Engaging Atlanta: Julio Medina

Photo Credit: Gigi Mercandetti
Julio stands against a red brick wall in a white shirt with colorful detailing. He looks up towards the right-hand corner with a soft smile and hopeful eyes.

November 19, 2021
Volume 3 Issue 1

DanceATL: As part of an internal initiative to better address the needs of our community in its entirety, DanceATL is conducting brief interviews with dance organizations around Atlanta to learn and act upon how we can serve you as a vital and important member of our community. Our goal is to gain a better understanding of how we can support you, build a connected network of dance organizations and artists, and institute changes that can act as an example for artistic communities nationwide. Some of the questions we will be asking relate to whether or not you currently use any of our services, what your biggest challenges are right now, your vision for the community, and others.

DanceATL: Can you introduce yourself?

Julio: I’m Julio Medina. I am currently a faculty assistant professor in the Emory Dance Program where I teach hip-hop, dance history, improvisation, and modern dance, and I also just started a new course called Hip-Hop Dance and Identity. I’m from Los Angeles originally, back here now in Atlanta reintegrating into the Atlanta community. I love breaking. I love movement. I love improvisation.

DanceATL: How would you describe your perspective as an artist and kind of where you are coming from in relation to Atlanta dance artists, as a human . . . what is your perspective?

Julio: Yeah that’s interesting. I think I’m still figuring that out. I guess what I’m trying to bring to the table is a way to bridge movement languages, because that has been a big part of my dance experience. 

I didn’t start formally being trained until college and then hip-hop was always a big part of my life, and before that, social dance and a lot of Latin American dances were what I knew dance to be. So constantly being a part of different cultures and having to either code switch or to in some ways assimilate, not just to the mainstream culture, but every single pocket of communities that I’ve become a part of. I think that’s really informed who I am. I think just finding a way to connect people. I think maybe that’s one way I hope to be involved or bring people together through dance — and not necessarily always in the form of a concert or performance. But just dancing with other people in the same room I think could be transformative itself.

DanceATL: What makes you unique?

Julio: I like to think that everyone moves in different ways. Thinking about it in the larger picture of the dance community, I haven’t run into too many people who identify how I do in terms of my gender, ethnicity, or my sexual orientation. Heterosexual male Mexican-American. I don’t see too many of me in the dance community often, so that’s one way where that’s different for me and at the same time just also still being really open to all the other different identities in the room, especially in a field where it’s mostly female run. That’s something that I think about a lot as a teacher and try to be really careful and open and generous with people expressing who they are, so I think that’s one way where I’m unique. 

I am a multi-talented artist. I have also played the flute for a long time, so I am in some ways a musician. That will always be part of who I am, as I’m sure there are other artists that way, but I do feel like it does speak to my unique voice.

I don’t know if this is unique anymore. I feel like everyone trains in a bunch of different styles nowadays, but I do feel like what I try to do with breaking or hip-hop forms and contemporary dance is unique.

DanceATL: How do you define community? What does a community look like to you? Who and or what makes up your communities in the ones that you identify with?

Julio: Community is defined as a collective of people who come together for a shared interest or passion and experience really. I feel like a big function of a community should be to uplift each other or the people in it or the leaders, should be trying to support the community so that it’s not just existing, but it’s continuously growing and thriving.

And that growing and thriving has its ups and downs of course because as human beings we need to be sustainable, and we can’t always be going at 100 percent. 

Community is a space where we can grow together. So I try to do that a lot with my classes at Emory, especially my hip-hop classes, just considering the history of hip-hop and how it came out of Black and Latino youth in New York during a very chaotic time in America’s history in the 1970s, jumping off of the Jazz movement and the Motown and the Soul music where these people needed to heal. They were in a place where violence was around them, buildings were burning, gangs, drugs, all these things that just put them at odds with each other and so coming to coming together and then finding an outlet to express themselves. I think that’s extremely important; I think it’s a super power that humans have.

I try to recreate that idea in the classroom that when we come together even though we’re dancing, we’re dancing for a reason. There are still these forces of oppression all around us, there’s negativity all around us right so when we come together to dance. Let’s lift each other up in the process and then try to have fun. I think that’s one of the things that I try to share a lot with my hip-hop classes at Emory, and I’m trying to bring a little bit of that into Core Dance class.

While at the same time I try to fuse movement, I’m also trying to find the joy in the movement and find a way where even if dance is fun, it doesn’t mean it’s less artistic. I feel like sometimes that can happen.

Now that COVID-19 is kind of starting to dissipate, I am venturing out a little bit more into the breaking community, and I just met a hip-hop crew, Firefly Nation, at the Moving in the Spirit celebration and making those connections is opening doors to engage with other communities. Also with ALA Dance, I’m super looking forward to it becoming part of that community as well enough, so here I go trying to make these connections in different pockets.

DanceATL: Define being involved and engaged in a community. Give a specific example of what you are doing when you are being affected and engaged.

Julio: I think when I’m affected I feel inspired or so moved to carry something forward from a community and whether that be from the movement actually inspiring me, the movement that I see, or the movement that I learn from someone else and having that inspiration. Then I pay it forward. I think that’s one of the ways where ideas get shared. The communities continue to grow, and you start to find similarities between people.

It really comes down to time. Showing up is half of it. Going to dance shows I think is important. I feel like you really get to see a lot of different dance. I think that’s one of the ways in our dance community that’s how you’re committed and invested in the community. You show up to the performance, the events, the classes because then otherwise you can’t be engaged in other ways, and you can’t be moved.

I do feel, though, that it’s a difficult time to be doing that right now because of COVID. A lot of people got comfortable being at home. People made their little nests then they realized, “Oh it’s kind of nice to be home and protect your boundaries and have time for you.” That was the new thing I think in the mental health movement, so I think that served a lot of people. I think right now there’s a little bit of shuffling of that of “alright, how do you re-engage?” Because I feel like pre-pandemic, it’s kind of a given that you go to the social interactions or to the dance performances or the classes.

DanceATL: I’m really interested in what you said about taking something with you and carrying it forward. Can you give a specific example when you’ve done that?

Julio: When I went to the audition for ALA and we did a certain movement, that was a movement that I had done before, but I had forgotten about it. Then, that inspired a lot of the different phrases and movements that I was teaching for the next week or two, and so then I shared that with other people and other students. It showed up in my movement. I think that’s a very specific and very simple way but a very real way in how we share embodied knowledge.

DanceATL: What challenges are you currently facing as an artist and are there any specific examples? Feel free to provide them.

Julio: The challenge would be finding time to create a little bit more. That’s more of a life-artwork balance. There’s only so much energy that you have during the day, and so I think just for myself finding time in the day where I can create could be a game-changer for me, where I’m continuously creating could push my artistry in a different direction.  

Space-wise though I’m really lucky that I have Emory’s campus. As an assistant professor I’m extremely privileged to be there and have access to the studio, so space isn’t a challenge. It’s just more the time of the expectations of the job. Also just being a fur daddy to my dogs and being a husband and all those things, they take up time.

Speaking of time it’s also like I was saying earlier about getting out and engaging with the community. I did recently go out and take a class with Andre Lumpkin as part of The Movement Lab series. It was very fun, but it ended up just being us both. I think that was also the conversation that we had, 7:30 p.m. is kind of hard for people. 

I think time is not just the challenge that I’m facing, but other people probably are as well.

DanceATL: Are there other challenges that you see the Atlanta dance community is having?

Julio: I’m not sure how to communicate this. I’ve seen it, but I can’t pinpoint it yet. I may also have a limited scope of things, but I mean Atlanta’s dance community reminds me of L.A.’s dance community in the sense of the geography of the land. Everything is kind of distant from each other, and it’s not very easy to get to each thing. You have to drive kind of far to things around the perimeter. It’s not like we’re in New York, where it’s a little bit easier because of the subway. If Atlanta had a better public transportation system, that would be cool or if there was a hub or a space where all the different teachers and communities come to teach. That’s why I’m excited for Moving in the Spirit because I feel like it could be that if it opened its spaces for rentals for a ton of different dance classes or people to come through because it is so central.

At the same time I think there is something about communities having their own spaces because spaces inform who you are and how you operate.

DanceATL: With the dance organizations you listed out and your affiliations, what has been serving your needs? What has served you being affiliated with those groups?

Julio: I think one of those wonderful things about DanceATL are the email blasts, the Monday Moves and the Thursday Twirls. Those are super effective in telling you what’s happening in Atlanta and a diverse list of all the different things that are happening. I think it’s really cool. I think it’s really effective, and I think it’s one of the ways in which we are connected because you can stay in the know about what’s going on. I feel like every person who’s a dancer or choreographer or an artist should be in the DanceATL email lists. 

With being on the board of Moving in the Spirit, I’m still kind of new, but I mean it is an interesting way for me to learn about fundraising and spreading the word about an organization so that’s been useful for me.

For Core Dance, I think just getting to participate with professional dance artists, that’s just super helpful. Sometimes I can teach the same thing that I teach at Emory at Core Dance, and it’s just a completely different experience. So I think that always serves me artistically because then I can push whatever I’m making a little further. I love my students, but it is a different experience to go off-campus.

I’m excited to see what happens with ALA Dance, performing in the community I think is going to be fun. It’s something that I missed a lot. I’ve been missing in my life, so I’m excited to partake in that.

DanceATL: Are there services that we don’t currently provide that you would benefit from? You mentioned some larger cities could have different transportation access, different resources but other things that we are that you would like to see for us or for the community at large even?

Julio: I don’t know the answer to that question. I feel like y’all are doing really good work already, even taking the time to do these interviews I think that speaks a lot to how y’all are navigating the needs and wants of the community and trying to find solutions. I feel that there’s a strong social media presence, at least in my feed and in my inbox, so that feels good. 

Y’all have also hosted these pairings between different artists in the past to create work, yeah? I think that’s an amazing opportunity to bridge gaps between people and between artists and create connections. It’d be cool to have more potluck mixers. It would be helpful. I feel like DanceATL has actually really served me in helping me feel connected to the dance communities and the dance events.

DanceATL: Who do you think currently engages with DanceATL?

Julio: My hope is that young dance artists, college-aged and above, to people who have been established in the community here for more than 10 years . . . I hope that everybody in that net is involved with DanceATL or knows about DanceATL. That’s my hope, but I don’t know what the truth is.

I feel like any person who’s interested in dance, whether they be a musician or a visual artist who wants to get involved in the dance community should be, whether they’re white, Black, brown, Asian, whatever race or ethnicity they identify as, or sexual orientation. I feel like Atlanta is a place that embraces diversity. I feel that the dance community is a big part of that as well and helping shape that, so that’s who I hope is engaging with DanceATL.

Donate to DanceATL