Name: Derek Brockington
Where you’re from: Michigan
Where you currently live/dance: I live In New York. This is my first year with Dance Theatre of Harlem
Favorite roles you’ve performed (and/or want to): The favorite role I’ve danced was the Prince in Sleeping Beauty. A ballet I’d love to be in is Akram Khan’s Giselle.
How did you get your start in dance?
My cousins actually owned a small studio in Saugatuck, Michigan, and my mother thought I was clumsy and overly energetic, so it seemed like a good fit to start dance classes. I started tap dancing when I was five, and I started ballet when I was eleven. When I was fourteen, I realized that I could do ballet for a living, if you want to call it that, and took it more seriously from then on.
What’s a normal workday like for you?
On a normal day, I wake up and eat breakfast. Then since my roommate, who also dances at Dance Theatre of Harlem, and I live walking distance from work, we walk the seven blocks it takes to get to work, and we have ballet class for an hour and a half.
Then we have rehearsals for three hours, lunch, and then another three hours of rehearsal. During those rehearsals we work on everything that we will be taking on tour (between 10-15 different ballets that we alternate between in each city).
Then I walk home, relax, make dinner, take a really hot shower to relax my muscles, watch TV, and go to bed.
Biggest obstacles you have faced in the dance world?
For me, as with a lot of people, money was a defining factor in my inability to attend some auditions, college, and summer intensives to which I had been accepted and wanted to attend, but couldn’t due to lack of funds. My parents were willing but often times unable to help out with a lot of expenses.
Another personal obstacle was my own body image. Growing up, I was very often the only person in the room who looked like me because of my skin color and body type, and that made me think that my body wasn’t right for ballet. I thought that no matter what I did, I wasn’t going to look like everybody else. Of course, later on I realized that wasn’t true… but when I was young it was harder for me.
In addition to that, growing up in Michigan, I didn’t have a whole lot of people who I could see myself in as a dancer, and it is really important for young student dancers to have role models.
How have you overcome these obstacles?
In terms of finances, I worked as hard as I could to find scholarships and spent hours online researching grants and programs that gave money to young artists. I got odds job when I was away at school [Interlochen]. As hard as I had to work in dance, I also had to work to find money for it.
My body image changed a lot when I realized that it was taking so much energy and time to hate myself when there wasn’t anything I could change. I started telling myself, “life is too short to not love the body you were given.” It also really helped when I was around more dancers of color and seeing people in whom I felt I could see myself. It gave me the opportunity to embrace myself in a more positive light.
I know you’ve recently been on tour with Dance Theatre of Harlem. Do you have any tips for how to stay healthy while touring?
Touring has been amazing, but it is a constant go, go, go.
My best advice is to listen to your body, rest and take a breather. If you need to take a nap during your break, take it. I also suggest exploring. Being in a new city every few days can be exhausting, but if you have time and aren’t too tired, use it to get to know the city you’re in. It becomes really fun.
Also, if the hotel has a hot tub... Use it. Every. Chance. You. Can!
What do you do in your free time or your favorite things to do in NYC?
In my free time, I like to find bookstores or cafes around the city that I haven’t been to before and go sit and read or get coffee.
New York also has some great parks. I like to go with friends during the summer and just bring food and people watch. The city is amazing for people watching.
Something a lot of people might not know about you?
Something people might not know about me is that I’m adopted, and so are all 3 of my siblings. My mother adopted all four of us as a single parent, which is pretty cool.
Headshot Photo Credit: Rachel Neville Photography