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Life & Work with Christian Frommelt of Gravois Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christian Frommelt.

Hi Christian, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I’m an artist, an observer, a truth-seeker, a storyteller, an organizer, and a community member. My primary work is as a jazz dancer, performer, instructor, and musician, though I am also engaged in numerous forms of visual arts and writing.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
One of the biggest struggles has been listening to my voice while heeding the creations of those I respect most and heeding commercial demands. Ultimately that is an internal struggle that each artist undergoes; it’s part of the beauty of being a creator; it’s part of the process that each artist must cultivate to make truthful art.

Part of the process for me as a jazz artist is acknowledging my role in approaching, discussing, and affecting Black dance and music forms as a white person. During the pandemic lockdown, I spent a lot of time examining how much I had benefited from Black art forms and unpacking how I was and wasn’t in service to them. Afterward came a period where I believed I had no place practicing Black artforms as a white person, but this would have been a cop-out. Now I am in the practice of acknowledging my capacity to grow as a person and an artist, to live my truth while participating in the swing dance world in a way that centers on Black jazz dance culture and values of community, expression, resilience, improvisation, mentorship, and activism.

When it comes to organizing dance and music events, visualizing a new iteration of an event takes a lot of trying to connect with nearby creators and create community buy-in that extends beyond people putting their money on the line to forging community-wide ownership. As the distinctive Nevermore Jazz Ball & St. Louis Swing Dance Festival and the Cherokee Street Jazz Crawl, realizing a vision that begins as an acknowledged truth can be difficult to translate into a program that is accepted community-wide.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
As a dancer, I’m known for a style that expresses my living truth while honoring a tradition, which I believe any genuine dancer does. As a dance instructor, I’m known for making dance accessible. I cringe when I learn that dance instructors have established arbitrary rules that inhibit self-expression. When it comes to African-American-pioneered social dances like the Lindy Hop, you are in communion with yourself, your partner, and the music. Just go look up the interviews with the incredible performer Dawn Hampton. Every teaching regarding technique and rhythm should be geared towards the freedom of communal and self-expression, not the moving target of perfectionism.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting?
Just fucking do it. I was so scared to sit in with bands as a piano player early on. That set me back. Now I’m eager to make mistakes and have the “failures” that will become the biggest learning experiences.

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Image Credits
Martell Stepney Virginia Harold Christian Frommelt

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