STILL NY is interviewing New York-based artists in an effort to celebrate their talents and experiences as these artists fight for their dreams while surviving and thriving during the Covid-19 pandemic. This month, we had the privilege of sitting down with TYLER BROWN. Ms. Brown is a teacher and business owner whose resume includes being a principal dancer for Alvin Ailey’s second company. We met, socially-distanced over Zoom, to discuss her life as a dancer in NYC and her brand new dance center:
NECTAR NEWS: Let’s just start at the very beginning. How did you begin your career as a dancer and your life in New York City?
TYLER BROWN: I was born in New York City, but my mom moved to Maryland when I was a baby, and that’s where I grew up. I started dancing when I was nine years old, and I continued all throughout high school. When I graduated, I got a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s school and moved back to New York City to attend the Ailey school. Other than the school – which is a subsequent addition – Ailey is famous for its two companies, which are kind of like major leagues and minor leagues. After one year in school, I was made an apprentice for the second company, which was awesome because an apprenticeship is usually the stepping stone to getting in the company – which is exactly what happened the next year.
I went dancing around the world with Ailey II for a couple of years, which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. When I finally came back to New York, after dancing with a few smaller companies, I figured that even though I was still young I would get a head start on the career path that most dancers take later in life, and I started teaching children, which had kind of been a dream of mine since middle school.
The opportunity kind of landed on my lap. I was teaching a yoga class in a residential building when an awesome lady called Julie approached me and said “Hey, you were in Alvin Ailey, right? Can you teach my daughter a private lesson?”
I started teaching Julie’s daughter. Then another friend joined the class, then another, and another, and all of a sudden I had about 20 students that were taking semi-private and private lessons from me. For a couple of years I kept refining my teaching skills while giving classes in various studios I’d rent by the hour. Last summer one of the studios I used the most went out of business because of covid, and I got an amazing opportunity to take over the lease. Just like that, the Tyler Brown Dance Center was born! And that’s what I do right now.
NECTAR NEWS: That’s so wonderful. Congratulations. Where is the studio?
TYLER BROWN: It’s located on 24th Street and Lexington Ave. It’s a small studio, but I’m really proud of it. Obviously, right now with covid, we’re not taking large numbers of dancers or students. But it’s 1400 square feet, so if we limit it to 5 or 6 people at a time, we’re able to hold socially-distanced classes and rehearsals. We have an industrial-grade air purifier, we have hand sanitizer everywhere, and we make the best of a difficult situation.
Honestly, I can’t complain. With all the people struggling right now, I’m really grateful that I manage to stay afloat and that I was able to switch from being a carefree touring dancer to a small business owner – during a pandemic!
NECTAR NEWS: Absolutely. What was that experience like early on living in New York as a dancer?
TYLER BROWN: It was a dream come true. I think I was 16 years old when I was like, “Okay, I want to be a dancer professionally,” but I didn’t know I could do it. And I definitely didn’t have high self-esteem. I thought, “Oh, I will never be able to make it,”. And when I came to New York City, I think going into Ailey really helped, because all of a sudden I was in a room with 30 other people that looked just like me, and danced just like me, or had even better technique than me. And I had to figure out a way to stand out, “How do I stand out? How do I stand out in New York City?”
And there were little silly things that I would do, like wearing a bright leotard, or I’d put lipstick on some days, or just stand in the front. And that fight and that energy every day was just so amazing. I liked it. Some people are like, “I want to go back home. This is not my thing.” But I liked that energy.
The other thing is New York City has so much exposure to amazing dance companies, amazing dance schools. Other cities, states, other countries have really good dancing as well, but there’s just so much in New York City. It just feels like the exact center of the dance world.
NECTAR NEWS: So you’re a dancer, a teacher, and now a new business owner. Talk to me a little about what your experience has been opening during this pandemic.
TYLER BROWN: It’s really rewarding to have my own business. And very stressful. But mostly rewarding! In retrospect, the timing was really fortunate. The pandemic forced me to start small and probably saved me from biting more than I could chew. My costs were a little more manageable as we started, and the few students I had were all that I could safely fit in the studio anyway, so it kind of worked out.
Signing that lease was a huge leap – probably the biggest I’ve ever made – but I’m really happy that I did. I still remember that when we opened and friends started coming over to dance at my studio, it was really emotional. These were professional dancers who hadn’t danced in months, and all of a sudden they had a space in which they could leap, and jump and move. It was amazing. They were like, “Thank you so much for this opportunity. Thank you for having this space for us.” And I was like, “Oh my goodness.” I would come home and tell my husband “People are crying in the lobby because they really need that outlet!” There was really nowhere else for them to go.
NECTAR NEWS: Wow, what a beautiful turn of events.
TYLER BROWN: Yeah, it was crazy. I’ve always had this dream in the back of my mind that I would dance professionally and then I would have my dance studio, but I always imagined that I’d go back home to Maryland and I would have a dance studio there. I never thought it would be possible for me to have a dance studio in New York City and especially not during a pandemic. So it was just all crazy, but I had to go for my dream. I had to go for it, and it’s been awesome.
NECTAR NEWS: So, looking forward and from your perspective, New York is so devastated right now, so many people are losing their homes, restaurants, we’re all looking at where do we go from here? Particularly, we know that the arts drive this city. Like you said, if people aren’t coming to see the shows and jumping back and forth from one thing to the next, then there’s no one going to the restaurants. What are things that you want to see if you’re in your imagination, rebuilding New York after all of this?
TYLER BROWN: I don’t think people give this city enough credit. New York is going to bounce right back. People here will always need an artistic outlet. And again, New York City is amazing compared to other places like back home in Maryland, where everything is about football and baseball, and it’s considered almost corny or cheesy to be into arts or ballet or stuff like that. But here in New York art is respected and it’s cool to be a dancer. Everybody always talks about New York’s energy. Right now that energy is being bottled up, and artists and dancers and small business owners are preparing for the moment when we’re finally able to release it. There’s going to be a major surge and things will be even better than before. I’m a teacher and I work with children, so that’s my focus. I think children will lead the charge in the recovery. Kids need an artistic/expressive outlet like adults need air. They’ve adapted to the new normal better than us adults, they’re fearless and they’ll lead the way to a new and improved normal.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE TYLER BROWN DANCE CENTER VISIT: https://www.tylerbrowndance.com/