Jessica Starr was never one to take no as an answer.
Starr grew up in Ahwatukee. She went to Mountain Pointe High School. She was on the dance team, the cheer team, and was very involved with school. She says she was never the most naturally talented of the group, but it didn’t stop her.
After graduating from Mountain Pointe in 2000, the Ahwatukee native went to the University of Arizona to continue her studies. But she didn’t get into the dance program, which is one of the top in the country.
“I didn’t get in the first year because I wasn’t a size two ballerina,” Starr said, “I didn’t fit the mold of what exactly they wanted.”
But Starr wanted to dance, so she started the U of A’s first hip-hop dance team.
“I wanted to be able to dance, find opportunities to perform,” she said.
And her hip-hop dance team was attracting attention. Starr was teaching the school’s students hip-hop dancing, so a ballet professor decided to return the favor.
“Modern, ballet and jazz dancers were actually on my team so she made me a proposition that if I was training her dancers in hip-hop she wanted to train me in her style,” Starr said.
So Starr had made it into the dance program. After graduating with degrees in media arts, photography and, of course, dance, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue jobs in media and film. But opportunities for dance kept popping up.
“I got all of those degrees and moved to LA with the intention of working more in media, film and TV but a lot of opportunities kept lining up, one right after the other, and sort of encouraged me to try to pursue dance as my career instead of the other areas,” she said.
Starr founded Muse Dance Company in 2005. But starting a new dance company doesn’t come without its challenges.
“The challenge was to stay true to what I was and what I believed, and not to fold to what everyone else in the industry was doing,” Starr said, “A lot of time people are doing, in my opinion, less quality artistry work that’s simple and one dimensional instead of with a purpose. It’s very aesthetically pleasing and entertaining, but there’s no creative value to it.”
Muse kept growing and now it’s a full performance company about to perform its premier show.
Recently, Muse received the honor of being asked to do a show at the Studio at Sage Hill in Newport Beach, Calif. The show, “The Divine Direction,” is a two-hour performance featuring contemporary, tap and jazz dancing, live musicians and singers, spoken word artists, and even a spray painter. It depicts 15 life changing events in her and other dancer’s lives.
“It shows how through everyone’s individual divine moments they’re connected and woven together to create the path that we all walk on,” Starr said. “It’s going to tackle issues that are fairly intense and important to society today, like social issues like body image and domestic abuse, but also some other things more simple and beautiful like a first kiss or being able to find piece in chaos.”
Muse is also adding a non-profit branch and they hope that one day they will be able to travel the world performing and offering workshops.
Now Starr is looking to inspire young dancers and artists. On Thursday, Feb. 7, she is offering a class at the Ocotillo Dance Center, 2625 W. Queen Creek Road in Chandler, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. for $25 per person.
She remembers when Brian Friedman, a local dancer and choreographer who has choreographed for Britney Spears and “The X Factor,” would come back to the Valley to talk to young local dancers.
“I would get really excited and encouraged by what he had to say so,” Starr said. “Although I’m not on that level yet I hope to get a chance to talk to the dancers and encourage them and get them excited about their path.”
Starr is thrilled to come back and give young artists some advice gleaned over her years as an artist.
“If you know it’s something you want to do, move forward honestly and sincerely with your art form,” she said. “Eventually, there will be someone who sees you to be as amazing as you see your vision to be.”
For more information on the class, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on Divine Direction or how to get involved with Muse Dance Company, email Starr at Jessica@MuseDanceCompany.com.
• Brittany Stehmer is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.