“I’m a mover. I’m an artist. I live in and love Atlanta. I’m curious and driven and I’m a learner.”
Blake Beckham 01C is a choreographer, producer and dance educator who has garnered a lot of attention recently for the work she does through her presenting organization, The Lucky Penny. In 2011, Beckham and her partner, designer Malina Rodriguez, started the non-profit, for which Beckham serves as executive director and co-artistic director with Rodriguez. The Lucky Penny exists as a production outlet for the duo’s collaborative works and as a platform for presenting other contemporary artists’ works. As its website states, “The Lucky Penny’s mission is to advance artistry and cultivate community through its daring performance projects.”
Blake describes the Work Room — the Lucky Penny’s rehearsal studio located in East Point — as her “favorite place to be,” a spot where she can produce her work and help other dancers pursue their passions.
She teaches in the Work Room, as well as in academic settings like Emory and Agnes Scott. The “learner” part of her personality is in close conversation with her “teacher” side.
“I feel like it’s a fascinating part of life to experience young people as they are discovering themselves and making decision about who they want to be and how they want to impact the world. When I teach I always leave with more energy than what I came in with. It feeds me, it keeps things real, it makes me understand what’s the new viewpoint evolving nowadays.”
Teaching at Emory is an especially satisfying feast for Blake, since she calls the campus “home”. She feels that teaching in a place that nurtured her own passion for dance as an undergraduate is meaningful. As an English and Dance double-major, Blake thought she would veer towards “the words”. However, after working with dance mavens Anna Leo and Lori Teague, both still dance professors on campus, she felt motivated and inspired to develop her choreographic voice and keep on building herself as the artist she wanted to be. “They are my lifelong mentors and dear friends of mine,” Beckham said.
She is a big proponent of such student-professor relationships and advises current students to take the time and care to develop them, especially since, she says, teachers are more than willing to do their part in these fruitful connections. The links come with even more bonuses as dance professors will make an effort to place students in contact with the larger dance community of Atlanta.
“They created opportunities for us to meet alumni, to see performances out of campus. By the time I graduated, I already felt like I belonged in the Atlanta dance community and I could envision a place for myself in it.”
She advises Emory students to see themselves not only as members of the Emory community, but also as citizens of Atlanta — their involvement with their art should be multilateral.
“Since I’m now a teacher, a professional artist, and an Emory alum, I want to be that connector for students to introduce them to other artists and opportunities and encourage them to contribute to the Atlanta arts community. Emory dancers are super-smart and multifaceted and they approach any artistic project with a lot of depth.”
Blake remarks that Emory helped her realize that she needed movement in her life, that it was “a sort of basic for survival in my life, for my survival in this world.” She felt the need for an artistic outlet where she could use her body as a vehicle for exploration, “as a way of encountering the world” and satisfying her curiosity.
This curiosity is essential for her creative vision. She gets inspiration for her dance projects from different art forms, including photography and architecture. She also gets inspired by the people she works with. “We often describe the Work Room as a place for the queer, the misfits and the underdogs. Since it’s all about experimental performance, I’m really interested in nurturing the voices of artists that are pursuing this type of contemporary expression in an uncensored way.” She is interested in supporting people who are asking difficult questions and who are taking risks.
She remarks that the dance community in the city and in the nation at large continues to be an underserved group, mostly because of a lack of cultural literacy surrounding artistic movement. “We have to be our own champions and our own advocates.” That’s another reason why the Lucky Penny exists — it serves as a structured entity for change, inclusivity and unhindered artistic expression.
The organization invites all types of artists to collaborate. In 2012, the group built a giant cardboard house in collaboration with architects and paper scientists to create a two-story house in which the dancers could perform. “It was a remarkable feat of engineering,” Beckham said.
The project helped apparently disparate creative platforms — architecture, engineering and dance– to come together for the common goal of facilitating the movement of bodies in space.
Blake is excited to see how the arts community at large, and the dance community in particular, continue to improve over time in Atlanta. “It’s always said that Atlanta is a place with a lot of potential. I have lived in Atlanta for 20 years now and at some point that statement becomes a bit insulting and demoralizing. I’ve been working my ass off for 20 years. I believe in what’s here, our artists, and our resources, and our opportunities, and what we can create now. We can do so much with so so little.”
By Loli Lucaciu