback Paperback.” How did this project start?
My best friend and I are total nerds and big readers. We'd been talking about sharing books from our childhood and adolescence with each other because it turns out that we have both read a lot but not a lot of the same things. And then we were separated during COVID so we started planning it as a project, and then we pitched it to a podcast network called The Nerd Party. They liked it and our demo so we joined up. Now we're back to living together and we write and produce the podcast every week, and it's just been an awesome new way to bond with my best friend. And to do more reading.
When you aren’t dancing and recording your podcast, what are you doing (pre-COVID and now)? I love politics and the news, so I listen to a lot of news. I also take care of a lot of plants. And as per the podcast, podcasts and reading are big hobbies of mine. I adopted a cat during the pandemic so that's been lovely, and I picked up knitting which has become my new favorite hobby. I do it on walks, while working at my desk, before bed, on the train, basically all the time.
Where do you see yourself in ten years? Ideally I see myself wrapping up my full-time performance career as a dancer and transitioning into a full-time position running a dance department at a university. I would really like to run my alma mater to help discover the next generation of talent and help foster those artists.
And of course, we have to ask about your style. How would you describe your style? I would like to say my style is nerd cute, but realistically I just have a big and varied wardrobe that has a major preppy vibe. I love men's rompers and jumpsuits and clothes that elicit a reaction, like the radically loving clothes at For Chambers. I have a sweatshirt that says, "A Woman's Place is in the House and the Senate," and then I have a lot of pride themed clothes. I try to be confident in myself and my style to show someone out there who is a little less confident that it's ok.
What do you like about For Chambers? What's not to like?!?! The clothes are beautiful, soft, and high quality. Plus, they are really really cute. Something I love about For Chambers as a company that made me sure I wanted to join the team was the fact that the For Chambers vision is really inclusive. For Chambers is not like most queer-centered companies that very much play to a 1990s era media portrayal of the queer community as pretty skinny white twinks. For Chambers is 1) all about your individual journey rather than the poles of gay and straight and 2) about queer voices of color, to whom the more LGBTQ+ movement owes so many of its rights. It's about time that BIPOC queer people are considered as important and representative of the community as white ones.
Lastly, what advice do you have for anyone pursuing a dream? Find mentors and rely on them. I know people always say never give up, learn from mistakes, etc. The truth is, that you will have those stumbles. But for your dreams, those will only ever be stumbles, not defeats. And who is going to help you up after you stumble? It's going to be your mentors and support system. Build that up and your dream will feel closer.