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Dance maestro – Meet the super talented Stanford Graduate, Justina Kamiel Grayman, Ph.D.


What exactly are you into? What is your business all about?

From a young age, I knew what it was like to suffer from anxiety, from isolation, from incessant thoughts, mostly from things I had made up in my mind. And as I grew up, that anxiety became real.

I came to know that this world was not designed for me (Black, Afrolatina, Panamanian-American, Queer human) to be free. I was born into a world where human beings aren’t free, where I am not free.

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I’m getting antsy, y’all! P.s. I thought antsy was spelled ancy ??. You know when you have so many things in the works but they haven’t yet been put out in the world & it’s like — just get out into the world already?! That’s what my thoughts are doing right now. So I am attempting to slow down and appreciate that it’s okay for things to take a while – or not be immediate ?. It’s okay to be off schedule. It’s all okay. And I have to remind myself of that particularly because I am so extreme and want legit revolution and FUNDAMENTAL and meaningful change- that whatever I create will take time because nothing I create will be a quick fix or something I can do alone. The summary is: I am readyyyy and sometimes my thoughts say, it’s not happening! I will correct myself when I feel like it’s not all already happening. IT IS HAPPENING. . . Black Man in America launch is happening. Black Man in America tour is happening. Cathartic Movement Lab is happening. My creative career involving movement & movement(s) IS happening. Ok, I’m done?. . . Photo by @esp_bymike ?? . . . #nycdancer #dancer #dancersofig #contemporarydancer #moderndance #blackdancer #blackdancers #blackgirlsrock #blackgirlmagic #director #blackdirector #femaledirector #femaledirectors #dancefilmmaker #photography #dancephoto #dancephotography #photographyislife #itshappening #naturalhair

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So I create that which moves us towards revolution. I create films that inspire revolutionary action. And I design live experiences that create the revolutionarily free spaces I’d like to see in the world.

Please, can our readers get to know you?

On a weekend afternoon, you’ll catch me doing 19 backbends in a yoga class (I regret to say that that yoga class is in Brooklyn), eating a couple pounds of grapes, uncontrollably weeping at This Is Us, dreaming of utopia, and prepping for date night with my boyfriend, the best boyfriend in the world. On weekdays, I create and I dance.

What inspired you to get started?

I always wanted to dance, but I was one of those kids that did 17 extracurricular activities in school and still wasn’t satisfied. I asked my mom to do cheer and dance and she rightfully said absolutely not (thank you, mom).

So I never got the chance while I was a kid. But when I was 19, I took my first dance class. This was at Stanford, where I attended undergrad. It was ballet. It was boring. And I felt like a robot doing it. I swore I never would go back to ballet but I did take a few other dance classes at Stanford – nothing serious. My senior year, my boyfriend invited me to see Alvin Ailey in San Francisco, and I was mesmerized.

A few months later, when I moved to New York for graduate school, I was insanely depressed (especially because that boyfriend had broken up with me). In an attempt to not be insanely depressed, I decided to go for a big dream, something that was basically impossible; I chose to become a dancer. I started taking 7-10 classes a week.

Almost ten years later, my life has completely shifted. I’ve booked professional jobs. I’ve started making dance & dance films. And most importantly, I’ve peeled back the layers of who I am. Dance has moved me, enlivened me, connected me, made me the most powerful I’ve ever been. And now, I am connecting dance to what I’ve been called to this earth for creating a revolution. By revolution, I mean a personal revolution, social revolution, and political revolution. Not change, revolution.

What is your educational background?

I have a BA in Psychology from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Applied Psychology from New York University. Psychology has a special meaning to me. I’ve always vacillated from feeling ridiculously powerful to feeling like I can’t change anything in this world.

So I’ve used psychology to teach me how to hold onto my sense of power and how to have others’ see and act on their power. In grad school, I studied how organizers communicate with people to mobilize them and how communities create empowering social settings.

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Photo by @esp_bymike

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In essence, I studied how to mobilize people to fight for their freedom and how to create it. So now, I am actually doing what I studied, using my films to inspire action and to bring people together in empowering spaces.

What are your motivations?

My motivation is to create freedom and experience it. We have not yet collectively chosen to create freedom. And it is simply a decision.

What advice do you have for other people who want to do this same thing?

Do it in the community.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Bringing people together to make a revolutionary impact on the world.

Any present or future projects?

Black Man in America is my current project, in partnership with my boyfriend Vance “Johnny Hobbes” Brown. In our five-minute short dance film, we acknowledge the reality of Black men’s experiences of oppression, suppression, and violence and also acknowledge the power that Black men have.

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TOMORROW (well, basically today) we launch Black Man in America online & I’m still on a high from Friday’s premiere. . . I can’t even describe how powerful Friday’s premiere event was for me. To be honest, I was sad that my twin brother wouldn’t be there. I was worrying that people would leave like “eh.” But what happened was beyond what I could have expected. . . I didn’t expect for people to be so affected by the event. I wanted it but didn’t expect it. Black men told us they felt love, they felt community, they felt “exalted.” Seeing the Black men in my family (my father, older brother, uncles) honored was… I don’t even have the words. So grateful for all who attended and created this space, cast, crew, volunteers, staff, sponsors-so many people made this possible. . . I didn’t expect to feel powerful. I had so many doubts beforehand and during the event, they rolled away as I connected to the community that came together for this vision & as I realized (thanks to Lennox!) that, if I forgot everything I would just look to Vance. Vance joked with me that while I was leading a section of acknowledgments for Black men somebody whispered, “Does she teach YOGA?” ?. I am beyond beyond beyond elated that what I do to strengthen myself is allowing me to create space for others. . . I cannot wait to use our film to create more and more and more of these spaces for Black men to share & be listened to, for Black men to be acknowledged & celebrated. . . Tomorrow (11/5) we launch online. Tomorrow you’ll see what Vance, myself, and a whole community of hundreds of people have made possible. Tomorrrrooowwwwwww! . . . #blackfilm #blackfilms #allblackcast #blackfilmmakers #blackfilmmaker #blacklove #director #dancefilmmaker #filmdirector #femaledirectors #blackdirectors #blackfilmmaker #blackfemaledirectors #blackphd #blackwomenphds #nycartist #nycdirector #nyfilmmaker #blacklovecouples #blackmaninamericafilm #celebrateblackmen

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We’re on a mission to use our film to create spaces of celebration + unbridled support for Black men nationwide. Our goal is to create 30 celebrations using our film in the next year.

Black Man in America (2018)

We marched. We protested. What now for Black men?We’re creating celebrations and screenings for Black men and the organizations that serve them nationwide.*TAG/COMMENT ABOUT A BLACK MAN YOU LOVE*#celebrateblackmenFollow on Instagram: instagram.com/blackmaninamericafilmJoin a network of organizations supporting Black men: http://www.cbma.org/join*****Thank You for Who You Are: Vicente Grayman Justin Kamilo GraymanCreator/Director/Choreographer: Justina Kamiel Grayman, phdCo-Director/Songwriter: Vance “Johnny Hobbes” BrownDirector of Photography Bryant Norman Editor Victor Patrick AlvarezScore by Ryan AmonSound Engineer Brooke VillanyiColorist Marika LitzDancers Michael Bishop Yeman Brown Ehizoje Azeke David Parker Denzel TaylorYoung Dancers Brodey M. Pierre Max Malachi Jayden Hairston Marcus Pinkney Grant JaegerFull credits in film.

Posted by Black Man in America Film on Monday, November 5, 2018

And join our mission to celebrate and support Black men nationwide: Instagram, Facebook, or at our website.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your dance business as a person of color?

I’m not sure if this is specific to being a person of color, but finding great mentorship or coaching on starting up is challenging. I like to know concrete answers so it is difficult to do trial and error, especially alone.
I’d love to have a mentor or free (did i say free?!) business or marketing consultant who could walk me through every step of the way. That would be a dream. So reach out if you are an angel waiting to bless me with your business and marketing wisdom.

How can we connect with you on social media?

Instagram is best! Find me at instagram.com/justinagrayman.danceandfilm
Find my latest project Black Man in America at instagram.com/blackmaninamericafilm.
I’m also on Facebook: facebook.com/justinagrayman.danceandfilm & facebook.com/blackmaninamericafilm.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Deciding to love people unconditionally is a great accomplishment. It has been and will be a lifelong journey. And the moment I decided to be a dancer was a great accomplishment.
I made a choice that had nothing to do with making money, having high status, being better than anyone, or trying to save anyone. It was just because it was a dream of mine; it moved me, made me feel alive. Deciding that I would take a risk and do what I love, even if I sometimes felt selfish or childish or not important, was a great accomplishment.

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Currently applying to (even more) p/t jobs so I can make $ from my degree SOOO I CAN TAKE MORE CLASS ? and like, have health insurance and whatnot and not be stressed while I build my own business/career/whatever I’m creating (another story ?). The question I’ve been reflecting on constantly as I carve my own path is: what do I want to offer the world? I already know. As a dancer, filmmaker, psychologist (at the end of the day a creator)… What I truly want to offer is —-> freedom. Maybe we are born with all these limits and constraints so we can break free of them and EXPERIENCE freedom before we die. It’s a noble goal for us individually and collectively. And p.s. watch Jim and Andy on Netflix. Jim Carrey said something related but i don’t want to slaughter what he said and I’m too lazy too look it up. ? by @neatshinyowl #phd #findyourpassion #blackphds #nycdancer #psychology

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My ultimate, ultimate mission is to bring people together in revolutionary living spaces. That will be my greatest accomplishment.

As a person of color, what advice will you give someone starting their own business or career?

Find people who won’t let you quit





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