Dancers Talking Pot

Article By Marc Emmelmann | Photo by Tim Richards

Is marijuana a part of professional dance culture? I checked in with two likeable, local dance professionals in San Diego to get an inside perspective, and their remarks were thoughtful, thought-provoking and personal.  The dancers who were interviewed for this cultural rendezvous are in their 20s and ambitiously committed to their careers. Justin Viernes and “Mr. E” received a shotgun style interview with various questions and inquiries. The point was to see which ones they gravitate to first.

Mr. E shared an equally varied response, revealing the nature of his overall position. Clearly in support of the marijuana movement, he shared, “It seems like some of the best artists I know smoke or have smoked weed.  Is it possible that smoking weed grounds you to the vibrational tones of the earth? Maybe it slows things down, so you can stop worrying about the busyness in life and focus more on connecting to the creative channel.” Sharing one’s “initial thoughts” can be interesting, especially when vulnerably doing so on controversial matters.  Artists “should” be used for controversy, so I didn’t tiptoe around the tulips; however, Mr. E requested to remain anonymous for reasons that remain a mystery. Trained with an equal emphasis in Ballet and Modern Technique, Mr. E esteems teachers of dance to be the backbone of the industry. Mr. E also teaches in both disciplines and, as for the future, he gleamed as he shared, “I will continue to teach, choreograph and pass on the folklore of dance to a new generation, as it was passed on to me.”

Justin Viernes is the artistic director of Brown Paper Bag Dance Company, which stages Modern Dance, Post Modern, and Contemporary Dance. Justin also dances for San Diego companies such as D’shire Dance Collective, The PGK Project, and The Patricia Rincon Dance Collective. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Justin’s contributions to the dance culture in San Diego are notable. Like staging a philosophical backdrop, he explained, “I respect the opinions and choices of others. My experiences don’t fully influence how I feel about individuals, and I understand that everyone has their own reasons for what they do and choices they make. It makes life interesting and unique.”

Justin’s position on pot got slightly more focused when he shared, “My run-ins with marijuana in the arts field have been frequent for the most part. Frequent enough that I had to really dig deep into my past and recent experiences to get a good handle on things. For the most part, I have mixed emotions on the subject. I’ve had my fair share of it in my past and I can honestly say that it is not for me. I’ve been witness to usage so bad that one cannot function without it. Since the chemicals do relax the mind and alter perceptions, sending the user into a sort of “high,” it’s no wonder why this is the drug of choice for most artists.” But get this – Justin has not used alcohol or marijuana for five years. I applaud the consistency of his belief system and so should you! There is nothing worse than finding out that someone is not a supporter of the marijuana movement, but they daily booze it up and hit the drink – that’s just a slap in the face.

Justin also spoke on the issue of marijuana, art, and medical marijuana. In a nutshell, he explains, “There’s so much at stake when it comes to marijuana and art. I understand the medical usage and the positive effects it can have in those situations, but more often than not, I see it being abused. It’s sad and I often wonder if I should get myself involved.”
Mr. E brought up some physical benefits of marijuana use for dancers and their bodies, stating, “As dancers we use it medicinally to relax our aching muscles after a long rehearsal or performance day. I know some dancers that smoke before rehearsal or performances to relax and keep their muscles from tensing up throughout the day. However, the high feeling of performing is transcendent and I don’t like anything to effect that, and the same goes with teaching.”

Mr. E also spoke on the aspect of the actual “creation of art” – something he made sure was differentiated from performing or teaching. He explained, “As for the creation of art, I believe marijuana can be used to enhance an already amazing experience. For me, it clears my mind of the clutter and that ‘monkey mind,’ so I can focus more on the task at hand. I believe in the idea that artists throughout the ages have connected to the same line of knowledge. So, the creation of art is not so much the creation of something new, but a revealing of what is already there. Weed connects you to the earth…it is the Earth. It opens you up to receive messages that you may not be able to hear with a busy human brain.”

Both dancers answered my “so how many dancers do you think use marijuana in the professional dance culture” question. Mr. E gave his “uneducated guess of 25%.” Justin gave his “guesstimate of 60%.” It is very interesting to see that the pro marijuana dancer guesses conservative numbers while the more conservative dancer guesses a more liberal percentage.

Perhaps Mr. E’s marijuana maxim is a great ending to the story – “Some people…marijuana inhibits them. Some people…marijuana inspires them. Some people…marijuana is a calmer. Some people…marijuana is a distraction. Overall, marijuana is for some people and not others.”

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