How Cleo Parker Robinson conquered her fear of skiing and other confessions

Categories: Dance, Interviews

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Cleo Parker Robinson is a Denver institution. Her dance company is now in its fifth decade, and tonight will perform the long-forgotten Southland, which Katherine Dunham had danced more than sixty years ago.

This production should be a real revelation, but when we spoke with Cleo about the dance, we also asked her to reveal a few other things that her longtime fans might not know:

See also:
- Cleo Parker Robinson resurrects Southland -- and the memory of Katherine Dunham
- Cleo Parker Robinson wows the New York Times

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Westword: Who's your all-time favorite jazz artist?

Cleo Parker Robinson: Wow. I love so many. I love Sarah Vaughan; I love all of them! I'm doing my gala October 6 and we're going to line the tables with '70s albums as decorations. You know, I love Nat King Cole; I love Nina Simone. I danced "Strange Fruit" to Nina Simone before my son was born so I know I loved her early.
What's your favorite dance-related movie?

Oh my! My favorite dance-related movie? Well, I love seeing Katherine Dunham in Stormy Weather. I saw her when I was young. When she was coming down the stairs, she was so magical -- her amazing costume and grace. And then Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain! I loved that one too. That was just wonderful. Black Swan isn't for me. I have a lot to say about that one, but we'll save it for another time.

What's the worst dance you've ever seen?

I always felt I could bear any dance. Even if I could not deal with it, I would sit and try to find something I could get out of it. If a dancer is really not trained well and they're doing things that their bodies can't handle, I cringe -- worrying that there could be an unbelievable injury. It's like football or basketball, seeing something that you don't want to see.

I've seen a lot of dance around the world, from Bulgaria to Egypt, but even an ugly dancer is something I can appreciate. Things touch me in different ways. Even if it's grotesque, it's still an interesting way of moving. I'm sure there have been times where I've seen something and said, "Oh my, that was a waste of my hour and a half." But I have to see everything and I always try to find something that I can relate to. I've seen a lot. I've done things myself where I went, "Whoo, that was ugly. Let me do that again!" You know, we're more critical of ourselves than anyone else.

If you were stuck on an island and could only have three things with you, what would they be?

Oh my goodness! That's too much! Well, I've been stuck on an island before and I loved it. I wish I could be stuck on an island more often. I worked on the Big Island in Hawaii for ten years and loved it. Nobody could reach me. No cell phone, no texting, no nothing! All I need is the ocean. I wish I could be there right now with my husband and my grandchildren.


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