Crystal Jackson always knew she was a dancer and could feel it in her soul. From a young age, growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, she would record VHS tapes of musicals and dance movies, so she could play them back and learn all of the moves. Her patient and loving grandparents were privy to her childhood performances, and nurtured Crystal's desire to perform.
Her obsession with dance movies peaked when she saw "Dance With Me," starring Vanessa Williams. She couldn't hold back her excitement watching Vanessa Williams and hoped to emulate her moves—that Christmas, during her senior year in high school, Crystal's parents gifted her a group class package to You Can Dance Studios in St. Louis, and it was there that she officially began her ballroom dance journey.
The following year, Crystal pursued a degree in Engineering, but her experience at a ballroom dance studio remained fresh in her mind. She joined her university's dance team during her senior year, and while she enjoyed performing for a big audience, she still felt something was missing.
After graduating from college, one of Crystal's friends took her to a popular salsa club in St. Louis, called Viva. Crystal reminisces, "the first time I went, I was absolutely blown away with how everyone danced. So smooth, so sensual. It was “Dance with Me” in real life!" From that moment, Crystal attended every free class offered at Viva on Thursday nights, "I was determined to learn how to move like the people I saw in the clubs."
With a fire in her soul and passion for learning, Crystal joined another performance team: this time focusing on Bachata. In 2015, Crystal moved to South Korea where she continued to dance her way through the social scene and, even began teaching Bachata and Zumba. She always carried the dream to perform solos and compete. In 2018, that dream became a reality.
Crystal joined Fred Astaire Fort Walton Beach and competed in their "Dancing With the Stars" event, a highlight of Crystal's career. This time, she was completely hooked and dedicated. She eventually moved to Las Vegas and discovered VZ Dance Studios where she currently competes as a pro/am in American Smooth and Rhythm.
Was there a performance, choreography or costume that you felt represented you as a dancer the most? If so, what was it?
I danced my favorite routine when I was attending Fred Astaire Fort Walton Beach. I performed to the Hustle song, “I Will Survive/ I’m a Survivor.” This routine made me feel confident, sassy, and made believe that ballroom dancing is something that I can do...while still adding my own flare! I wore a multi-colored bell-bottomed jump suit with my large curly afro and was, “selling the 70’s to the max!” I am a long way from being a 70’s baby, but this routine represented everything that I wanted to be as a dancer: a woman who is confident, elegant, fun and silly, with a dash of “sass.”
Have you infused your culture and background into your dance journey? If so, how?
Most definitely! I am always looking for ways to bring the music and dance moves that I learned growing up into the ballroom scene. I grew up with a lot of Hip Hop, R&B, and classical music, so I am always trying to see how I can add that “flava” to my routines. I also want to be able to incorporate the smooth, Latin moves that I picked up when dancing with my performance teams. My coaches are great about ensuring that the choreography created for me represents “Crystal, ” while also making sure we give the judges the fundamental steps that they are looking for for.
Playing violin has also helped me in my dance journey. It might seem odd, but whenever I used to play in the orchestra, I wouldn’t just play the notes on the page. I would try to understand the story the composer was trying to deliver, and recreate that for the audience. I apply that same concept when I dance. I dance to tell a story. I listen to the music, understand the message, and in that short time on the dance floor I recreate a moment of joy, longing and love, for anyone who is watching.
What do diversity, equality, and inclusion mean to you and why do you believe they're important values in the ballroom dance industry?
Diversity, equality and inclusion means that no matter how you look (size, shape, color, or gender), no matter how old you are, or where you came from, you are treated fairly. You feel welcomed without judgement, and your views and opinions are heard and respected.
These values are important in the ballroom dance industry, because without them, people with untapped potential would find other forms of dance to participate in, and ballroom dancing would become slow-dying art form. I believe the industry is well aware of this, and continuously looks for ways to bring this form of dance to the world through things like competitions, movies and, TV shows. I know that without television exposure to ballroom dancing, I wouldn’t be here today.
If you could leave a message for the younger generation of dancers, what would it be?
You are TALENTED! Truly talented, and if you continue to dance into your adulthood, you will be a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor.. I mean that in a good way. But, ALWAYS, always, always remember to humble yourself, encourage others, and be kind.
Crystal's Fast Facts:
Favorite Movie: Coming to America
Favorite Author: Stephen King
Favorite Style of Dance: In Rhythm it, it would have to be Mambo. I feel like I have the most freedom when it comes to combining my background and ballroom rules together. In Smooth, it would be the Viennese Waltz. I just feel like I’m floating across the dance floor.
Favorite Hobby Outside of Dance: Karaoke
Favorite Quote: "Be Weird. Be Random. Be who you are. Because you never know who will love the person you hide." -C.S. Lewis
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