International Choreographer Carla Service: Short, Black and Unstoppable

We found Carla Service through an enticing poster we couldn't resist—Festival of the Curves did you say?! We called up the number on the bottom to see who the lady-genius was behind the event and discovered Carla and her company Dance-A-Vision, based out of Oakland’s Malonga Center for the Arts. She's been a choreographer for 20 years and does dance everything— she teaches classes, runs a school, is an unofficial booking agent, choreographs stage performers, and travels the world training entertainers in how to get their groove on.

Carla hopped on the phone with us for a minute amid her blur-busy schedule to talk about upcoming events, her passion for women with curves, and how moving can save lives.

How long have you been in the dancer game and what style of dance do you teach?
I have been teaching dance for over 20 years—and I teach anything and everything all over the world. When I’m in Japan and Vietnam, I work with hip hop crews. They’re a lot different than when I’m teaching in Cancun, where I'm an official IET (International Entertainment Technician) and teach dancers how to entertain, whether it be on cruise ships, in hotels, on retreats—whatever they need, I teach them.

When I’m in the Bay Area, Dance-A-Vision is always teaching and putting on events. On May 2nd we'll be celebrating at City Hall in Oakland from 6-9pm.

I have to say, teaching internationally is pretty amazing. How did you get involved in it?
Oh hmm. Well that’s a story, let’s see if I can pull out the juicy bits. The Art + Soul Festival in Oakland has been happening for years—it has seven stages for different types of art, and I’m in charge of the dance stage.

One year, there was a hip hop dance troupe from our sister city, Fukuoka, Japan. They saw me dancing and they knew that I was the head of the dance stage and they asked me if I would come to Japan and teach them.

After that, they told someone, who told someone else and I guess word got around! Now I travel to Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Africa, and Cancun.

What have you learned from performing and teaching dance all around the world?
That as much as we are all the same—we are different. People are always listening to Dr. Oz and the media about how to be healthy when what’s really best for us is to listen to ourselves and our bodies. Everyone is different and what Doctor Oz says might not work for everyone. We all deserve to be respected.

“I don’t care if I’m pretty or not; love me and respect me for who I am.”

You are very body-positive, how do you bring that to bear on your teaching?
Well, I have been teaching for a long time and I have noticed that plus-sized (by our society’s standards) women are hesitant in their movements. I am getting tired of it because it doesn’t matter a person’s size—they can do this! I always say, “Move your body and it will move with you.”

I never let anyone put themselves down. Larger women always tell me, “I can’t do this!” and when I ask them why not, their answer is always, “look at me.” I tell them, “Your weight has nothing to do with it.” It doesn’t matter what size you are! You can do the splits! Overweight men and women might sweat a little more, but who cares, they just need to stretch those muscles and keep moving because they haven’t been moving.

Have any of the overweight dancers that started out feeling self-conscious become dancers themselves?
Oh yes. I think I have had about 7 serious dancers throughout the years. We have sent a few to ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ but they don’t get on the show because the media won’t accept larger people because they have created an aesthetic ideal that they have to hold up. It’s TV and media and basically greed that have created this body image that sells and unfortunately the humans are buying into it!

What about you—what do you feel about your own body image?
I am short, small, and black; in some parts of the world, my body is considered sickly, poor, and I need to eat and go to the hospital. I was teaching in Africa once and the whole tribe was concerned for me. The Chief walked up to me and said, “How are you able to walk the Earth, you are so thin” and he tried to give me food, the whole tribe tried to feed me.

When I get back in this country, my small size is considered beautiful.
I don’t understand what it’s like to be big, but I do know what it’s like to feel like I can’t do something because I’m short and I’m black.

Let me tell you, if I was overweight, short, and black, I would still dance.


Image: Ahsou Saechao

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