This week’s ‘Millennial on a Mission’ is not only an innovative visionary, but she is also a personal role model to me. Her work in the world of arts and entertainment has been futuristic, timeless and captivated the hearts and minds of thousands of New Yorkers. She truly eats, breathes and sleeps her passion — and is working tirelessly to transcend the art of hip-hop dance as we know it. Even in the midst of adversity, she has persevered and continues to move forward with her dream of changing the way women are viewed in the dance industry. I truly admire her strength, and her ability to remain authentic in all facets of her professional journey.
I’d like for you to meet Porshia Derival.
Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised on Long Island, Porshia is a graduate of Syracuse University, where she studied Women and Gender Studies. She is currently the Executive Director of H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, the only conservatory for hip-hop dance in the country. “H+ is an institution dedicated to preserving the art form of hip-hop dance through the students educated,” Porshia says. But this isn’t her first time running a dance company. While at Syracuse, she served as the co-director of the largest student-run dance organization, DanceWorks, where she had the opportunity to dance and choreograph for a cast of 100+ undergraduates. “I started as a member of the cast my freshman year, and by my senior year I served on the executive board,” she says. “This was my first experience of really understand how much it takes to operate a dance organization.”
On facing challenges in the dance industry, and over coming stereotypes:
A huge turning point for me while in pursuit of my dance career was receiving some rather alarming feedback from an industry manager while auditioning. After making it to the final round, they told me I was a great dancer, but would never work professionally because I was “too thick,” had a “big butt,” and looked like any “ordinary” black girl. Ouch! That day, I made a firm choice to not let media stereotypes affect who I was and how I would move forward in my chosen career. Professionally, I knew I had the responsibility to create a new trajectory for dancers of the future to not have to go through the same harsh criticisms I have endured; dancers should be granted performance opportunities based upon their skill, professionalism, and knowledge of the dance and culture, not on their looks and somatotype.
In making this decision which was pretty much oppositional to the industry, I focused in on training over auditioning. After a pivotal conversation regarding my role in the dance community, with Artistic Director and Founder of H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, Safi Thomas, I was awarded the Thomas Fellowship and began my journey at the conservatory that summer of 2011.
Yvonne Chow, the Education Director of H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, has been such an inspiration these past few years. Yvonne, a great friend, mentor, and my business partner, is a fighter. She is a woman whom is filled with encouragement, adventure, and a plethora of knowledge in education and Hip-Hop. Together we have gone on numerous food, fashion, business and social adventures. While we are unique as individuals, we have also developed into a formidable team in business.
As the Executive Director of H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, Porshia does not take for granted her role as a young woman in a leadership position. Recently, she has written a number of compelling pieces that reflect on her personal experience as a dancer breaking into the industry — encouraging women to be open with their sexuality and unapologetic in pursuing their ideal careers. She believes that this transparency not only sheds light on what happens outside of the dance studio , but also provides a way to interact with different audiences.
On her creative process, and what drives her to want to share her story:
The pieces of writing came out of a need to share personal experiences that could serve more actively than the very passive message we constantly receive via today’s marketing and publicity. I have years of experience starting from my early teens of embarrassing moments, horrifying setbacks, and times of uncertainty, all of which are valuable to my peers; men and women around the world. To know someone has shared a similar experience and is offering a solution is comforting and provides a platform for other voices to be heard. My motto is: Why keep the secrets of life and your learning to yourself, when a million others can benefit?
Leadership is multi-dimensional. It requires empathy. It requires care. It requires sharing unconditionally. It also calls for consistent self-motivation and self-discipline. Inspiration cannot be sought from outside resources. You can appreciate the work of your peers and other artists, but inspiration has to come from oneself.
I enjoy watching other artists create, and go through their process. I love reading pieces of literature about love and life experiences. I feel excited and ready to move when watching action and adventure films and shows. These have all ignited creative sparks within me, but the real good stuff comes out of self-reflection and introspection: looking at who I am as a woman and how my perspective can be shared through my dance, my voice, and my writing.
To Porshia, a ‘Millennial on a Mission‘ is an individual who takes risks, go for what they want and does not settle for less. “We are Gladiators,” she says. “We head into battle (the conference room, panel discussions, etc.) ready to defend with intellect and poise.” Porshia believes that millennials understand the bigger picture of what they are fighting for, and our work is not done for validation or praise, but cultivating a secure and sustainable foundation for future generations to come.The one piece of advice she would give to young philanthropists and entrepreneurs is to be adventurous, make mistakes, learn, and grow. “Every adventure, interaction and experience is one piece of a large puzzle that create you, the leader. Go out and experience yourself in every way possible!”