Jerron Herman became a dancer at the age of 20, despite the fact that he had a disability. Now a dancer with the Heidi Latsky Dance Company, he has created an identity for himself while exploring his body and newfound movement.
Although Herman, who lives in New York, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy—a disease that causes the left side of his body to spasm and affects the way he walks—at an early age, he started dancing when he was 20 years old. While interning at New Victory Theater Company in 2011, choreographer and modern dance aficionado Sean Curran recommended he audition for Heidi Latsky, a choreographer who has worked with Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane. Herman says being a part of the company has allowed him to “activate” his body and find a form of expression he’d never thought possible.
Herman was “On Display” with more than 30 local performers at the Institute of Contemporary Art this past June. The show commented on the complex relationship between the viewer, the viewed and society’s obsession with body image.
JARED BOWEN: Tell me about this dance you’re participating in. What does it mean to you?
JERRON HERMAN: On Display was first pitched to me as a movement installation and an art exhibit where we deconstruct and audience or viewer’s idea of looking at people with different abilities or different compositions. And so, I was going to become a statue, and I was going to become an emblem of difference and diversity.
BOWEN: What’s your process to get to that point? To realize that idea?
HERMAN: Having a disability, you already have this identity with being seen and you already have this identity with presenting yourself in different ways because you have to communicate your needs at every, at certain points you have to communicate your difference. It being a very physical and in visual form of living, it’s all a part of territory. To put into an artful format was a way to turn it around. Turn the seemingly negative point about always being noticed around.
BOWEN: And is that how you feel? Do you feel that you’re always being noticed?
HERMAN: I think dance is the new way to write in a way. A new way to write a narrative. I’m loving this idea of, I’m using my body as the story. I’m using my body as the characters and the words that I want to say about who I am and I’m actually an underrepresented character. So, where I wanted to write unrepresented characters, I’m in the forefront now as a performer. There was this glass ceiling really that contributed to my, to my pursuits in other art forms, and so when it came to dance, you could use the body that was told to you that it was fractured and incomplete, and you were able to use it in a way that spoke volumes, that spoke limitlessness, spoke freedom and spoke facility. I always look for places that I can enter into – I’m a big junkie with access and attaining access in uncommon ways. I think it is because of the disability and having so many people in so many situations saying that, “You can’t go there,” that I’m always looking for the places that do allow me to “go there.”
BOWEN: I just can’t imagine this coming so late! It must have cracked something open for you in order for you to understand the potential of this expression.
HERMAN: There’s a part of me that thinks that my body always needed to be activated or wanted to be activated. With having a physical disability, there, you’re pushed and you’re prodded from the beginning of your diagnosis by physical therapists and occupational therapists, your own parents and different places are touching and feeling your body, and moving your body and asking you to do different tasks without a real understanding of you and of what you can get out of it. It’s just to make you more like society. It’s to make you so that you don’t fall behind and become an invalid. So there’s this real rigid practicality with physical therapy that when I got into art and to dancing, there was a switch, wherein these tasks that I’m being asked to do, these movements, these attention to detail that are just as rigorous right? As rotary motion and squeezing a ball, you know, and they’re the same intensity, yet the mindset of where the end goal is, is not at all that practical or is not at all – if you don’t do this, then you won’t get to where you need to be. Instead, it’s this kind of circular, in your body already, what you do now will feed you and will bring energy back to you. And I thought that, and so, in the craziest way, it’s the best physical therapy! It becomes the best type of movement for me and to continue.
BOWEN: When you’re doing On Display, are you conscious of being on display and what that interaction with the audience is?
HERMAN: Yeah! Now I actually think of myself as a sculpture in a normal day to day. I think of myself as – sometimes if I’m walking down 5th avenue I’ll get the model walk and the model eye gaze where it’s just right above your head and I don’t care where you are. You know? I’m going to strut! I’ll know that someone passing me, is going to see me at that moment, but then there will be so many other ways that they’ll be able to see me. If they come to see a performance from a year from now, Um, if they watch our film, or if they research our company, if they see pictures, there’s so much that I think visually they’ll be able to get and consume about my body, and about the bodies that we place in spaces right now, that they’re going to get something.
Herman talks about “On Display” on Open Studio with Jared Bowen.