"Luther’s many resources allowed me to discover what is important to me specifically, and then take the time needed to expand and deepen those interests."
“I was paralyzed with indecision of where to go to school. I didn't actually complete any college applications except Luther's because my mom made me. Due to my initial reluctance, I spent a lot of time trying to maintain distance between Luther and myself.” His hesitancy couldn’t last long though. “The Luther community took time to extend an invitation to join in and add my thoughts to its colloquy.” James’ experiences with dance Professor Jane Hawley also helped welcome him. “One of the first weeks of my first year, I met with Jane Hawley because I was curious about dance. Later that night I found myself in rehearsals for Luther’s production of A Tragedy Like Macbeth. This experience was one of many I had at Luther in which professors and students made space for me at a time in my life when I did not know how to make it for myself.”
“Sitting in Jane Hawley's office. As a student, I was constantly haunted by the specter of what I "should" be doing. During office hours, Jane would hold space for me to examine, question, disassemble, and reorganize my thoughts and feelings. Those conversations were fundamental to my development as a dancer.”
James attributes much of his success to the Movement Fundamentals curriculum; “It’s given me a lens and perspective in the dance world that no one else has, because it is generated by me.” He uses the principles of Movement Fundamentals in his choreography work with actors, dancers, and students.
In addition to his involvement in the dance program, James played under the direction of Dr. Daniel Baldwin with the Luther College Symphony Orchestra. “He has a way of holding musicians accountable without ever shaming them for an incorrect note or rhythm.” He says, “I had never practiced so hard in my life and that year I grew more as a musician than I had thought possible. In the arts there is a lot of emphasis put on talent, but that experience reminded me that putting in the work is really what is most important.”James also held various work-study positions on campus. One standout experience was during his sophomore year, when he worked as an office assistant in the Luther Dance Department. He says, “I learned to organize, communicate, and coordinate with others. Those are the skills I use every day at Lou Conte.”
“Luther allowed me to develop artistic relationships with my fellow classmates that are maintained to this day as evidenced by the Black Earth Collaborative Arts in Minneapolis,” he says. “Recently I was choreographing a play in Chicago that was being stage managed by a fellow Luther grad, Elaena Hoekstra. Ultimately, Luther prepared me to love learning and working through dance.”
Right after graduation, however, James hadn’t decided on a set career path. “I began working at a local bar and performing in suburban theatre productions in the Chicagoland area. After about six months, I decided I wanted to focus on my dance career. I began looking for dance training opportunities in Chicago.”James knew that Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the Lou Conte Dance Studio are the biggest names in American concert dance and he knew he wanted to work and train there. “I became the administrative assistant at the Lou Conte Dance Studio after interviewing with Claire Bataille, who had seen me perform at the 2017 ACDA (American College Dance Association) North-Central conference with the Luther dance department. Since then I've been the assistant choreographer on two musicals that have won the Jimmy award for Best Production in 2017 and 2018. I have performed and taught at Performática 2018 with fellow Luther grad Taylor Gomez. Currently, I am choreographing when Adonis Calls with the Thompson Street Opera Company for its Chicago premiere.”