Rochelle Underdue is a dynamic spirit who has found her path. Everything about her screams movement, passion, and authenticity. Far more than a dance instructor, she aims to translate her fervor for dance into a ministry that leads wandering artistic souls to creative liberation. With already more than ten years of experience under her belt, she is currently enrolled at UNF earning her BFA in Religious Studies. Her endless drive to learn and improve herself feeds her desire to help others break out of the constraints she has often experienced along her journey.
With an infectious positivity, she's making her own way in Jacksonville. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with her and get to know more about what she's doing to change the face of dance in this city, one step at a time.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us this week! Tell us about yourself...
Hello! My Name is Rochelle Underdue. I'm a multidisciplinary dance instructor and an aspiring community educator. I was born in Arlington, Virginia and raised here in Jacksonville, Florida. I have one sister, Raquel “Che” Underdue, my mom, Rowena Maria Underdue and my late father, Rodney Lessel Underdue.
Throughout my dance career, I have worked or been associated with the following projects and platforms: The Ritz (Hip Hop dancer and choreographer), Alumni of ARN (A Rhythm Nation), Hip Hop teacher for Polly B Dance Academy, manager and member of danceWORKS modern company of FSCJ, cheerleader for the Jacksonville Giants, Hip Hop and Contemporary teacher at Studio K Dance, Assistant Coordinator and member of Morgan Brown Dance Company, One Spark representative and choreographer of dance workshop series ImoveUmove, Assistant Choreographer and coach for Atlantic Coast High School, member of Three Hearts Dance, Wreckless Dance Crew, Dance Education teacher for Foundation Academy, and dance instructor for Fusion Performance Academy.
My most recent accomplishments include serving as a Dance Director for Word In Motion in Duarte, California, appearing as a Burlington Model on the Steve Harvey Show, hair model and performer for Creme of Nature, Top 16 Female Competitor for 405 Cypher Spot LA, preliminary qualifier for World of Dance Orlando, Funk Jams Ft. Lauderdale, and Rookie Battle participant at DGBEK Studios, Orlando. My educational background includes Discipleship Ministry Certification from Word In Motion and an Associate’s Degree from Florida State College of Jacksonville. As I'm continuing to pursue my education and dance experience, I move toward the ongoing goal of continuing to spread knowledge of self-love within the arts, serving the community, and encouraging people to discover their inner gifts and purpose in life.
What projects are you currently involved with or spearheading here in Jacksonville?
My current mission lies within building a community platform through “In the Midst”. The idea for this movement started on Dec 3, 2016 as a means of stepping out and following what has been divinely placed in me to serve for the people. This space is to help, educate, and develop additional awareness of value for the arts community. The purpose of this movement is to connect with people internationally and locally by sharing the love and testimonies of the individuals that step on this platform. My most recent experience was with the community dance space. I taught free dance classes for two months to add to the platform, giving it the FULL overall purpose of what I would love to give to all to receive - a free safe space. Why? The community served me the same way and in return, I would love to share what was given to me for the next to come. In this I truly would love the city to see how this space brought many others the identity to succeed and hopefully can invest in providing this space.
What inspired or attracted you to dance as an artistic expression, what does dance mean to you, and why do you feel it is an important means of creative expression?
To be completely honest, it IS truly a God given gift. This gift was shared between me and my sister growing up and it was embraced in our family (father was involved in music via rap and DJing and mother through dance). Dance came to me when trauma struck my life personally. Dance just always gave me space and opportunity to be myself. Even when struggling to find myself and understand life’s doing, dance gave me the space to just be. Dance is literally God's extended love and grace. It gave me my many second chances in life. It helped me to see how I overlooked the ONE love that is true and consistent. It is important to be able to be your FULL complete self. Whether your creative gift is a hidden talent, hobby, or profession, the ability and freedom to use it is a MUST. It's needed because those who are naturally creative process life differently. We aren’t made to DO “regular jobs”. Your talent and expression is your purpose to serve. That's what I feel in my gut for myself. No matter how many different avenues I try, I keep getting led back to dance. If one is not able to utilize their artistic talents, it may cause a lack of ability to comprehend and connect to life.
How do you connect your art to education and community outreach?
My education consists of associates in arts and ministry. With these two doctrines, as well my experience as a director, educator, choreographer, and dancer, I educate within dance- teaching fundamentals and history of dance. Through ministry I put an emphasis on utilizing one's gift as an instrument to provide creative healing for the mind, body, and soul. With dance ministry, I utilize dance to help to bring the people a safe space for them to heal, express, and connect. Overall, I take in the environment of the people and I truly base my teachings on what needs to be organically released in the atmosphere. I always say when teaching dance, it's not only about what I want to teach, but it's what I too can learn from the students.
You've been living and working as an artist in Jacksonville for a while now. How do you view the evolution of the arts since you first put down roots in this city?
I believe that in reconnecting to my roots as dancer and being in the position that i'm in now, things will continue to grow for the better. I believe once a person steps into their calling or purpose, it creates more opportunities for others to experience. I honestly tried to connect with other figures to receive insight on how to bring light to dance in the community or how I could be part of the hip hop scene. After several discouraging conversations, it literally shifted me to see that the answer is ME. I’m supposed to be the initiator for the vision because it was experienced through and placed within ME to share. Talk about pressure. There’s not too much here in Jacksonville especially for the dancers who are now teachers in the community. When I realized this in 2016, I started to travel outside of Jacksonville to experience certain styles of dance so that as a teacher I could be artistically diverse. Expanding for myself sparked the inspiration to build connections in different communities. In this I'm seeing myself and my work as setting a path for others.
How do you feel about the dance/performing arts scene in this city, specifically as it pertains to Black and Brown Culture? How do you feel the general population views dance and performing arts in Jacksonville?
I believe there’s still part of the population that needs to experience art in both industry and ministry, period. I believe there is history that NEEDS to be embraced here in Jacksonville in order for the purpose of the art community to FULLY thrive. In my experience, there is a disconnect on the part of the churches, politics, and community. If the main goal is SERVING the community, then why NOT give what’s needed for the sake of people to live and experience? As a mixed black and filipino woman, I have experienced much discrimination due to class and culture. THIS is what inspired me in pursuing the path that I’m currently on.
There were two main experiences that sharpened me as person. While pursuing my dance education, my experience started with losing my father as soon as I was accepted into the dance company in 2011. Talk about divine timing. Appreciation was reciprocated between teacher, students, and staff, but I often found myself out of place. I often wondered where I fit in. The textbooks for dance humanities only shared two to four pages explaining vague definitions of where hip hop was born in contrast to the rest of the book that was filled with many variations of contemporary, ballet, and modern dance styles. Though hip hop was required to be accepted into the company at that time, hip hop was not provided as a dance curriculum or choreography style choice for the company. Being the oldest mixed woman member in the company whose original style of dance was hip hop, it was just tough to feel truly included. Overall,I truly wondered why hip hop was highlighted but not acknowledged.
Now, in sharing this experience I in no way mean to disrespect - that time served me as dancer and as an upcoming choreographer NEEDING a space to express my story in addition to performing others. It gave me the purpose to go and seek out what I was trying to find during that time. I do honor the space of Dance Composition with Becca Levy and Ballet with Morgan Brown. These two spaces helped me to identify myself in the space. Which allowed me to find some peace in knowing it is ok to be differently placed or set in life.
I attended Word In Motion in a discipleship program in California. That experience alone completed me. Honestly, before I left, I threw my first “In the Midst” showcase and before I performed a hip hop based solo “Blessings” by Chance the Rapper, I said “God, If I you want me to do dance ministry, if I can do it like this, then I’ll do it.” The response? ”Who's to say you haven’t done it already?” After that performance my intention of performing changed to ministering to people versus satisfying and entertaining expectation. Days later I ministered at a church called House of Prayer in Arlington. Not even realizing the pastor was going to speak about the company I was interested in (Word In Motion). He said ”This is a new wave of dance ministry, because we are stuck on old fashion, we could overlook what is being ministered to us as a blessing.” I’d been told that dance wasn’t welcomed in church or if it's not lyrical, it’s not worship. Even in regular service by comparison I was able to just dance, sit, stretch, or exist in the space in California. Here, You can FEEL the judgement simply because its different. So THIS is where I’m at with my purpose. It's to break down barriers of the old with the new that I’ve been blessed to experience in order to provide a way for others to see.
For the melanin culture, we won’t be able to fit in unless WE make an effort to highlight WHY. Not just going into history in explaining what was “taken” or “created” but seeing that and utilizing the rights that our ancestors fought and died for in order for us to CREATE the differences for our people. My experience as a mixed woman showed me that I do have what it takes to make many differences. That there are things that are just naturally given and that can’t be implemented by another being. That if you experienced something that was personally felt, it’s because YOU are the one to spark the needed flame to create the change wherever you experienced it. I’m here as an inspired community teacher educating and ministering on the many styles of dance. Not because someone told me to, but because it’s apart of the gift’s purpose. As an overall art culture, we must respect tradition and embrace history as such, so that we can create anew. PERIOD. We can do this in love, by accepting the differences that were made for our people and recognizing the power we have.
How impactful or valuable do you feel your or other initiatives like yours are to Artists and the Arts Community?
I personally feel like I am impactful just by the people who acknowledge me not just for dance, but as a person. I feel it in my family, with my sister. Even when I just worked at regular jobs, to spread love IS impactful by itself, i’m just a vessel. I feel it in my students most of all. I can look back on 8 years of old notes, shared love of appreciations of dance and memorabilia from my students from Jax to California! This wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for ALL the platforms that I was blessed to experience to SEE the potential I had to offer. Although I’ve served the community as a performer for 10+ years, I'm just truly at the beginning steps here in the community as my own platform, so hopefully you all will see how impactful I can be!
What have you learned about yourself through your giving and your work?
Wow, I've learned so much by simply adding these classes and truly building this platform over the past nearly three years.
Faith - you have to have it and you need to BELIEVE in it. In spite of how hard life gets, you must be mindful of what's inside of you thats needing to come out.
Selflessness - you can’t do the work of the community and be led by the ego - not to me you can’t. This gift of mine, isn’t mine to have, it’s to share. It is a duty to constantly share and be aware of your gift.
Space - we as people don’t really SEE what is truly in our space (self). I've learned to observe my space and learned how to value myself in this space. As a teacher or figure that is in a position to influence, it is very important to BE healthy.. be REAL but become that needed source for those who are coming to YOUR space. You have to be able to fight what will try to stop you from honoring spirit and gift.
I learned that overall, to embrace who I am called to be and TRUST in the process of the seeds that are planted. TO NEVER ALLOW ANYONE OR ANYTHING TO STOP YOU FROM DOING YOU. Starting is doing. Staying is consistent. Completing is THE ending.
What are the greatest challenges you face as an arts professional living and working in Northeast Florida?
That you just have to start stuff on your own - [laughing]. That you just gotta follow that instinct or idea. I learned you can become the opportunity you want to experience. By that I mean you can create what can be experienced for yourself and others. That you are a path and a doorway for someone to walk in. Here in Jacksonville, there is a certain type of mindset or wave that is known as a “crab pot” mentality. Some, including myself, just don’t live it and it can be hard to get recognition, acknowledgement, or appreciation from the city because the city is needing the same for itself, BUT in that, if you are able to SHIFT your attention to those who DO pay attention and care for your work, then you've won THE battle.
How do you define success in what you do?
For some people, it's more of a need to feel freedom from within first before reaping success in material form. It's the feeling of success versus seeing it for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I'm definitely wanting my abundance! However, success, to me, is as simple as me getting up and being able to be to be happy being who I'm destined to be for the day alone. That any given moment life can be gone, so how are you truly living? From the day when my dad passed away, I choose to NEVER be less than what I know God intended me to be. Whether as a dance teacher or just a person in passing. Anytime you are able to DO what is truly authentic of the spirit, that to me is success.
We'd like to thank Rochelle for her participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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