Taking the Leap

17 Apr 2024

At the helm of Contemporary Dance Wyoming, Francesca Romo is redefining the meaning of dance

WORDS Melissa Thomasma | IMAGES David Bowers


Though Francesca Romo’s accent doesn’t reveal her London birth and upbringing, her effortless grace and balletic physical presence immediately reflect the art form to which she’s given her life: dance. Years of study at The Royal Ballet School earned Fran a spot with a touring company in the United Kingdom, bringing her to Jackson Hole for the first time in the mid-2000s, and inspiring her to leave England behind to begin a new chapter in New York City. As a co-founder of a dance company in the Big Apple, Gallim, Fran returned to Jackson, continuing to cultivate her relationship with Dancers’ Workshop.

“At the invitation of Babs Case, the artistic director of Dancers’ Workshop, I had the opportunity to perform in Jackson a couple of times and Gallim did a residency for three weeks. It was during that time that I thought, ‘could I live here?’ So, after I returned to New York, I was like, you know what? I think it’s also time to hop off the boat and get on a new one and see where this ride is going to take me. And yes, just took the leap.”

As Fran embraced her new home, she also leaned into the elements of her training and experience that were anchored in modern dance and improvisation. “I trained in ballet rigorously, but then really knew that I didn’t want to stay within the form and confines of ballet, even though it’s so beautiful. I wanted to move away. So I branched,” she says.

“The way modern dance is, it gives you an ability to get out of your comfort zone because you have to be able to improvise,” Fran continues. “It has so much more perspective. And again, this freedom that I was looking for and freedom to question something — what if I colored outside of the lines? ‘What if’ is the motto that Babs Case uses all the time. It’s become a way for us, whether you are a student, choreographer or dancer — it’s about the ‘what ifs’ and that was not encouraged in a straight- laced school like the Royal Ballet School.”

Improvisation, Fran says, is hardly as easy as it sounds. “It’s about connecting to your inner pleasure as a dancer, as a human, what gives you spark, what gives you joy, what also makes you feel frustrated and why and at what point: questioning of all these emotional things that are housed in your body. You’re connecting to spirit at the same time,” she explains. “I started to learn to love improvisation and learn that improvisation is not a mindless task. It requires a lot of skill.”

As a part of Dancers’ Workshop, Fran teaches this unique skill to young dancers. “Children are the best improvisers. They are my best teachers, really.”

In addition to teaching upcoming dancers, Fran is the associate artistic director of Contemporary Dance Wyoming, Jackson’s own ensemble of modern dancers. The company’s members collaborate, create and showcase their inspired work, as well as welcome world-class dance companies from across the globe into Dancers’ Workshop. “Bringing in these artists that are world renowned is giving us the richness of seeing these artists, athletes and their prowess, and being in the studio with them. It ups the ante for us; it increases the desire to want to create and not just like, ‘it’s better.’ It’s more like, ‘what’s the story we’re trying to tell? What’s the narrative and how do we want to collaborate and how do we want to fuse our worlds together?’ ”

Process, not product, is where the true value of these interactions lies, Fran says. “What’s important to us rather than ‘we got to put something together to show the world.’ Well, we will show the world when we’re ready, when we’ve actually gotten to the bottom of what we’re about: our own stories and how we all link.”

And while the future of Contemporary Dance Wyoming isn’t crystal clear, its potential is limitless. “Both Babs and I want to make sure that the gifts and talents that these dancers have are acknowledged and seen by this community and beyond, continuing this practice of excellence and diversity of skills that we all bring in,” she says. “It takes a lot of vulnerability and patience and I often ask the dancers, ‘are we creating a language?’ The best part of all of this is that we get to create it together.”

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