We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessie James and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessie, why did you pursue a creative career?
I feel like that decision was made subconsciously from an early age. My mom tells me as a child I would tell her that I wanted to “be a star”. At a young age it’s all sparkles and flashy lights but as I grew older I discovered I wanted to pursue an avenue that was more behind the scenes. I wanted to create the movement that I was seeing on stage and be involved in overall creative decisions . Thankfully, my parents were in full support. I was expected to do well in school but they were clear that I wanted to pursue a career as a professional dancer and Choreographer. I had great teachers growing up who allowed me to shadow their process as creators that eventually sparked that interest. It hasn’t been an easy path. One that’s been filled with a lot of “no’s” and “your not right for the job” but the gratification of creating something visual to be enjoyed keeps me coming back again and again.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a Choreographer. I basically create movement for the stage or behind a camera. Someone the other day described my work as a “visual cornucopia” which made me giggle. Music & storylines play a large role in my work. I’m fascinated by human connection. I want people to walk away from my work feeling not only affected, but heard. I am most proud of the short dance films I’ve produced, choreographed, and directed. Those projects were self funded and self produced. They took a lot of work and risk to make and I’m really proud of how those turned out! A few have been screened at film festivals around the USA and received a few awards. I started out as a dancer training at an elite studio and eventually started working as a professional dancer at the age of 18! I enjoyed some professional contracts but what I really fell in love with was the choreography and behind the scenes part of it all. So I transitioned into more choreography work pretty early on and started traveling the country as a guest teacher/Choreographer to studios similar to the one I grew up at. Those studios really gave me my start. I grew so much as a Choreographer creating in those spaces. I’m so grateful for that trust at that time. I also lived abroad for some time and was able to expand my teaching and choreography internationally as well! Was it easy? No. Being a professional dancer is a hard job and I didn’t have thick enough skin. Like many dancers, I developed and eating disorder and discovered it was best for me step of stage and avoid that panic and anxiety. Transitioning to a Choreographer felt natural. And I truly love it. There are constantly ideas floating around my head! But it also comes with its challenges as there are only so many choreography jobs, and lots of talented Choreographers out there. I’ve been lucky to work with and set choreography on some of the nations best young dancers and I wanted to broaden that experience to film. I decided to create my “own job” and began creating short dance concept films. I needed to learn more about creating for a camera and all that goes with the planning of a project like that. I’ve learned along the way there is no real path to the dream job I want. Those that have gone before have all carved it out in different ways. Achieved great things at different ages. Created long lasting work in many different mediums. I’ve learned that sometimes the universe has a different plan with a lesson I need to learn and my creativity ebbs and flows. It’s easy to compare your journey in parallel with another creative but i’m learning that’s not healthy. Everyone is on a unique path in pursuit of their goals. I’ve learned that “trendy” won’t get you far. Stick with what you do best thats authentic to you and you will attract the right people. And lastly I want people to know that you never see the “before” we only see the “after” these days. Don’t forget most peoples success is preceded by years and years of work. I’ve tried hard to create the opportunities for my work. Truly hustled over the last 10 years to continue learning and pushing myself. I’ve got goals I’m still reaching for and continually trying to push myself to be better.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is tough because I’ve just moved!! I relocated back the USA from living abroad in London just a few months ago. But if you are visiting Minneapolis I highly suggest hanging out in the North Loop neighborhood downtown. The area is super cute and full of delicious restaurants and cafes. If your visiting in the warmer months you can enjoy the river trails and food trucks! A few local restaurant favs: Young Joni, Revival, Colita, and Blue Door.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many! Where do I start? I wouldn’t be where I am today without the trust of one of my early dance teachers. Her name is Stacey Bills and she was my coach/director at the studio I grew up with. There was an entire faculty of incredible teachers but Stacey took the chance on me and allowed me to shadow her as an assistant when she traveled for her Choreography work. I was able to watch and learn the process of what worked and didn’t work and she allowed me to create small sections of work with her. We keep in touch now and she still hires me to set work on the dancers under her instruction. It’s a full circle moment! Another person that I would like to recognize is my husband. We’ve been married for most of my professional career and those up and downs of a creative job haven’t been easy to navigate. Plenty of high highs and low lows. He’s been supportive each step of the way and even provides useful insight to my work. And lastly (this may sound cheesy) but my therapist. I met this woman in Los Angeles during a really difficult time and without her, I’m not sure I would still be doing what I do. It’s easy to shrink within ourselves as creatives but essential that we speak with someone. Our business can be quite cut throat and it’s important to have supportive voices around us.
Jessie James Headshot: Chantel Marie Photography