Dance group director, 23, moves in several circles
By Brenda Payton, STAFF WRITER, Oakland Tribune

Tecsia Ross asks a lot of her dancers. In one piece she even asked them to dance with
their hands bound by a rope controlled by other dancers.
"That piece is really challenging," she noted. "Two dancers control the rope and
sometimes they pulled harder and at different times. I wanted the dancers to really feel
bound, to get the effect that something was really controlling them, versus pretending."

The piece, "One Deadly Sin," explores the dynamics of being controlled by sin and
struggling with it. In the end, the dancers seem to overpower sin, danced by Ross, and
take control. "But it's also left up to the audience to decide if they really take control or
if they will fall back under the influence. I like having that ambivalence."

Ross, tall and striking, is confident beyond her years. In fact, it's almost impossible to
believe how young she is. "I'm only 23," she said, laughing when it was pointed out she
automatically said "only."  "I guess I'm so used to people saying it about me." She asks
a lot, but she gives a lot too. Her professional dance company, Ross Dance, is already
into its second season with successful performances in Los Angeles and New York City.

"I was actually shocked L.A. was that friendly," she said. "I wasn't sure how they would
receive a modern jazz company. But we had a good crowd." And the company has
been invited back to perform next year.

She plans to develop a six- or seven-city tour over the next five years. Impressively,
she pays her dancers for performances and covers their travel expenses.
What inspired a then-21-year-old to think she could start a dance company?  "I have a
passion for dance. I wanted to do so much more. I just woke up and heard God say,
'You can do it,'" she said. So she did. The first year presented particular challenges.
"Getting dancers to come. It was a first-year company, so they didn't know what to
expect."

She also had to figure out how to work with friends and dancers who are older than she
is. "But the second year is a new ball game," she said expertly. She hired a program
manager. And she got an early start on scheduling performances and rehearsals.
"Everything I could think about I got confirmed," she said. At her auditions, she talked
with potential dancers about her vision for the company, their role and reviewed a
detailed contract.

"When you have a contract, people take it differently," she said. "The dancers are
committed to being part of building a company." The company is made up of Ross and
four other dancers. She was just 14 when she started touring with a dance company,
an early exposure she believes contributed to her understanding of how to run a
company. That and choreographer Joe Goode, a mentor and teacher. "He
communicates well with people. He challenges you to think creatively," she said. "What
he taught me about manipulating movement showed up in 'One Deadly Sin.' We tried
an eight-count with just the arms. I might manipulate the counts in 10 to 15 ways. And
spacing. You have dancers coming from one angle, then from two angles."

She believes in the value of criticism. She sits down with her dancers and views the
video of the dance. "They think I'm rough on them," she laughed. "I try to be honest
and respectful." And what's good for her dancers is good for her. She asked three
people to view the video of their performance and advise her how to improve the
program. "There is some nervousness, but if you don't ask, you can't grow," she said.
Her reviewers suggested lighting changes and varying the texture in one of the dances.
She was planning to ask Goode to come to the upcoming performance to get his
feedback.

In addition to building the company, Ross hopes one day to run a dance studio, as well
as earn a degree in clinical psychology. That's correct, in addition to running Ross
Dance, she is in her second year of a doctorate program in clinical psychology. "I really
like having two passions. When I get tired of dance, I can use other parts of my brain,"
she said. "I use it (psychology) with the company when we talk about how they are
feeling about a piece, or talk about their character. A lot of choreographers don't talk to
their dancers."

Just 23. Amazing.

Ross Dance Company performs "Testimony," three vignettes and four full dances
(including "One Deadly Sin") today and Saturday, 8 p.m. at Laney College, 900 Fallon,
Oakland. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students with ID.