Closing One Chapter, Opening Another

An Interview with Eric Skinner


Eric Skinner is retiring from BodyVox after 19 years of dancing with the company. I originally interviewed Eric as part of the Dancing Over 50 Project. When I learned he was retiring, I was eager to learn his perspective at this juncture in his life.


Photo by Ken Salaman


For dancers, retirement means something totally different than for most people. What does this retirement mean for you?

When I was talking to BodyVox about my exit from the company, I told them I didn’t want for people to think I was exiting dance. It was only an exit from my tenure at BodyVox. Dance is such an integral part of my life that I don’t think I’ll ever quit dancing; it’s just part of who I am. However, I’ve been with BodyVox for 19 years and was an integral part of the formation of the company. I was one of the six founding members. I’m basically retiring from that chapter of my life.

As for what’s next, my dance company – Skinner|Kirk Dance Ensemble – has a show coming up in March. We’re in the middle of choreographing, and I’ll be dancing in it as well. And I’ll still be teaching dance. I foresee myself teaching dance for a long time because I really enjoy it.

Retirement doesn’t mean I’ll start to collect my pension, because there is no pension. It’s just a retirement from a particular chapter in my life.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you dance with Oregon Ballet Theater previously in your career? Was there a time earlier in your career when you “retired” from OBT?

Yes, I was a founding member of that company as well. Two companies – Pacific Ballet Theater and Oregon Ballet – merged and became Oregon Ballet Theater. I danced with them for seven years.

I wouldn’t say I retired from OBT. Rather, I quit. OBT was not going to be the last chapter of my dance career, and I knew that at the time. But I didn’t know what I was going to do when I left OBT and, to be honest, I don’t really know what I’m going to do now either. I’ll still carry on with Skinner|Kirk Dance Ensemble. We’re discussing whether we want to build it up from the level at which it is now. But I feel like I need to take some time. Dance is such a physical and mental part of my life, and I’ve been dancing professionally for over 30 years now. The next thing for me to do is to take a few months and see what I want to do next.

Now in your 50s, do you have a different perspective leaving BodyVox than you did when you were young and left OBT’s company setting?

Definitely. My reasons for leaving OBT were that I wasn’t happy in the company and there was a lot going on that I didn’t agree with. But with BodyVox, it’s been really wonderful. My motivation to leave is definitely different. There’s no bitterness. Two years ago, I had the thought that it might be time to do something different. Six months ago, I mentioned it to Jamey and Ashley (the directors), and they asked me on what terms I wanted to leave.

How have your dance values evolved over your career?

When I first started studying dance, I loved just moving and being in space. After I danced in ballet companies for seven or eight years, I enjoyed it, but whenever the company would do anything modern, I would find new life. It really invigorated me. When BodyVox came around, I felt like Jamey and Ashley were speaking my language. It was more physical and acrobatic, and less about lines and being pretty. It explored characters and moods. That type of dance just spoke to my soul.

How do you see that reflected in your own choreography with Skinner|Kirk?

Although I didn’t connect with the ballet companies’ aesthetic, it’s still a very strong part of my foundation. I like when lines can be incorporated into modern movement. Daniel Kirk and I take elements of things we’ve learned at BodyVox as well as from our time in the ballet companies, and mix it all together. We also like collaborations; we try to bring architectural sculpture into the work, and we’ve been trying to bring live music in as well.

Can you reflect on your experience being a founding member of two companies, first OBT and later BodyVox?

Actually I was a founding member of another company as well. But with OBT, I just happened to be a member of one of the companies when they merged. Later, I helped found an aerial dance company, aero/betty, with three other dancers. BodyVox came together after Jamey and Ashley gathered together a group of dancers to create a dance for Portland Opera’s “Carmina Burana.” After the piece, Jamey and Ashley approached the group and said they wanted to start a dance company if we were interested. “Carmina Burana” was a really great experience. Though BodyVox was Jamey and Ashley’s vision, the fact they approached the dancers and asked us if we were on board made me feel like I was part of the company’s inspiration. I felt invested, and not just a tool by which to create art. I felt respected. And here we are, almost 20 years later.

Given your perspective now, what advice would you give to yourself at the start of your career?

To trust in dreams. If you have a dream and are willing to work for it, you can achieve it. When I first started dancing, just learning the vocabulary was exciting. I had no idea if I had any talent. As long as I could be in the dance world, I would be happy. So I guess it’s just trusting in yourself that you can make it happen.

Any other thoughts?

One of the things racing through my mind at this bittersweet moment of leaving BodyVox and not really knowing what is next, is that it’s okay that I don’t know what’s next. I have to trust that what comes next will be the right thing to do. Everything happens in cycles. I feel like I’ve just finished a really giant cycle and am getting ready to start on a new cycle. I’m looking forward to re-grounding myself in the interim. I remember graduating from college or after I left OBT, I was nervous of the unknown. But it’s also exciting.


Photo by Chris Peddecord


Originally from Muncie, Indiana, Eric Skinner received his BA in dance from Butler University. He has danced professionally with the Milwaukee Ballet, Ballet Oregon, Pacific Ballet Theatre and Los Angeles Chamber Ballet, and was a founding member of Oregon Ballet Theatre. Following his departure from OBT, Eric danced with Gregg Bielemeier and was a founder of aero/betty aerial dance theatre before joining artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland in BodyVox. Eric is also co-artistic director of the Skinner|Kirk Dance Ensemble with his partner Daniel Kirk.