Extended Interview: Jordan Matter, author of "Born to Dance"
By Alesha Damerville
By Jennie Lay
Long dark nights and frigid air send you diving for the blankets. It’s prime time for snuggling in with a good read. This extended interview is part of a series of conversations with four authors of brand-new – but wildly different – books. Indulge in their stories, then bundle up and venture out to hear their backstories during live talks in Steamboat Springs throughout the winter.
Tiny Dancers Among Us: “Born to Dance” by Jordan Matter
Fresh off his marathon 24-hour photo challenge in New York City (where he was aiming to set a world record photographing dancers, gymnasts, and circus performers), photographer, YouTube star and bestselling author Jordan Matter shares his insights about working with kids and why he loves Steamboat. Plus, his irresistible new photo book, “Born to Dance,” showcases some extraordinary young Yampa Valley dancers.
Steamboat Magazine:You’ve made millions of fans photographing professional dancers. What made you shift your focus to kids?
JM:"Dancers Among Us" came out of nowhere. It was before Instagram. There wasn't a lot of dance photography being done...so nobody knew how that book would do. It ended up on the New York Times bestseller list for a couple of months and things went from “No one wants to publish this” to “What's the next project?” But I didn't really know how to follow up on that in any way. I worked on circus performers, then athletes for a while. Then there was a big snow storm when my daughter was four or five and I pulled her outside to help me shovel. She just looked at me as she was shoveling and she hit an arabesque. I took a photo of it and I suddenly thought, “Oh wow, tiny dancers among us.” What I loved about that moment is that she took something mundane and uninspired and made it humorous and dynamic and inspiring. I realized that that's what childhood is, and I wanted to capture it.
SM:What’s different about photographing young people in their skills, the way they approach the project, their inhibitions and surprises?
JM:It's really fascinating. For the ones who are very well trained and at the top level, their flexibility and abilities to do wild stuff with their bodies is much more extreme than professional dancers. There are a lot more “wow” photos in this book than the others…instances where you just sit down and think, “That absolutely must be retouched. There's no way it's real.” It’s real. They're so flexible and they're so young. I just loved their spirit and their joy. And they were so excited to be a part of it.
SM:With your 10 Minute Photo Challenge and nearly 1.5 million followers, you’ve also become a YouTube star. Is there something bigger in the making for all these videos – a documentary or possible television show?
JM:There are currently two documentaries being made. One in Korea that’s just about me and one in the States featuring me and several of the kids I photograph. So those aren't direct offshoots from YouTube, but they're a direct result of the popularity of it.
SM:How did your video project get started?
JM:I don't know exactly how to explain the YouTube phenomenon. I'm not a kid and most YouTubers are under 30, so it's rare to have kids that are in their teens following this so passionately. I think part of the appeal is cross-generational…because this is my passion and this is what I do with my life and this is my career…. You can have fun and you can be successful in your career. Those two things can happen but I don't think kids get that model a lot. I think they get success models, hard work models, but I don't think they get passionate models. That’s what's in my book and it's definitely what is in my YouTube channel.
SM:You’ve shot a lot in Steamboat, both with locals and visitors, for your books. What do you like so much about taking photos in our little corner of Colorado?
JM: I really love taking pictures in places that have a history. Also, I have a history with Steamboat – I've been going there for many years. But also, there's something about Steamboat. Most ski towns are much less authentic and much less real. It feels like a town and not just a ski slope. It's about the incredible beauty of the environment, the landscape. It's engaging and beautiful and it doesn't look too wealthy or rich, like Aspen or anything. It looks like it's for everybody.
Follow Matter’s 10 Minute Photo Challenges atwww.youtube.com/jordanmatter.
Meet the author!Jordan Matter will present a multi-media talk about making “Born to Dance” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14 at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.