After a long drive from New York City to SUNY Potsdam, alumna Fatima Simmons ’16 was back in the same dance studio where she was once a student—but this time she was there to lead the class.
On Saturday, Feb. 10, Simmons made a special trip back to campus to lead a dance masterclass for SUNY Potsdam’s Dance Ensemble. At the request of junior Eliezer Quarless ’19, the club’s president, Simmons choreographed a special heels dance class for students in the club. She moved around the studio with confidence, demonstrating one dance move after another, before piecing them all together like a jigsaw puzzle.
“She’s an alum of Potsdam, so that’s a big plus to show the growth that happens while you’re outside of college,” Quarless said.
Since graduating from SUNY Potsdam two years ago, Simmons has quickly transitioned into a leadership role as a dance instructor in New York City as well as a dancer for “Pretty BIG Movement” —a plus size dance company founded by Akira Armstrong in 2008.
Simmons has been teaching dance classes to students from five to 18 years old at the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA). As a dance instructor, she visits elementary schools and high schools all over New York City where she teaches many of the techniques she learned as a dance major at SUNY Potsdam. “It’s a great job. I love teaching kids…I love having the ability to inspire people to get up and dance,” Simmons said.
When she’s not teaching dance, she’s actively involved with Pretty BIG Movement. “We’ve been touring and going out of the country. That’s been a huge blessing since I graduated,” she said. The dance troupe, comprised of a talented group of full figured dancers, performs everything from hip-hop to jazz and African to modern. Simmons joined the group after being inspired by a video that went viral on social media.
“Everything Armstrong was speaking about—just being a bigger woman and trying to dance and being in the industry and it being hard because people aren’t taking you seriously, or overlooking you because of your size, or thinking you can’t do this because of how you look—everything she was saying was me! I auditioned and I got in, and I’ve been doing that ever since,” Simmons said.
When she first started at SUNY Potsdam, Simmons remembers that she wasn’t totally comfortable with her body when it came to dancing. “I was always the bigger dancer. I’m tall and plus size. Not that I was shy, but I wasn’t comfortable with myself just yet. I wouldn’t go down to the floor, I wouldn’t jump, I wouldn’t go to the sky,” she said.
Associate Professor Don Borsch, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance was supportive and helped her advance as a dance student. “He pushed me so hard, and my senior year I was just going! I was on the floor, I was jumping, I was doing all these things,” Simmons recalled. “Having him in my life while being here at SUNY Potsdam helped me a lot.”
The dance facilities changed dramatically for Simmons halfway through her time at SUNY Potsdam. During her freshman and sophomore years she spent her time in Dunn Hall, but when she came back to campus her junior year, the new Performing Arts Center had been completed, a 97,000-square-foot facility with a 200-seat dance performance hall and several smaller dance studios.
“This was a beautiful, amazing thing to happen to Potsdam. It shows that they really respect the arts and they really love us here. We have great dance studios now, great theaters, lighting, everything you could think of, it’s amazing!” she said.
To learn more about the Department of Theatre and Dance, visit www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/Theatre