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LEADERS OF THE NEW SCHOOL / ERIKA BELLE / INTERVIEW

“I miss the serendipity that existed in yesteryear NYC, which fostered an element that anything beautiful could happen.”

ERIKA BELLE
abacaxinyc
Photographer / Brandon Brown / @brandonthomasbrown
Stylist /Rebecca Lux / @byrebeccalux
Make Up / leola.b.artistry
Model Representative / Quincie Zari
Agency / wespeakmodels
top and pants ETÉREA

What do dance, movement, and fashion mean to you? How do they intersect?
I taught an art workshop to teenagers years ago where I asked them to imagine a world without art. This exercise was to demonstrate that by visualizing the negation, it might help us see more clearly. It is hard to imagine Alvin Ailey’s Revelations’ without the costumes designed by Lawrence Maldonado, or Arthur Mitchell/Dance Theater of Harlem’s ‘Firebird’ without the costume designed by the great Geoffrey Holder. There has always been an incredible intersection of dance and
fashion.

It is hard to imagine my life without the enrichment of dance, movement, and art. I’ve spent a huge swathe of my life studying, executing, making a living, touring as a dancer, and working in the fashion arena in NY, London, and Paris. I designed clothing for Madonna that we wore on tour and that she wore in some of her early videos like ‘Lucky Star,” Burning Up’, and ‘Like a Virgin.’ My designs happened because she needed clothing she could move in, as she (we) were dancers. I’ve been asked why I designed and made the black dress she wore in the ‘Like a Virgin’ with the large cutouts at the sides; it was so she could move and move she did! I’d say that was quite an intersection of fashion and movement.

 

 

What do people need to know about healing? And can you heal yourself?
I believe monitoring is a great healing health tool. Preventing an illness from occurring is key, as the expression ‘health is wealth’ is not an understatement. Learning to listen to your body is important and having medical check-ups is important too. Regarding healing, rest and finding methods to de-stress are paramount to maintaining physical/mental stasis. Finding a good therapist and being in therapy when needed
can be a lifesaver.

I became a Reiki healer before a serious major surgery, and I believe this helped my healing, and it certainly aided my peace of mind. Reiki initiates your healing impulses. It’s been wonderful to help others in their health journey.

 

 

Do you miss the earlier days of NYC?
I certainly miss the much cheaper rent and the access to large inexpensive, rentable renegade spaces. I miss the serendipity that existed in yesteryear NYC, which fostered an element that anything beautiful could happen. I miss the mystery surrounding a favorite club, restaurant/food spot, or art gallery because the location and the certain ‘something’ that made a place special for you were not widely shared on the internet. An individual style had its magic that gave access, and this sense of style and individuality could not be merely purchased in a store. There were places to source cool clothes, like thrift stores, If Boutique, Parachute, Dapper Dan’s spot, 14th street, 125th Street, and Charivari, if you had the means. There was no online shopping. You had to create your own style template, and often, you had to be bold to wear it. I miss the individuality of this time. I miss that the city- well, Manhattan was less homogenous, and I miss the wonder that was graffiti everywhere. Those solidly tagged subway cars were magnificent.

 

 

What do you love about NYC of today?
NYC is a city, so there is always a possibility of danger, but pockets of the city generally feel safer. People did not openly carry designer bags and wear luxury logo clothing anywhere and everywhere without a care. I must respect this new sense of ease, even if perhaps false. There is still a wonderment and buzz in the air that is unique to NYC. I adore meeting younger people and hearing of their triumphs and
successes. I will always love the music and the art that can only happen because it was born here.

 

 

Who was your first celebrity crush?
Yul Brenner, but solely as the robot in the original ‘Westworld’ film. It was probably the earliest time I saw a man dressed fully in black, perhaps the first time I saw black jeans. I liked that his character went rogue, and those he attacked represented an entitled, elitist status quo. I also liked the slightly staccato movements he made as the robot. I swear Robyn wrote the song ‘I’m in Love with a Robot’ for me!

 

 

If your life thus far had a soundtrack, what song must be on it?
‘Heroes’ by David Bowie because this song is about being a hero, just for one day. When I’ve had to bury my beloved friends who died of AIDS, I had to repeatedly garner superhuman strength to do this, so the lyric “we can be heroes, just for one day” means so much to me. Also, the house song ‘Gabriel’ by Roy Davis, Jr. and Prevan Everett must be on my life list because it’s so uplifting. I deeply adore these words: “just release your soul to the love holding you, consoling you… you… out
dancing in paradise.” I could eternally dance to this track in my paradise.

 

 

What do you want people to know about you?
I’m a cancer survivor, so each day I experience is a gift. And that I’m creative and generous in spirit. I falter, but I try my best in everything I do. Also: if I ever grace someone with the request to dance with me, I absolutely expect the answer to be yes.

 

 

What book or quote can you not get out of your head?
There are plenty of books and quotes that occupy space in my head. One is “The Grand Inquisitor’ portion of The Brother’s Karamazov by F. Dostoevsky, as it deals with the possibility of having what you truly believe in completely questioned and placed into ambiguity. I read this book as a teen, and it still haunts me. I’ve used Stendhal’s
quote of ‘beauty nothing more than the promise of happiness as an impetus to create and to let the outcome contribute to my happiness without judgment (which is easier said than done).

These words remain with me, and they are more than a quote: ‘making a way out of no way, because as Black Americans, we have always had a make our way within and against all odds merely to survive. How stunningly glorious it is that we exist