main page/topics
back to interviews

Interview with Amy Sigil, Unmata

by Marcel Bieger and Konstanze Winkler

How long does “Unmata” exist?

It will be ten years in 20-12. I’m going to Hanover festival in 20-12, and I do hope that happens. I’m already exited about the possibilities. I will have an assistance, and of course there will be a performance in Germany. There will be one other girl with me (Shelly) … I love Germany, Gabriella has made a great impression on me (Amy Sigil stays for the third time at Gabriella’s). Now the idea behind Unmata was, I had this group of students I was dancing with at Shawna’s, and they were really good. I knew I had to practice them more, give them new challenges, or I would lose them. So I founded a student troupe, and it was called “Unmata”. After Shawna and I split up, I didn’t want to dance alone, so I went to “Unmata” next rehearsal and told them: “Okay. Girls, you gotta step it up. You are my professional troupe, and I’m in ‘Unmata’”. So that how it all began. Our first performance at Tribal Fest was in 2004 or 2003.
So you are a regular at Tribal Fest?

Jaaahhhh! I love Tribal Fest, I really do. I’ve been there every year since. It’s the home court advantage, as they say in basketball, every body comes to Sebastopol. People come from all over the world. They are nervous, and they are crazy, people walking by you whom you have seen on TV. For me it’s only two hours away and I’ve been there for every single year for the last eleven years. And I really feel like I’ve got the home court advantage. You just walk in and immediately get the feeling “Yeah, Tribal Fest!”

When did you start to go abroad with “Unmata?

Let me think, 2007 was the first time in Germany, the first time abroad must have been in 2006 or 2005. Funny that I never left the country before I was 32. But then I’ve been all over the world, numerous times. Where have I been? Canada, Mexico, Croatia, Spain, France, England, Germany, and Taiwan … ah … China, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Czech Republic, Switzerland … I Think, I’ve been to France the most times.
In October you had having Blood Moon again, what’s the motto last year?

Superstition. This is the 11th year. 2000 we started it, and I’ve never done anything before eleven years in a row. Yes, superstition like black cats, walking under ladders, opening umbrellas indoors … of course we broke them all (laughs).

You do have strange mottos?

Yes, I love them. We had “disease”, last year we had “fun”, lots of fun things. We also did “zoo”, “Alice in Wonderland”

You told us that you write all the choreographies for your groups. How do you proceed when doing this?

Usually, not every time of course, but usually I lock down in my studio, Tuesday to Thursday, because I’m on tour from Friday through Monday. When in the studio I do my e-mails from nine to eleven, at eleven I stop doing this, because you’re never done with your e-mails. Then I get my notes,

put a glass of water on front of me and put out a sign, because nearly everybody has a key for the studio. “Quiet, please choreography on session.” People stop by all the time, and I love visitors, but I can’t come in and out of work like that. Then I put on my music. When I’m working on impro and I just need timing, I put on one of my sick albums that I love. When I’m doing a piece of choreography, I usually work in the section I’m always working in order, I start at the very beginning, I loop the first four … on my DJ machine, I put it in, I make the loop, I usually slow it down by 32 % at my pitching tempo control and I work slow.
Mostly “Unmata” is known for dancing very fast. And I can’t choreograph as fast as Unmata can dance. So I take my music and slow it down, I choreograph it full speed, and I work from there until I can speed it up at full speed. If I’m stuck I try not to leave it. Sometimes I have to, and say, okay, so you’re stuck, and I’ll have to come back to it. But I try to work in order, and I usually use pitch control, slow things down, speed things up, slow things down, speed things up. It is really obnoxious for everybody else in the room. Just the same part over and over and over again, for maybe three hours. I tend not to take anything at face value. It’d never gonna be the first move that I come up with. I always start with the music. But sometimes when I’m in an elevator something comes up to my mind. And I try to remember it for later. But when I’m choreographing I definitely start with the music.
Are you a dictator or is there discussion with the group?

I’m a dictator. For sure. The girls have great ideas, and I dictate when they are supposed to have great ideas. Like “right now I need your help” or “right now I’m done with you.” Even if it’s collaborative, it’s a dictated collaborative. But usually it is “this is the new piece, I’ve choreographed it, here’s how it goes.” These girls are soldiers, too, they’re amazing. I got a killer team, right now. The girls have their own classes, and in their classes they are dictators too, but in “Unmata” they’re just dancers.
I try to do much of the work so that I won’t take advantage of people. When Shawna and I were together, we did everything together, choreographies, home page, but when you split, you not only lose the other half, but you lose everything. Since then I do everything alone, so that I won’t lose everything again, when somebody leaves. And as a troupe director you have to work twice as hard as the others. I want something that I can keep for my own.
You also get the blame.

Yes, exactly (all laugh). But the girls love it. They have their own projects, but they like it, when I tell them what they have to do. They work really fucking hard, and we kill it together. I work at day, they work at day, and when we come together in the evenings, we don’t want to work, we wanna dance. So I try to get all the work done first. I’m not the type who asks, what do you want to do, would you like to do this? We trust each other and share a vision together. You do this part, I’ll trust you with it. Whether you love it or not (laughs).
You just said you work at day? Do you have a day job, too?
No, I work at the studio

Do you still have goals?

I’m a little bit funny about goals. I don’t like goals, period. I don’t think you have to decide what you gonna be because most likely you’re gonna be it. And I can tell you this. I was never thinking about dancing in my whole entire adolescence-teenage years. Even in my late teenage years I would have never guessed to become a dancer. And that is scary and exhilarating. Exhilarating, because anything can happen. Scary because if I would have happened to decide to be something I wouldn’t have picked this. I would have picked something else. So I like to plan short time goals. Like a year long. I’m planning on my tours, but I’m not the kind of person who says, this is how my life will end up in ten years. Because I don’t believe that people can dream big enough.

Maybe you have visions? Like I want to go this or that way?

Yes, I have short term visions. I want to do a boxed DVD set of my ITS format, both slow and fast. I seriously want to write a book about it, I want to get this ITS baby solidified, you know, as a format with people teaching it all over the world. And I’m hoping that that leads to different things for me. Am I going to teach dance classes for the rest of my life? I hope not. I hope, my life turns into something else, whatever that is.

Are there things you would never do?
No, no, there is nothing …

Maybe never work in real estate?

You know that’s funny, I used to work in mortgage. So I already was a temporary real estate person. (All laugh). You know my life hasn’t always been this way. I had so many different lives, going through a religious background, being homeless, to having children, to do drugs, to being a professional dancer. So there might be nothing that I would not do, because anything can happen and things can change tomorrow. And I’m grateful for it. For doing dance. I got so much out of dance. If it ended tomorrow and nobody would ever hire me for the rest of my life I could not complain. I already have done more than my fair share. People dance their whole life in studios since they were three years old, but will never get to do what I got to do.

But I’m not just a dancer, I’m an artist, always been. I hope dance will lead to something else. I used to make art from used chewing gum, put it together with tooth picks and this lead to dance. Today I don’t do bubblegum art any more because of dance. And I wonder where dance will lead me to. I hope my art will continue to revolve and change.

You say something now that we have forgotten to ask you.

I wanna say that I encourage people to be more fanatical. About each other and their fellow artists. Like sometimes they think that it’s easy for us to be extra cool about things. And I think we gotta be crazy for our friends and fanatical. Like to really, really love things and to show that passion. How much it means to you, try and say it. I think that’s important. We used to be fanatical about things. Ten years it takes to develop something. You can’t do something for three years and already expect to be finished. But I promise you, if you do something for ten years and put all your passion into it you will get your reward.

It’s not enough to say fanatical, it has to be combined with love.

And passion, and dedication.
Amy Sigil
See you at Tribal Festival in Hanover!

back ...
Photos ©: 1, 5 and 7 Konstanze Winkler, 2, 4 and 6 Brad Dosland (, 3 with kindly permission of Amy Sigil
Graphic work/WebDesign: Konstanze Winkler
- 3 -