Lois Trombley: A Mosaic in Motion
Lois Trombley's home vibrates with comforting and vibrant chaos. Beneath the high ceiling are a wooden piano, barbell, books, jumpy dog, feisty cat, and soft orange lounge. The walls are adorned with performance photos, colorful paintings by her 10-year-old daughter Zora, and the Bread and Puppet print of a workboot sprouting hay entitled COURAGE.
Most importantly, her home has space to dance.
As Lois' ongoing dance student, I've learned her kaleidoscopic array of roles: educator, actor, singer, choreographer, mother, dance studio director, musician, and artistic director. You might include “stand-up comedian” in the list after taking a class-- Lois has an infectious sense of humor and play. She can vent feigned diva frustration about dancing with hoop earrings one minute and get the class to imitate a flapping hawk the next. She's often laughing while teaching, but she takes her work quite seriously.
“I create dance armies,” she says. “The end result might be fluid and beautiful, but the preparation is exacting.” When crafting choreography for classes or companies, she admits to being “a counting fascist”.
Several armies-in-training under her command can be found in the variety of classes offered at her downtown Burlington dance studio, the Swan Dojo. Located on Church Street, the Swan Dojo is a movement-based studio used for classes, guest-teacher workshops, and performances ranging from breakdance to Buti Yoga to Afro-Caribbean to the undefinable.
Lois' most notable dance army however lives in the SpielPalast Cabaret, an annually-produced political performance circus of song, theater, and dance. The SpielPalast brings together about 40 local dancers, actors, musicians, and street performers of every flavor that normally perform separately. Based on the literary and burlesque cabarets of 1930's Berlin, the SpielPalast weaves together an array of musical numbers and theatrical skits that range from delightful to haunting-- often connecting yesterday's political struggles with today's current events. The SpielPalast debuts a new annual production that runs several weekends every May in the Burlington area.
Lois co-founded the SpielPalast in 2002 with Terry McCants, the original production being a benefit for a friend with breast cancer. Introducing the burlesque form to Burlington, Lois was her usual encouraging self. In addition to making sure a variety of body types were included in the dancing cast, an early rule within the company was that no one was allowed to shame their own bodies.
“Working with Lois is like hopping a freight train to Xanadu.” says Phinneus Sonin, who co-directed the SpielPalast with Lois for more than a decade. “She has an amazing power of influence to manifest her creations.”
“Lois is the reason I dance,” says Jesse Owens, current spearhead of Ergo Movement and former Art Director and co-producer of the SpielPalast. “Her energy and grace are mesmerizing. She is the person who helped me find my way to movement, [bringing me] the most joy and meaning.”
In addition to being a longtime member of the West African Jeh Kulu Dance and Drum Theater, Lois also directs her own hip hop company Laisse Tomber.
Lois taught in Burlington regularly for years at the Flynn Arts Center for the Performing Arts and at University of Vermont, but she is now the master coordinator of classes and events at the Swan Dojo. In recent years, her own classes include hip hop, cabaret jazz, dancehall reggae, Afro-modern, Bollywood, burlesque-- or a fusion of any of the above.
She started with a “classic” form however, studying ballet at age 12 from Shelley Ismail, who taught at the (now closed) Centre de Danse in Winooski. Ismail was a former Soloist with Les Gran Ballet Canadiens and danced professionally for 20 years. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, Lois felt “awkward”, and “too big”-- that she would never“fit in” as a dancer.
“Shelley was shocked [at my hesitation] and encouraged me to keep dancing,” Lois shares.
Lois did continue with teacher Jane Selzer, who focused on the Simonson Technique of modern jazz. As an older teen and young adult, Lois crammed her days and nights with yoga, jazz, ballet, hip hop, Caribbean, and West African.
“I began to feel pressure to compartmentalize the dance forms I was learning, but blending them came naturally to me. I was once told to 'get the ballet out of my body'... and today, blending forms is normal!”
You can also expect Lois to blend acting with dancing, on stage or in class.
Lois adored and mimicked musicals as a child, such as Oklahoma, and first performed on stage in her church choir. In high school, she had an eclectic drama teacher who placed her in plays like The Insanity of Mary Girard and A Thurber Carnival. She had several leading roles, including the role of Maria in The Sound of Music. Lois' strong portrayal of her original character Victoria Mary McKay, an ongoing staple in the SpielPalast, inspired reader's of Burlington's Seven Days to vote Lois “Best Female Actor” in 2014 and 2015.
“I never thought I was good at any of [Lois' dance classes], but one day it just clicked... We were doing the Rihanna song 'Hard' and we were doing some sort of punch... She said something about feeling the movement and why you're doing it. The first time I actually saw myself punch with some sort of mustered up confidence and anger, the years of theater technique my old drama teacher [from my high school] explained started making sense,” says dancer and choreographer Cat McDougal. “Every step, turn, leap, hand gesture, has a story behind it for Lois.”
Instead of enrolling in college, despite callbacks from several Boston-area schools, Lois traveled across the U.S. with friends by car. In later years she studied dance in Senegal, West Africa, and traveled with the SpielPalast to the Fringe arts festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Lois's plans for the future include more travel, collaboration with many artists, running a children's hip hop company, and directing a dance program at a school.
What is not hanging on her wall is her associates degree from the Community College of Vermont. She has only 3 credits left to earn, and graduating is most certainly a goal.
Sitting on Lois's leather couch between a sheepskin blanket and the tail-switching cat “Kabuki”, I asked Lois what she doesn't do...
“I don't really do housekeeping well,” she laughs. “ And I'm really bad at folding laundry... I'm willing to trade classes.”
Watch Lois in action here: https://www.facebook.com/LoistL.Trombley?fref=ts
Visit the Swan Dojo dance studio here: http://www.swandojo.com/