Ajja Thompson: Moving people through movement

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    In just six years of formal dance training, junior modern dance major Ajja Thompson has made her leap into the dance world.

    Finding her movement

    The Jackson, Mississippi native attended Murrah High School where the school fixated on the visual and performing arts but also had the traditional academic curriculum. 

    Thompson knew the stage was where she belonged, she said, so she studied theater. During her sophomore year she realized that although she was on the stage, she was not truly happy. 

    However, Thompson said the dance building was located next to the theater building. 

    “I remember the first time I walked pass the dance building and the door was open,” Thompson said. “I was like, ‘What the hell are they doing? What is this beauty?’ I was taken away for like a good five seconds.”

    The dance teacher took notice and invited Thompson to join the classes. Thompson said from then on she was happy. 

    That first peek through the door of the dance building was enough for Thompson to find the style of dance she enjoys the most: modern dance. 

    “The reason why I love modern dance is because it is grounded, it is rooted into the earth,” Thompson said. “There is something about modern dance that allows me to feel thickness or thinness of space. Modern dance helps me hear my ancestors before me and to dance with them.”

    Dancing at TCU 

    Thompson said that her first year at TCU was a struggle. 

    “All freshmen year I was hurting myself because I was pushing my body to do something that wasn’t ready for it yet,” Thompson said. “I was working extremely hard but not working anatomical of what my body was capable of doing. I was trying to be something that I am not.”

    Thompson said she grew to accept her body for what it could and could not do and just focus on the dance.

    “Yes, there is a technique and a way to do something but there is much more to dance than technique. There is power, emotional shift and conversations we are having spiritually,” Thompson said.

    Some dancers think of a memory of something or someone while dancing. For Thompson, she thinks of merely nothing. 

    “When nothing is going on in your head then you are able to receive more,” Thompson said. “You are more conscious and in the moment. When you are thinking about stuff you can’t do that. You are blocked.”

    Being inspired and inspiring others

    In February 2010, Thompson lost her father, Alonzo Thompson, to diabetes. 

    Her father was attending a mission trip for his church and did not eat much on the trip due to fasting. He also did not take his insulin that evening and his blood sugar went down. 

    Thompson said her dad has always and will forever be her biggest supporter and inspiration. 

    “If my dad was here he would be rooting and screaming in the audience,” Thompson said. “He would literally have face paint that says ‘Ajja’ across his forehead.”

    Thompson said her other biggest supporter is her mother, Parla Thompson.

    “[My mother] is always critiquing my dancing,” Thompson said. 

    Allison Armfield, a sophomore modern dance major, said she met Thompson during her TCU auditions for the dance program. 

    “Ajja is a vibrant, energetic and inspirational person,” Armfield said. 

    Armfield said Thompson had helped her let go of the negativity in her dancing. 

    “Often in the dance world we get wrapped up in what we do is wrong and what we can’t do,” Armfield said. “Ajja just helps me let go of that negative self talk and just embrace being truly happy in my dancing and alive and energetic.”

    The Big Apple

    Thompson could see New York City in her future as a sophomore in college.

    In 2013, Thompson was accepted to the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City for the summer program.

    “When I got the acceptance I was really shocked. I thought I wasn’t good enough to make the Joffrey Ballet School of New York,” Thompson said. “I got a scholarship; however, I couldn’t afford the plane ticket or the living expenses of New York. I started a fundraiser.”

    Thompson began teaching West African dance classes at the University Recreation Center to raise money. 

    Classes were free but donations were appreciated. Eventually, Thompson was able to raise her goal of $2,000 to go to New York. 

    New York was an experience she would never forget, Thompson said. 

    “Being in New York City has changed my life. I have met some of the most beautiful dancers,” Thompson said. “But even most importantly, the most beautiful people who inspire me daily. I got a fire from being in New York, a fire that is still not tamed.”

    Thompson said she worked with many choreographers and gained experience in many styles of dance. 

    Some styles included jazz, tap, modern, hip-hop, contemporary and African dancing. Students would go from morning to evening, dancing all day with a one-hour break. Thompson said not only was her body pushed to the limits, her dance ability was pushed as well.

    Thompson said she has dreams of ending up in New York. 

    “I have a plan but not really and I am okay with that,” Thompson said. “It is fun not knowing where am I going to go, it is like a little game.” 

    Up next: senior year

    Thompson said being at TCU has allowed her to become an artist, which includes her artistic ability to teach and choreograph. 

    Over the semesters, Thompson has grown fond of teaching. 

    “I am so passionate about teaching,” Thompson said. “There is this spiritual connection with students. You are holding someone’s journey in your hand and that is an honor.”

    How does Thompson come up with the dance pieces? She said it starts with a thought.

    “It can come from whenever,” Thompson said. “The hard part is actually creating it and transcribing that from your body to the dancer’s body.”

    For Thompson, dance is all about human connection. 

    “I hope that [the audience is] moved,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to make you emotional. I want to move your spirit. I want for you to go home not the same way you came into the theater.”

    Armfield said Thompson has a unique way of teaching. 

    Armfield said Thompson allows the dancers to feel the movement and music in their own way but also staying true to her original choreography. 

    Thompson said she would be in her dance studies all summer and with senior year approaching, she is anxious but not scared. She is ready for all the hard work, both artistically and technically, Thompson said.