Choreographer: Jenny Baran

It’s here! The first of my choreographer, dancer, all-around interesting people interviews. Enjoy and get inspired, because these peeps LOVE what they do. Thanks Jenny for being Galactic Romance’s first interview– hugs and shuffles!

What’s your name/ Nickname/ Dancer name?
Tiny Shuffles (but now that I’m married it is Mrs. Tiny Shuffles.)

Where are you from?
South San Francisco, California! 
(It’s just like Hollywood, except our mountain says “The Industrial City” on it.)

Counselor @ San José State University by day. And tap dancing comedian by night.

Where do you teach?
Ariel Dance Productions in Campbell, California.

What type of dance do you focus in?
Tap dance, jazz and musical theater. I also love fusing different dance genres together like traditional jazz and hip-hop.

Have you danced for any artists on tour, done commercial work, or been a part of any 
dance crews?
My first participation in a professional “dance crew” was with Cheer San Francisco as a flyer/dancer! They are a cheer, dance and stunt team dedicated to raising monies for HIV/AIDS organization. Thanks to being on the team, I’ve been able to perform at Gay Games VII (the official Olympics for the LGTB community), America’s Best Cheerleading competitions and various pride parades throughout the U.S.

5 words to describe your style.
Entertaining, storytelling, heartwarming, syncopated and unconventional.

What made you put on your dancing shoes?
My Grandma Mary! My Grandma Mary and Grandpa Joe were KOFY TV20 Dance Party regulars and would dance up a storm! In addition to partner dancing with my Grandpa Joe, my Grandma Mary was also a fabulous tap dancer. Whenever she would babysit me she would teach me time steps, buffalos and other tap moves on her kitchen floor.

What was it like taking your first dance class?
Awful! I was a about 5 years old inside a ballet class at Schumaker’s Dance Studio (now called Tiffany’s Dance Academy) in my hometown. I held it together pretty well during the class but after class I cried, telling my Mom that the music was too slow and I did not like having to plie. Ballet just didn’t speak to me at that time.

Fortunately, my Mom had me try a tap dance class (at the same studio) right after the ballet class – it was a done deal! As soon as I heard those metal taps hit the wooden floor and realized I controlled the sound, I was hooked.

What inspires you to choreograph?
This never ending urge to tell the audience a story about my life…and have them be entertained in the process! I take things I love, admire, struggle with and/or am frustrated by and weave these things together into a choreographed story. It becomes dance therapy and heals me.

In my upcoming piece “Tightrope Tappers” I was really angry and struggling with my self-esteem. Too often I would compare my skills to others. I would get stuck in the “I’m not good enough” mentality. In my heart I know, none of those comparisons matter and being negative is not who I am.

Thus “Tightrope Tappers” became a more entertaining and heightened exploration of my struggle, portrayed through a group of circus tightrope walkers. They discover that walking the traditional tightrope line is not how they want be and all that really matters is doing what you love, with the people you love – not stupid comparisons.

Share one memorable moment in dance.
The first tech rehearsal of “Dance Wars,” a tap routine inspired by my love of Star Wars movies and the song “Fancy Footwork” by Chromeo. Our director, Oanh Tretter asked me to go to the lighting booth to confirm cues as my class did the routine on stage. I was so nervous because there were a bunch of newer dancers who had never tapped danced on stage before.

As I watched the choreography unfold from the lighting booth, I  cried, laughed and danced! The dancers had performed the entire 4 ½ minute routine perfectly; exactly how I envisioned! The whole time watching them from the lighting booth, I felt humbled, deeply satisfied and blessed to have such passionate and talented people to work with:

Stu Shepherd (Stu Shepherd Art) designed the background, Michelle Plato, my friend/costume designer made the costumes and opening scrolling text, Kento Vo (Soulidified Dance Project) cut our music, 14 dancers gave their all, and audience screamed and applauded with excitement! These people believed in my crazy, tap dancing, Stormtroopers vision because I believed in them.

Stepping away from the stage, allowed me to fully experience my vision in a way I’ve never been able to savor before on stage. In that moment, “Dance Wars” became everyone’s dance.

What do you enjoy most about being an instructor?
Being able to bring out the best in people. When a new dancer walks into my class it’s like an adrenaline shot for me. I don’t care what their dance background is because potential is all I see. “YES! I can’t wait to see what I’m going to be able to do with this person! I can’t wait to see them give me their best,” is my first thought.

In the dance world, it’s the technical dancer that gets featured. As an instructor I turn that concept on its head. I decide who gets the solo and for me it’s not necessarily the most technically trained dancer. It’s the dedicated dancer who gives me 100% energy, effort and focus, all the time. It’s the struggling dancer who practices at home and never misses a class. It’s the confused dancer who asks questions. It’s the dancer who walked into my class, shy and walks out proud of who they are, not afraid to be a goofball.

Who is your favorite dancer or choreographer? What do you love about them?
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. I absolutely adore his soul. Every rhythm he does, every smile, every movement is full of life, joy and entertainment. Is he the most fantastically technically trained dancer in the entire world? No – that’s what I love about him. He’s real, he’s smooth, he’s raw.  He genuinely loves what he’s doing whether it be soft shoe routine on top of sand or tap dancing on a staircase with Shirley Temple. When you add Bojangle’s historical context of dealing with extreme racism from other people, it’s mind blowing how much positivity can shine amidst dismal times.

What dance style do you want to try, but never have?
Krump fo sho! I respect krump because there is a place for both aggressive moves and the more comedic form of krump known as “clowning”. The historical roots of krump reminds me of tap dance because both dance forms were created by impoverished people in the streets wanting to express themselves in a way not available in traditional dance forms. Tap dance was born thanks to the African and Irish immigrant communities in the U.S.; for me krump is in the same spirit.

What would you like to say to dancers just starting out?
Be yourself and don’t give up! If the thought of dancing has ever crossed your mind, GO FOR IT! Shut off the negative part of your mind that says “you can’t” and get your ass into a dance studio, workshop, class, etc., It might take you some time to find the right place, but keep going.

If I gave up on dance after that first ballet class, I would not have discovered my passion for tap dance. It’s because of this experience that I am so adamant about getting people to just try dance! You just don’t know what you are capable of if you don’t try. You deserve the opportunity to shine, whether on Broadway or in your backyard.

Where can we find you and your sweet moves?
Tiny Shuffles YouTube Channel:
Mrs. Tiny Shuffles YouTube Channel:
Ariel Dance Productions YouTube Channel – Jenny’s Beginning Jazz & Tap Classes playlist:

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