Elizabeth “Chainsaw” Jones
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to collaborate with the very talented, Elizabeth Jones. Elizabeth has been a professional dancer in NYC since she moved there at the age of 19. Since then, she has done everything from movies, and commercials, to live shows and band tours. A few highlights from her long list of accomplishments include a music video for Madonna – Give Me All Your Luvin’, live shows for DJ Kaskade and Bam Margera, Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Show In The World Tour”, and SNL. She has also produced work as a choreographer for Heineken USA, Caesar’s Palace in Atlantic City, and pre-production work as the contemporary choreographer for a new off-broadway show.
Needless to say, I was very excited to work with someone who is currently, at the top of their game. It was such an experience photographing a dancer because part of their raison d’etre is being able to communicate through movement and body language. In the book, “The Creative Habit,” Twyla Tharp outlines her creative habits and how she prepares herself for creativity. In the following interview, we took a look at Elizabeth’s creative habits and how they were formed.
1. Dance is loosely defined as a series of movements that match timing and rhythm to music. From your perspective, what does it mean to you?
“I think from a choreography perspective it has a lot to do with emotion. I know for me when I choreograph it has a lot to do with life experience, reinterpreting things from a dancer’s perspective.”
2. Music inspires dance and dance music in a very yin and yang symbiotic relationship. Illustrate the relationship between you and your muse and how it impacts you or influences your career.
“I know music comes first for me when I choreograph. In terms of (actually) dancing it depends. If you are working with an artist, obviously the music comes first. If you’re doing concert work sometimes it has to do with an idea that has nothing to do with the music. I mean, I know pieces that have been created before music and then music has been set on the piece. I don’t think that it’s symbiotic. I don’t even remember what that definition is (laughs). I don’t think you can’t have dance without music, I think it can exist sans sound, if that makes sense.”
3. At some point, everyone makes a decision in their life about what they want to do and what will define them. What caused you to go against being the “wallflower,” and pursue the limelight of the “stage?”
“I grew up competing so I was exposed, luckily and thankfully, to a lot of choreographers who worked in the industry. I think that’s where mine (resolve to leave college) came from. I just knew I wouldn’t be happy without dance so I went for it.”
4. They say that to be a good dancer it is more about passion rather than technique. Do you find that to be true in your own style?
“It depends on the job. I respect dancers that continually take class so that they can fix their technique but also love what they do. I get really pissy when I see people who book jobs and they don’t love it and you can tell they don’t love it. Some of my favorite dancers rarely book work because the majority of what is out there is commercial and they’re not meant for that.”
5. Dancers in music videos, background dancers, or dancers in the “corps de ballet” go relatively unnoticed in the public eye. Does that bother you at all?
“It only bothers me when people ask me what I’ve done, who I’ve worked with. Because that seems to be the only way non-dancers can define dancers. They have to be knowledgeable and familiar with the artist you’ve worked with, or the company you are apart of, or the show you’re in. I’ve done so many dope jobs and shows that I don’t even bother to talk about because it’s not being in a Lady Gaga video or working as a Rockette. That’s the part that drives me crazy these days; because there is such a thing as a dance celebrity now (think Travis Wall or Julianne Hough). The people who are working for amazing companies in Europe or doing cool underground shows like “Sleep No More” and “Fuerza Bruta” go unnoticed and are largely under appreciated. Of course in the dance community the 2 shows I just mentioned are huge and amazing things and we give tons of respect to those casts. But, that’s a great example of the disconnect. I shouldn’t have to name drop and list off my resume to be respected as professional dancer. Whew, that was a vent!”
6. It’s easy to get caught up with all your successes so far. Do you turn to anyone to make sure your feet stay planted on the ground?
“My mom. My boyfriend (winks). I have a handful of other people who keep me grounded. My best friend, Addy, is super good at keeping things real and blunt. I discuss a lot of things with her. But, I also keep my own self in check. I think part of that has to do with witnessing good friends of mine get these huge egos from doing a “certain show” and telling myself I never want to come off like that. It’s such a gross trait that that thought in itself keeps me humble and real.”
7. Finish this sentence – I’ve learned the most from…
“Jason Parsons. My parents too because they are good peoples.”
8. Biggest fear?
“Being injured and falling out of love with dance.”
9. Best decision ever made and why?
“Moving to NY. Our little group of friends, we’re very supportive. I think I would have crashed and burned anywhere else.”
10. Industry icon?
“Wade is a huge industry icon for me. He has been working since he was 16. His movement is so dope. In the dancer world, I don’t know. There are too many dope dancers out there. I wouldn’t pick just one. In terms of people in our scene, there have been a lot of people that have transformed dance. Bob Fosse is another huge one for me, just because he was pigeon-toed and created.”
11. Daily must read/listen?
“The hairpin is a blog that’s really funny. Passion Pit, Miike Snow…”
12. And finally, how did you get your “chainsaw” moniker?
“A dance mentor/teacher I’ve known since I was 11 years old, whom I still dance for today, gave it to me one day during rehearsal because I was dancing way ahead of the music. He said, “slow down chainsaw!” The name stuck. Not the coolest story right? (Laughs) Now I favor musicality above all other aspects of dancing. So, I learned something alongside getting a lifelong nickname. That, and I colored in my un-original name. Elizabeth Jones is quite boring.”
I absolutely loved working with Chainsaw and learning about an industry I know so little about. Big thanks to her and for giving me the opportunity!
I cannot take full credit for this interview. The interview was a collective effort between myself, Chris Williams, and Brad Frenier. I thank them for their contributions and for allowing me to post this on my blog. Also, a big shout to Emma Lovewell and Christina Black for participating in this project. I truly hope that in the future we can also showcase their amazing talent and wonderful insight. For equipment and props: Susan Stevens and Kelley Jarrett were a huge help. Thank you. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank my editing team, KC and Landon.
Photos by me. Check my portfolio here: Thesis