An Asian-Irish American Dancer Builds Community Through Creativity

“The ultimate goal of a dance process is to discover something about yourself, about the world, and about your relationship to it. Dance is a creative outlet that helps explore possible answers to our questions.”

 -Megan Lowe

Megan Lowe, who founded Megan Lowe Dances in the San Francisco Bay Area, participated in last year’s Upswell Summit. Independent Sector powered the Summit, which brought together national changemakers to focus on building a healthy and equitable nation in which everyone can thrive. Given her use of dance as a way to build community, especially for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we spoke with her about her art and work – and the meaning behind both.

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Piece of Peace – which includes Melissa Lewis Wong (left), jose e. abad (center), and Megan Lowe (right) – premieres in June 2022. Photos by Maurice Ramirez and courtesy of Megan Lowe Dances

IS: What inspired you to become a dancer?

ML: Dance is in every fiber of my being. I live, breathe, and dream it. It is how I express myself in the world. I started taking dance classes, performing, and creating my own dances when I was 3 years old. It was impossible for me to stand still. The expressiveness of dancing, the creativity of choreographing, and the thrill of performing is really where my heart and soul has always been.

I am deeply immersed in contact improvisation (CI) and site-specific dance – exploring the possibilities of my body in relationship to other people and structures. I crave the feeling of earth in my core, and connecting to the gravitational center of an object or person: to move and be moved; to respond and elicit a response; to be thrilled by surprise, yet ready for anything.

Many people perceive me as only a small Asian female. But I subvert preconceived expectations of size, race, and gender, by using physics and momentum to lift myself and others up – showing the strength and versatility of female physicality, and pushing the boundaries of what is considered possible.

As a woman of color working in fields of dance dominated by the white majority, I want to create environments that feel more inclusive for myself and other dancers who feel marginalized.

IS: How and why did you make the transition from being a performer with Bay Area dance companies to establishing your own dance company?

ML: Since graduating from U.C. Berkeley in 2012, I have had the opportunity to perform with many esteemed San Francisco Bay Area dance companies, while choreographing my own works presented both live and on film. In 2018, I started Megan Lowe Dances, providing more opportunities for grants and accepting charitable donations.

I’ve worked for over a decade for other dance companies, have had many positive and negative experiences within those processes, and have learned and grown a lot. Those experiences have given me the tools to know what I want to include and not include in creative environments.

Tangram features Brenton Cheng and Megan Lowe. Photos by RJ Muna and courtesy of Megan Lowe Dances

My artistic practice prioritizes creating relationships of respect, generosity, and gratitude (vital gestures that, in my experience, are sometimes lacking in other processes to performance). I facilitate a supportive environment for all collaborators, make sure each person is taken care of, and embolden individual inquiry and sharing of ideas.

My processes are highly collaborative, utilizing each artist’s specific skills and interests to their fullest potential, while creating opportunities for group connection. The work tackles unusual physical situations and invents compelling solutions, opening up the imagination to what is possible.

IS: What special performing arts projects are you working on?

ML: Last year, Megan Lowe Dances presented Tangram, an evening of dynamic partnering that used physical puzzles to explore relationship, geometry, and shared Chinese heritage. We expanded on the following questions through movement:

  • What does it mean to us to be dancers of Chinese descent? What tropes are we interested in exploring/dismantling? How does it feel to be one of few people of color in our movement circles? How does this inform our creative choices and sense of belonging?
  • How can we subvert traditional heteronormative ideas of a duet between a man and a woman? How can we escape the default trope of romance? How can we lift/be lifted equally, vs. having a male usually lifting a smaller female?

At the root of all my dances, is a process of curiosity, problem solving, self-discovery, and group connection.

Maw Jaw features Megan Lowe. Photo by Maurice Ramirez and courtesy of Megan Lowe Dances

IS: How does your work help advance efforts to achieve a more inclusive and equitable society?

ML: Megan Lowe Dances’ process thrives off collaboration, cultivating a tightly-knit group, and developing relationships of profound trust, infinite inspiration, and whole-hearted support – deep connections that are palpable for the viewer in the product of performance. I harness this culture of magnanimity as a teaching artist, and lead dance classes/workshops all over the Bay Area, for organizations, schools, universities, and dance festivals, serving movers of all different ages, experience levels, body types, races, cultures, and socio-economic statuses – building community and understanding.

Through my practice, I have nurtured deep connections with the Bay Area dance community and have made activism a part of my work.

In a time with particularly strong anti-Asian sentiment, driven by ignorance and the COVID-19 pandemic, Megan Lowe Dances shifted our attention to sharing free and accessible outdoor public art in solidarity with API communities. We created our site-specific film Maw Jaw in partnership with Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, which was presented as part of the 24th annual United States of Asian America Festival in free outdoor events in San Francisco in 2021.

Maw Jaw rehearsals occurred outside in public spaces around San Francisco Chinatown – incorporating benches, railings, poles, stairs, and play structures – inviting passersby to witness and be a part of the creative process, enhancing cross-generational community engagement, and inspiring interest in dance as a tool to engage with the environment and people around us.

The mission continues with Piece of Peace, part one of which will premiere in June this year. Piece of Peace, explores mixed-race Asian American Pacific Islander experiences. Through thoughtful text, soulful song, dynamic dancing, and BIPOC centered dance workshops, MLD invites collaborators to share stories of fractured selves and longings to belong, and co-create a supportive environment for connection.

IS: What do you want your audiences to take away after having the pleasure of experiencing a Megan Lowe Dances performance?

ML: I hope that my dance productions invite people in and inspire them to think of alternative ways of viewing dance, and the environment around them. I want audiences to be blown away, entertained, and amazed by the strength and virtuosity inherent in my work, while simultaneously having the audience zoom in and relate to the stories of the artistic collaborators, and for viewers to be able to relate to those experiences, leading to deeper connections and understanding.

Learn more about Megan Lowe Dances, including Tangram. The top photo is by Maurice Ramirez and courtesy of Megan Lowe Dances. Learn more about this year’s Upswell, which is powered by Independent Sector and includes Pop-Up events featuring main stage talks, workshops and discussions on April 26, June 21, and September 13, and the Summit on November 15. Also, learn about becoming an Independent Sector member.

Types: Blog
TAGS: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, creativity, Independent Sector, Megan Lowe Dances, nonprofits
Global Topics: Arts, Culture, and Humanities, ChangeWorks, Community, Dialogue, Race, Equity, and Inclusion
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion