Atlanta dance icon Corian Ellisor talks craft, mentorship, teaching, and legacy

Photo credit Jamie Hopper

Against a grey backdrop, Corian drapes himself over the marley facing away from the camera, but looking back with a tilted head and one outstretched arm. He wears a turquoise, brown, and orange ornately-patterned garment.

April 1, 2020
Volume 1 Issue 1
by: Laura Briggs

Corian Ellisor is the Energizer bunny of the Atlanta dance scene. Since moving from Houston in 2009, he has been performing, choreographing, producing, and teaching practically nonstop in the city. Corian has undeniably left his mark on the community in a multitude of ways. He has produced two dance festivals: The Atlanta Queer Dance Festival for LGBTQ+ work in 2010, and VeraCity for choreographers of color in 2018. He was a resident artist at the Work Room from 2015-2018, and he currently co-directs the children’s company at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center.

Corian’s ambition and success are rooted in humble beginnings. “I grew up learning music video dances in my living room in the suburbs of Houston, Texas,” he says. “I started as a music major at the University of Houston, but as I kept taking more and more dance classes, I realized I loved the intellectual component of dancing and dance-making.”

Corian quickly found his niche in the world of modern dance and choreography. “I ended up becoming a dance major, making work on the student company, and getting a choreographer award to go to the American Dance Festival, which was a huge moment for me.” After graduating with a B.A. in Dance from the University of Houston, Corian settled in Atlanta with his best friend and fellow Atlanta-based dance artist, Alex Abarca. They both joined Core Dance, where Corian stayed for four years.

One of the most striking things about talking to Corian is his dedication to the city of Atlanta as a place where self-made artists can grow and realize their dreams. On the subject, he says, “It’s very easy here for people who want to create. And people here are just willing to help you! Everyone wants to be involved. People like the arts and they know that being an artist is cool. If you want it, you can make it here. It doesn’t take a lot of money, either, which is great. I think that’s my favorite part about Atlanta. I didn’t even know how much I liked that. Going to college, I prepared for the struggle. But moving away to Atlanta, I was like, ‘I really can do all of this.’”

Photo credit Kay Mercer

Three dancers pose in a stairwell against a brick wall. Alex lounges against the blue railing in the foreground. Nicholas stands behind him, moving towards the camera with a determined gaze. Corian’s head peers out from behind Alex’s body in the background. All three dancers wear black mesh dresses and boots.

Like many artists, Corian recognizes the role of his mentors in his career. Among many names, Atlanta artists Greg Catellier and Kristin O’Neal have been instrumental to his growth and development as an artist. He also recognizes the contributions of people like Sue Schroeder of Core Dance, Heidi Howard at 7 Stages, Blake Beckham and Malina Rodriguez of the Lucky Penny, and Jerylann Warner at Callanwolde.

 “Everyone gets discouraged sometimes in this field,” Corian admits. “You know, when I was dancing in high school and college, I was never really the favorite. And that has an impact on you, for sure. But one thing that I think about that gives me a little bit of hope is that despite all the discouragement, I’m still here doing it! I’ve made a career out of this.”

Corian’s work ethic and perseverance shine through in his impressive body of work, which often integrates elements of drag, movement, and storytelling inspired by queer, black, and southern cultures. “I love the intimate side of dance, drag, performance, performance art. To me, dance, drag, theater is all the same to me. It’s all about storytelling and I love to tell stories. Sometimes I look like this, sometimes I don’t. I love playing with gender and constructs.”

Photo credit Jamie Hopper

In a dimly-lit space, Corian and Alex are captured in blue jumpsuits, leaning away from each other in a precarious position. Corian’s body is nearly horizontal, and the back of his hand makes contact with Alex’s outstretched arm. Alex’s body is also falling off his center. Both dancers face away from the camera.

In addition to making his own work, Corian is also a dedicated teacher who knows how to strike a balance between tough love and compassion. “I strive to make the kids to want to work. I’m really trying to teach them what it means to be passionate. They’re not all going to be professional dancers, that’s fine. But they’re choosing to be here, so we have to work and we have to be the best they can be. Everyone has different bodies and limitations, but mostly it’s about effort.” Corian also teaches adult classes at Callanwolde, where he emphasizes inquisitiveness, exploration, and repetition as tools for somatic awareness.

When asked about his legacy in the Atlanta dance community, Corian laughs nervously. “That’s such a big question! But really, it’s all about helping to uplift the community. In dance, it can be really stifling sometimes. I was a very lonely kid. I don’t have any siblings. This community means everything to me. It really is my chosen family. Also, I don’t have any kids and I need someone to take care of me when I get old.”

With the pandemic still ongoing, Corian isn’t sure when his next performance will take place—but rest assured, he has big plans to continue making innovative work, mentoring young dancers, and making this city a warm and welcoming place to dance.

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