Ralph Escamillan began dancing as a teenager in Vancouver, BC, and is now a performer who has worked with several high-profile dance companies. At the age of fourteen, after becoming enthralled with the style and swagger of hip hop, Escamillan cleaned the studio floors at Vancouver’s Harbour Dance Centre to pay for breakdance classes. His passion for performance and his dedication led him to the innovative Modus Operandi contemporary dance program. Through this education, in addition to performing with groups including 605 Collective and Out Innerspace Dance Theatre, Escamillan was awarded a prestigious apprenticeship with the world-renowned Kidd Pivot. Since graduating in 2015, Escamillan has tallied accomplishments as an independent artist, as a part of a Dora Award-winning ensemble (Gadfly’s Klorofyl) and as a backup dancer to Janet Jackson. Currently he is juggling contracts with Wen Wei Dance, Co. ERASGA and Kinesis Dance Somatheatro, while teaching voguing and competing in urban, waacking and drag competitions under his alias, RARUFU.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired when I’m able to inspire others to dance, especially those who aren’t technically classified as dancers. I also like to try to change people’s perspectives of what dance is. I want to inspire others to ask questions about dance and how they use their bodies to contradict what they know about themselves.
After adding voguing, waacking, drag, ballroom and circus dance forms to your previous urban and contemporary dance training, how do you balance it all while still staying motivated?
I think the biggest thing that I’ve learnt in my pursuit of movement is that they’re all interrelated. The techniques I use in contemporary dance I’ll also be using when I’m in heels. The difference is how you mentally bounce back and forth between them, because I think they’re all relevant to each other. Regardless of the dance form, what stays consistent is my body and how I use it. That consistency keeps me going.
How did your experience as an apprentice at Kidd Pivot, working with founding Artistic Director Crystal Pite, help you grow as an artist?
It was so surreal and inspiring. When I saw the email from her, I literally started to cry. Who would think that a street dancer, who started at the age of fourteen and had recently gone into contemporary dance, would be asked by Pite to do an apprenticeship? I was at the studio early every day and I learnt everyone’s part. They kept joking about me doing the whole show on my own. That being said, I had thoughts of ‘What am I doing here?’ I kept questioning the fact that I’m not a technically trained ballet dancer. But it gave me a lot of confidence that these professionals, these Pivots, also seemed to be blending genres. It made me confident with what I had to give.
How would you describe your training through Modus Operandi?
David Raymond, Tiffany Tregarthen and Modus Operandi have been my biggest influences in regards to breaking into the contemporary dance world. I don’t even know how it happened. It’s been serendipitous. The training was exceptional and you get access to the people who will potentially give you work. But I also had to work my butt off ’cause I had to catch up. I’m still trying to catch up. I never thought I would be the type of person to commit to anything like that, but I stuck it out because it was important for me to graduate and to become better at my craft.
What has been challenging for you?
I would say keeping sane, not overthinking everything and trusting in your training, your technique and your history.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
I’d love to have the chance to work with Crystal Pite and the Pivots again. I’d love to be making my own work and touring my own creative projects, and I’d love to build a stronger vogue dance community in Vancouver and bridge it with LGBQT youth groups.
Read more about Ralph in the January/February issue.