Our Distinguished Alumni Early Career awardee is Terk Lewis Waters. He received his B.F.A. in dance from Western Michigan University where he performed in works by Antony Tudor, Frank Chaves, Ron DeJesus and more. In addition, Lewis also spent summers training with The City Ballet of San Diego and River North Chicago Dance.
After graduation, Lewis went on to dance with the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble. In 2010 Lewis joined Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Spending seven years with the company, Lewis performed in Australia, Italy, Israel, Russia, New Zealand, South Korea, Ukraine, Switzerland, Latvia and Lithuania. Lewis also performed as a soloist in "So you think you can dance" choreographer, Lindsay Nelko's evening length contemporary ballet "Awakening." Lewis joined members of the Mariinsky Ballet as part of the Inaugural cast of The Great Gatsby Ballet.
Lewis has also appeared in music videos for artists Jill Scott, Nile Rogers and ELEW. He became an artist in residence with Complexions Contemporary Ballet in 2017. Since, Lewis has assisted choreographer Jae Man Joo in setting “Circular” on Ailey 2 and served as assistant choreographer on the opera “Crossing” at The Brooklyn Academy of Music. Lewis recently premiered new pieces of his own choreography at Western Michigan University, for @BlackBoysDanceToo as part of the summer dance series. Lewis’ work as a rapper/producer has received recognition from The Huffington Post, Stark Magazine and Get Out magazine. As a model, he has worked for Jimmy Jazz, The Gap, M. Diggs, SantaMonroe, NativNY, and BornFly, and has appeared in Gayletter, 1966, Disorder (UK), Provacator, and Swerv Magazines as well as walking in New York Fashion Week. Lewis most recently appeared in “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” on NBC.
Terk has taught at Steps on Broadway, The Joffrey Ballet School, Broadway Dance Center NYC, New York City Dance Alliance, Plie For The Arts - Kingston, Jamaica, The Alvin Ailey Extension Program, The Pulse Convention, StageDoor Workshops (Philadelphia, Boston), Complexions Contemporary Ballet intensives (NYC, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit), Atmosphere Dance Events (Ukraine), Vilnius Cultural Center (Lithuania), Marymount Manhattan University and Western Michigan University.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should we know about you?
I’m originally from Mansfield, OH. I have been dancing as long as I can remember. I moved to NYC right after graduating from Western and have lived here over 8 years now. I’ve been lucky to tour the world dancing and am currently freelance performing, teaching and choreographing in NYC.
What are your earliest memories of dance?
My earliest memories of dance are probably of or related to my aunt who was the coach of a local dance team. She would take my sister and I to her practices and we would sit on the side watching and imitating what the dancers were doing. I found a silver glove at her house once that was part of a team costume, I remember wearing it around convinced I was Michael Jackson.
Was there a moment you knew you had found your calling?
The first moment I thought I found my calling was probably when I was in high school and had won a major dance competition. As a result of that I had the opportunity to perform as an exhibition at another big competition. Before that performance I remember the crowd cheering for me and deciding that I was supposed to be a performer. I was especially proud of the fact that I had also choreographed that dance.
Let's look back at your college experience. How did you decide to enroll at Western Michigan University's Department of Dance?
I decided to enroll at Western with the insistence of my old dance teacher, Tony Calucci. I grew up a jazz and hip-hop dancer and didn’t start ballet (with Tony) until I was 17. I had been accepted into another school when Tony told me he was going to become a professor at WMU and that I should go there as well to continue training with him. I didn’t know anything about Western but had grown so much in my short time with Tony, my mom and I decided it was the way to go.
What do you wish you had known when you were a freshman at WMU?
The “freshman 15” is very real.
What's your favorite memory from your time in WMU's Department of Dance?
One of my favorite memories from my time at WMU was performing in Professor Carolyn Pavlik’s piece “Nothing was Left but White Fragments” at the American College Dance Festival in Akron, OH. I loved the duet that I was performing and the process of creating it but also being in Ohio, I had several family members in the audience.
Tell us about starting your career. How did you land your first job after completing your education?
I technically landed my first professional full-time job while still enrolled at Western. I danced full-time with Eisenhower Dance in Rochester, MI my “super” senior year while finishing my degree online. I had gone to maybe 15 auditions that year and booked the last one.
How do you find inspiration? What's your creative process?
I find inspiration in the people around me. In art, music, theatre and film, but mostly the people around me. When working with other artists from other walks of life, you find new ways of thinking, new concepts and new ideas that inspire me in observance and application.
My creative process is based on improv. I try to channel a concept or idea and see what comes out of me. I am very inspired by and enjoy working and creating with other people.
Who do you look up to? Who do you consider a role model? Who inspires your work?
I look up to my mother. She is a symbol of strength and love to me, and she allows that to guide her moral compass.
I have several role models. In dance, I would say Michael Jackson, Desmond Richardson and Misty Copeland are among my top choices. Each of them has stood confidently in redefining dance and what a dancer is capable of while remaining true to their own artistic integrity.
My work is inspired by everybody. Whether choreography, teaching or even music, as a creative I feel like a storyteller. I’m very interested in telling stories. My own, but also those I feel need to be heard, seen or felt.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
A typical day in my life very much depends on the day. I live in NYC but am often rushing off to New Jersey or Upstate New York to teach. I am often at Harlem School of the Arts right now choreographing students there. I also make sure I get to the gym 4-5 times a week. I drop into dance classes a couple times a week to stay in shape and take voice lessons to stay on top of my crafts. I usually spend my free time producing music, writing or sleeping.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is the fact that I get to be a creative. It’s not the most lucrative or stable job, but that very factor keeps it exciting and worthwhile for me.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I think the thing I’m most proud of in my career is having one. The dance world is small, and while I think there is room for everyone, I do believe it hard to make a name for yourself, let alone a living. Anyone successfully pursuing a career in the arts should be proud of that.
You have a diverse background: dance, music, modeling. How has the variety of work that you do impacted other aspects of your career?
The variety of work I’ve done has impacted my career by expanding my boundaries. I am able to draw on my other experiences, strengths and attributes to create work that is unique but also distinctly part of who I am.
What do you still hope to achieve in your career?
I feel as though I have done everything I originally set out to do as far as my career and achievements go. I am actively auditioning for other opportunities as they come along, but I am in no hurry. Whatever is next will be a victory lap. I love to dance, that will be part of everything I do, always, but I hope my next chapter allows me to tap into the other talents that I have.
In honor of Western Michigan University's annual homecoming festivities, the Forever Gold series celebrates and highlights the successes of College of Fine Arts alumni.