What does it mean to truly take up space? Black women have always wrestled with claiming our right to space–especially in the wake of a political pandemic world. How do we embrace rest? How do we embrace our own loudness? How do we give ourselves grace to exist on our own terms?
Now more than ever we feel the need to expand, to express, and to grow in all directions. There’s a fire to reclaim not only our time, but our ideas and our effortless flyness as well. Creative director, choreographer, stylist, and designer Cece Tor embodies the freedom and creative exploration to do just that.
Cece fearlessly tells her story in living color, embracing her Liberian roots and her evolving journey as a creative force.
At first glance,the first word that comes to mind when we see you is BOLD! Tell us if you always had this boldness or if it developed over time.
It definitely developed, I was a very shy child but dancing pulled the boldness out of me. It didn’t happen in middle or high school. I had to dance a couple of years before that boldness even came out. So I would say more like 21 when it started to bloom. Everything up till then was just learning. I can definitely say I have more confidence but I also feel like that confidence came from me just knowing my shit, taking class, and believing in my myself to choreograph, learn dances, etc.
Who do you create for and why?
I create for myself because I feel like people can tell their opinions on my stuff as much as they want but I’m stuck with what I create. So I try to focus on making things that make me feel good and make me happy.
“Trying to be the best that I am at what I do is another way that I take up space, to show the constant elevation from where I was before”
How important is your culture when it comes to your creating process?
That’s always been a struggle for me, especially being a first generation American from Liberia. We tend to be in the middle and not know where to fit in. Technically we don’t fit in here and when we go home we are considered American.
Being able to include my culture in my art is something that I’ve always been sensitive about. I always want to make sure I’m doing my research and doing it correctly because we tend to be judged differently. When I went back to Liberia in 2018 and immersed myself in the culture it helped me connect the dots. I’m going back again this year and in a perfect world I would like to go back to Africa every year to really learn from the source which is a whole different feeling from learning by videos or family.
What advice would you give to a young creative in your same shoes? A first generation American that knows they have something to share but not sure of the respect they will get.
GO BACK HOME! That’s the only way you will get that respect. Figure it out on your own and where you fit in. Find what connects and what works for you!
What would you say are your biggest struggles as a choreographer in this industry?
I find myself comparing myself to others a lot. Seeing others that I came up dancing with and saying ‘Oh look where they are, why am I not where they are?” My favorite quote is “Comparison is the thief of joy” I have to remind myself of that. The minute I start thinking that way I catch myself and stay true to myself and trust that I am on the right path.
Following that, knowing that social media tends to be our biggest platform as artist, what steps do you take when that comparison gets in the way?
The first thing I do is pray and I talk to God. I try to recenter myself and write down my “why”–Why am I’m still dancing, why is this my passion–often because sometimes it changes. Also looking at my old work really motivates me by showing how far I’ve come and how much further I can go.
What do you think is your strongest attribute as a black woman?
Figuring it out! I’ve realized that is a skill that a lot of people do not possess. I hear so many stories about my friends having to work under unqualified people and we are the ones that always have to keep things together. I don’t know what the world would do without black women.
“I don’t know what the world would do without black women.”
We’ve been hearing the term ‘taking up space’ a lot lately, after sharing story, what does that mean to you?
It means standing in my truth and being who I am no matter where I am. We joke about code switching in corporate settings but being yourself no matter what is a form of taking up space. Trying to be the best that I am at what I do is another way that I take up space to show the constant elevation from where I was before.
You are extremely multifaceted, we know you are a dancer and choreographer but what else do you do and why?
I am a photographer, videographer,makeup artist, wardrobe and hair stylist. It all starts by needing something for myself but not having the resources so I learned how to do it myself. For auditions, I always needed knew headshots because I changed my look but couldn’t afford full photoshoots so I invested in a camera from Craigslist and started taking my own pictures.
Dance was definitely my first love and throughout my dance journey I picked up all these other talents because I had a need but I fell in love with them along the way. This also helps me take up space because it reminds people that dancers are never just one thing. They want us to be the makeup artist, stylist, choreographer, and dancer at the same time. All the things that I do help me in my career, allows me to help others, and makes me understand my worth.
Photographer: Banvoa Ettien @banvoa
Creative Director: Maame Yaa Ansah @questionandansah
Cover Star Assistance : Kim Cotterall @peacewithkim
Set Design: @an_ansah
Set Accessories: @an_ansah & @shop_cru