From dancing in the streets of Detroit, to ballet in France and grooving in Ghana, Mills graduate dancer Joslynn Mathis Reed has done it all.
“I actually started dancing in my basement around [the age of] 4 and moved into street dancing around 7 or 8. I didn’t start technical dance until high school,” Reed said.
From a young age, Reed has known dance as a reflection of herself and cannot imagine her life without dance.
“I would go anywhere dance wants to take me,” Reed said.
Reed, who is in her last semester at Mills, was inspired by jitting, a form of dance native to her hometown of Detroit. Jitting combines hand motions and footwork in a schematic technique very similar to the dance of tutting, a popular dance performed in many dance clubs.
“I do jitting because it has never been documented, and I want it to become more popularized,” Reed said.
Reed also found inspiration within the lifestyle of her family.
“My family would dance when we had family gatherings,” Reed said. “It was great to see how free people became, grooving to their own tune and being who they are. My family had a lot to [do] with me wanting to become a dancer.”
When Reed began learning formal dance in high school, she excelled quickly and went on to attend Oakland University in Michigan as a dance major. Reed recognizes that as her passion for dance has grown, she has learned a lot about herself as both a woman and a woman of color.
“When you are a minority, you always have to take the positive and keep moving forward,” Reed said. “It is hard to not feel defeated, but we have to continue to learn and keep pushing through.”
Using dance as her vehicle to influence the world, Reed plans on taking her career to the next level. Not only does she aspire to “explore working with dance companies,” Reed also hopes to have her own company and maybe even teach. Reed’s love for dance is defined by the techniques she’s worked to perfect.
“One of my favorite techniques is the Duncan Technique,” Reed said. “It combines traditional African dancing with technique. It fits our bodies well, and the higher movements are good with our curves.”
Through dance, Reed hopes to be a message of equality amongst all forms, especially African dance.
“People place a hierarchy over types of movements and look down on African dance,” Reed said. “A lot of African dance tends to be lost. African movement is also scholarly work. People auto-label African dance as ‘ethnic dance’ [which] isn’t fair. Our movement is just as important.”
Though Reed now lives in the Bay Area, she will always be a Detroit dancer at heart. Through her career, she plans on integrating native Detroit dances in with the popularized dance culture. As a woman of color at Mills, Reed knows that her experiences here will resonate with her long after her graduation in May.
“I will remember that as a part of the Mills community, we fight to be heard and taken seriously,” Reed said. “We strive for more, fight for what is right for women and women of color.”