Jaime Simpson was recently hired as the new Academy Director for Todd Rosenlieb Dance Center. Jaime received her bachelor’s degree in Ballet Performance from Indiana University, training with Patricia McBride, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and Violette Verdy. Jaime began teaching ballet while at IU, working with college students as well as students in the youth program. Since returning to Hampton Roads in 2005, Jaime has taught all levels of ballet and pointe at several area schools and has choreographed ballet pieces for VBBA, Arts Enter Cape Charles, TRDance Center, and the VBT Ensemble.
When Jaime is not at the studio, she freelances in the interior design industry and has her own design and art company. She and her husband, Nathan, enjoy all things outdoors, and have fun being entertained by their two lively cats.
TW: Tell us about your childhood. How did you become interested in dance and in ballet in particular?
JS: My father was in the Navy, so we moved around a bit when I was growing up. I started taking lessons in tap, jazz, and ballet. After two years, I went to see “The Nutcracker.” That’s when I knew ballet was the one.
TW: What drew you to become a teacher of dance? How has your role as a teacher changed you?
JS: I began teaching when I was studying ballet in college at Indiana University. Teaching has broadened my perspective and led me to dig even deeper into the world of ballet. When teaching, I pull from my own learning experience and what I’ve learned from my past teachers. It’s also important to find multiple ways to explain the steps and the emotion of a sequence so that I can help students connect to the movements in the way that works best for each of them.
TW: Why do you think the arts are important to a young person’s education?
JS: Art gives young people space to explore their imagination and to find more ways to express themselves. Young artists also gain a sense of accomplishment when they see their own progress as they learn and merge technique with creativity.
TW: What can parents do to encourage their children’s creativity?
JS: One possibility would be to encourage their children to try something new: creating an abstract painting, building a clay sculpture, or putting on an impromptu dance performance in the living room. Another would be to share art with them, like photos of paintings, virtual tours of museums, and videos of theatre or dance performances. Those experiences could generate a spark of inspiration that would open up a world of new ideas.
TW: How does your career as an interior designer inform your career as a dancer and dance instructor? Vice versa?
JS: Both of these fields give me the opportunity to interact with people with different perspectives and personalities. The clients I work with on design projects all have varying needs for functionality and style preferences; my dance students have varying ways of learning and absorbing the movements. Each field pushes me to find ways to tailor the process so that it is best suited for each person I work with.
TW: Do you pursue other kinds of art?
JS: Over the past few years I have created mixed media collages, using a combination of torn magazine pages, metallic, and paint. I’ve recently started dabbling in acrylic paintings as well.
TW: What are your goals as an artist?
JS: As a designer, I strive to create environments for my clients that are just the right blend of function and aesthetic to give them a space where they really feel at home. As a dance artist, my main focus is to help the students and professional dancers that I work with pursue their goals and hone their talents as they move forward on their individual paths.
TW: What are the challenges of choreography? The rewards?
JS: The challenges definitely vary with each choreographic experience; sometimes it’s tricky musical timing, sometimes it’s space constraints, sometimes it is a rushed timeline. But a challenge can also be a good thing and lead to an idea that may not have happened otherwise. One of the many wonderful aspects of choreography is working with dancers who are embracing a certain style or movement texture for the first time and watching them really embrace it and flourish within it.
TW: In your new role at TRD, how are you adapting to the pandemic?
JS: When I moved into this role, TRDance had already established safe studio procedures, adjusted class sizes, and added virtual learning options. I will carry that forward and continue to follow state and CDC recommendations and navigate any future changes as they come up. I plan to continue opportunities for virtual learning as well as brainstorm more possibilities for performing as we move into fall and winter. The arts are so healing and are such an important part of life. I hope to do everything I can to keep our dancers dancing as safely as possible.
For more information about TRDance Center, visit trdance.org.