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How One Man Discovered his Purpose, Passion & Super Power

February 15th, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Some first impressions are unforgettable. That is how I felt when I met Andrew Nemr last month at the 2015 SupportTED Collaboratorium.

Andrew was one of 12 carefully-selected TED Fellows who brought to the event his life’s purpose –to speak love into our culture. His vehicle to do that? Tap dance.

The Collaboratorium’s four-day intensive event created a major shift for Andrew which he took back to his work as Artistic Director of Cats Paying Dues.

This week, Andrew’s dance company, Cats Paying Dues will celebrate their 10th Anniversary Season with the premiere of Three Suites. The new work will highlight the unique aesthetics the company has brought to the stage over its ten-year history.

In the Q&A below, you’ll see and feel Andrew’s “super power” bringing this show to life. I do, and I will never forget.

Joan Wright: First of all, what are you up to in the world, and how did it all get started for you?

Andrew Nemr: On the surface I’m a tap dancer, but what I’m really interested in is using tap dance as a vehicle to speak love into culture. Entertainment can be a very powerful thing, and if used for good, can serve to renew the culture of society. Whether through performance, teaching, talks, or producing, I enjoy using tap dance to unveil ideas about love, service, and human nature. I have a wide portfolio of projects that each reflect an aspect of my artistic and cultural interests. From highly improvisational music projects to choreographed theatrical endeavors, a curated blog on love to a foundation dedicated to the legacy of tap dance every project lends itself to a reflection of who we are and how we might learn to love in more complete ways.

It all started for my when I was three and a half years old and my parents signed me up for dance lessons at a local dance school in Alexandria, VA. While initially a social activity, dancing became a place I could grow and thrive while learning new skills. I enjoyed the challenge of learning and stuck with it and that same studio for seven years. When I was nine, I saw the movie TAP starring Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines, and Savion Glover. It was while watching this film that I fell in love. Within a year of watching the movie, I met Gregory Hines and Savion Glover and would go on to work with and be mentored by both of them. Gregory and Savion introduced me to their own mentors and eventually I was grafted into the oral history, regularly hanging out with and being mentored by 70 and 80 year olds – tap dance legends from the crafts heyday – while I was in my early teens.

Thanks to the many men and women who poured into me, the roots of tap dance were firmly planted. The adventure has been seeing how the branch I’m on is growing.

JW: In today’s culture, there’s often a divide – people driven by ego and people driven by heart. How does your heart guide you every day, and what do you think the impact of that is for others?

AN: My heart, checked along the way by my gut, have guided many of my choices – at least all the good ones. There is a resonance in my heart when I hear or see the truth. When I allow myself to respond to this initial resonance, even if it is to ask more questions, I find myself on a surer path than if I allow doubt to settle in. As for impacting others, I have been known to wear my heart on my sleeve. With that comes heightened emotions, highly personal responses, and a level of engagement that I’ve been told is rare. I hope that this disposition of vulnerability sets a model that allows others to feel that they can share their own hearts at whatever point they find themselves on their journey.

JW: What does a “job well done” mean to you and for you?

AN: A job well done means that I have listened well, been diligent in the work set before me, and followed through to the end of the task. It sounds simpler than I found it to be in real life, but these three things really encompass what I hope to be able to look back upon when I see how I have approached my work.

JW: How do you seek expertise and experience every day?

AN: I’m an experiential learner, so I have had to learn how to ask good questions, instead of just trying out everything I wanted to learn. I’m more comfortable being guided through a new experience while in the driver’s seat, but have come to admire good questions and understand the value of seeking the expertise of others. Today I find myself doing new things every day, whether it’s little things like a new conversation or larger things like a new production, I remember to ask questions and seek learning opportunities in every situation I find myself in.

JW: What is your own unique talent, skill, ability?

AN: I’ve recently had a major shift here. For me there is a discreet difference between my talents and skills and my mission. This might sound obvious, but in the performing arts sometimes it can be blurred. For much of my life I thought my mission was tap dancing, and I had superpowers like compassion, listening, and a quick intellect. Only recently was it crystalized that my mission is Love – a very specific kind of love that is rooted in my faith tradition and speaks of renewal, reconciliation, and value of both the individual and community. My superpowers now include tap dancing.

JW: What’s your go-to strategy when something doesn’t work out, there’s a mistake, there’s a problem? How do you recover?

AN: Every challenging scenario demands its own unique strategy, however there are general guidelines that I try to follow to walk through and recover from these challenging situations. I attempt to discern and acknowledge the truth of the situation, my own responsibilities and shortcomings or misjudgments. I will I try to fill in the gaps, find the work that needs doing and do that.

For recovery, I sleep. It is a wonder what a good night’s rest, or daytime nap will do. I’ll also do very simple tasks. Taking time to do small things that are easily accomplished help me to reset. Laundry is great for this.

JW: Where and how or in what are you “rooted”?

AN: I am rooted in my faith, my family, and my work, in that order. I have a family that reminds me of my faith, and a profession that would not be possible without my family or my faith, so I’m blessed in that keeping my priorities in order is the only way things work. It’s a self-correcting system, and still there is learning.

JW: What are three things you know you MUST do or have to obtain things you desire?

AN: Professionally, I was fulfilled years ago. I became a tap dancer, met and was mentored by my tap heroes Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. I was able to meet, befriend, and be mentored by many of the tap dance legends, as well. I have traveled the world doing something I thoroughly enjoy. Today my goals are simply to love and be loved – in every moment, in every choice, in every word, and in every action. I fail often, but less and less every day.

JW: How do you make decisions?

AN: I gave a presentation a few weeks ago about my endeavors and associated projects, and ended with this quote from the poet and artist Khalil Gibran, “When love beckons to you, follow…” – I really don’t have another framework for making decisions. I have however been learning a lot about Love’s voice, and whether its showing you something, teaching you something, or asking you to act on something. In the process of figuring. Out which is which there is often a lot of silence, a few questions, a lot of listening to the situation, and testing the waters of potential choices.

JW: What is a quality performance or experience for you? What’s the impact for an audience when YOU know its quality?

AN: There are so many variables that come into play in live performance, I have yet to establish a sufficient metric for a quality performance. I’ve experienced situations in which I felt that I gave everything I could, and the audience response was minimal, and the reverse as well.

To learn more about Andrew, please visit his website: www.andrewnewmr.com.

To learn more about the CPD’s 10th Anniversary Show, please visit:http://www.andrewnemr.com/event/cpd-10th-anniversary-season