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Starting from 7pm ET tonight you can scope a brand new installment of Washington Performing Arts’ / Mars Arts DC’s Dance In DC series; this time, the featured performance is a collaboration between ultra-talented dancer Matthew Crittenden (currently a high school student at Duke Ellington School of the Arts) and ARTECHOUSE, the ultra-cool digital arts space. In anticipation of tonight’s premiere, I caught up with Crittenden over the phone to talk about his involvement with the project, and about how he’s using his performance to highlight the challenges that male dancers still face both inside and outside of the industry.

His emotive piece showcases his passion for dance, and he enjoyed working with ARTECHOUSE, which he says “brought my story to life with lights and technology,” but ultimately left the narrative and choreography building up to him.

“I told a part of my story about my upbringing, and how being a male dancer in this industry can be really hard sometimes when you’re facing people who don’t understand the art that it is,” he says.

After having discovered dance semi-accidentally at summer camp, he fell in love with the art when he was just five years old, albeit secretly at first. “It was an explorers camp, but there was a dance camp there as well, and our two camps combined one day. We did freeze dance, and the dance camp instructor said, ‘Wow, you can really dance!’ and wanted to put me in dance camp. A few weeks later, my parents found out that they were sneaking me into the dance camp.”

While Crittenden’s mother (the first to find out) was skeptical at first, the camp instructors were adamant that he had immense talent, and she became his biggest champion. His father, on the other hand, was a bit slower to warm to the idea. “He was throwing a fit. But then when he actually saw me dancing, and how good I was at it, he realized it wasn’t what he thought it would be.”

So, as a seasoned veteran of the potential opposition male dancers may face, does he have any words of wisdom for someone looking to start out? “I’d encourage them to get into dance, and I’d also tell them not to give up on themselves, even if people around them aren’t supportive,” he says. “Like when I started out, my dad and some other family members weren’t really supportive until they saw me get on the stage with the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker performance.”

Not everyone would be so steadfast in the face of adversity, so what is it about dance (aside from his superior innate ability) that Crittenden loves so much? “It allows me to articulate my feelings and my emotions through movement. It allows me to connect to a story, or a person’s dream, or even my dream, through choreography. When I’m dancing, I feel like I’m connecting with the audience and their emotions, how they’re feeling. And once the dance is over, I connect right back to reality with the snap of a finger. It’s surreal.”

Tune in tonight at 7pm ET to see what it’s all about.

Featured image by Rosalie O’Connor via Washington Performing Arts