100 Creatives

Amber Robins of Phoenix's Center Dance Ensemble on the Toughest Role of Her Career

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 12. Amber Robins.

Amber Robins remembers wanting to dance.

When she was 5, she asked her mom if she could take a class. She obliged, and Robins went to a tap class and a ballet class. "Once I heard the classical music in ballet I was hooked," she says. "I don’t even remember the dancing as much as I remember the music."

After studying classical ballet and attending Arizona State University, Robins went on to dance with a company in Georgia. But soon, she found herself back in Arizona, where she danced with a modern company out of ASU and traveled to Las Vegas for jobs. But it wasn't until she found Frances Smith Cohen's Center Dance Ensemble that things clicked like they had in her first dance class. 

"Then I auditioned for Center Dance Ensemble and found my home," Robins says. "I have danced for them for 18 years, teach company ballet, and have been given the chance to dance and interpret many wonderful roles." 

One such role stands above the rest for Robins: dancing the part of Anne Frank in Center Dance Ensenble artistic director Frances Smith Cohen's piece titled The Attic. It was an emotional, challenging, and important task — one that proved to be a career highlight for her. "Everything I did I stopped and thought, would the real Anne Frank agree with how I portrayed her here?" Robins remembers. "I did a lot of research on my own for that role. It is very special to me."

Now 45, the Phoenician continues working in motion, still finding inspiration in music for her classic and contemporary dance works. And she's still learning. Blending her classical ballet training with modern techniques, she says she makes a point to try out contemporary dance classes "to broaden my knowledge and to stay current with my choreography."

Robins is in rehearsals with Center, working toward an October performance of Cohen's Dracula. The upcoming season features other works by Cohen, as well as pieces by resident choreographer Diane McNeil Hunt. Independently, Robins has a few projects in the works, too. "On my own, I am working on premiering a new work at the Arizona Dance Festival in October," she says, "and I am preparing to submit for Tiny Dances for the Breaking Ground Dance Festival in January."

For dancers still looking for their creative homes, she offers some wisdom. "I would say anyone who is starting out, just audition for everything. Take something from every experience, and don’t take things too personal," Robins says. "You will be turned down a lot, but it is not a personal attack on you or your dancing. You will find your place! Don’t lose heart."

I am actually an Arizona native. I was born in Glendale and grew up on the West side of town. There weren’t very many dance studios here then but I drove through miles of desert to Litchfield Park. I learned ballet in the basement of a woman’s home.

I make art because
I find it easier to say, or move, what I feel through that medium. I’m a HUGE talker but am not good at confrontation so I don’t always say what I think. Through dance I am able to dance what I feel and deal with the emotions I am feeling. I believe dance has always been my therapy and keeps me sane.

I am truly more productive when I have a deadline. Yes, in college I was the person up till 3 a.m. finishing my research paper that was due by 6 a.m. that day. I am like that with choreography too. If I have too much time, I overthink everything I’m doing and I will never get beyond a point because I keep changing it. So with a deadline, I get something out, perform it, look at it, and then pick it apart, change music, costumes, etc. and usually really like the result I am left with.

My inspirations are from
all aspects of my life. You have to truly believe that everything around you is some form of art. From watching my husband form clay on his potter’s wheel, to watching the running patterns and interactions of my new pet chickens, everything has potential to be molded into dance. I just try to constantly keep my senses open to whatever is happening around me. It’s exciting to me that even menial tasks have potential to become a beautiful dance that can be performed and shared with an audience.

It is hard to list all of the wonderful teachers and mentors I have had in dance, since I have been so fortunate to have so many. So instead, when I think about my life, I tearfully have to say I learned most from my dad. He and I had very different views on life and through that he taught me to respect others for their views even if they are different than my own. This has allowed me to be open and to learn about all different points of interest and ideals. I believe this helps me when I create work because what I say in my movement is authentic and truly what I believe is my truth. He passed away 10 years ago, but I still hold all of his lessons in my heart and feel him around me everywhere.

In my opinion, I think good work should trigger a response in its audience. I don’t think it has to give a good feeling. It could bring about sadness, loathing, or elation. It just needs to touch people in some way.

The Phoenix creative scene I think is actually trying to become something. Since I have grown up here, I can honestly say it has improved by leaps and bounds!! I would love to see more opportunities to bring on more collaborations with all forms of art. I do believe there are many who agree with this and are willing. The problem is educating and creating an interest in our public. It’s great the artists want this and attend events, but we need to expand our audience to non-artists. We need to create a culture in Phoenix that finds art in all forms, and views it as an important part of life. That is a HUGE task, and one that I have given some thought to. I would be excited to brainstorm with a group of creative people and help find a way to do this.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
43. Monique Sandoval
42. Nayon Iovino
41. Daniel Davisson
40. Andrew King
39. Michelle Moyer
38. Jimmy Nguyen
37. Tiffany Lopez
36. Kristin Bauer
35. Donna Isaac
34. Douglas Miles
33. Sierra Joy
32. Francisco Flores
31. Amy Robinson
30. Julio Cesar Morales
29. Duane Daniels
28. Kelsey Pinckney
27. Ben Smith
26. Rembrandt Quiballo
25. Corinne Geertsen
24. Tess Mosko Scherer
23. Slawomir Wozniak
22. Elly Finzer
21. Josh Brizuela
20. Amy K. Nichols
19. Angela Johnson
18. Grant Vetter
17. Michelle and Melanie Craven
16. Erick Biez
15. Leah Marche
14. Lisa Von Hoffner
13. Amada Cruz
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski