Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene: Gabrielle Armstrong

With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their way; the independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, a variety of artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Río Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, and libraries like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla, have provided up-and-coming artists a space for them to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” are interviews which provide a glimpse at a few of the women who are making their way in said movement. Though the artists were asked similar questions, some were asked queries focused specifically on their work.


Gabrielle Armstrong is a writer, dancer, choreographer, and educator. Her first book of poetry is Partida en Dos and she is also the co-founder of Avant Performing Arts Studios, where she teaches a variety of dance styles to kids from the age of four onwards. The following interview was conducted online.



How did you get into writing, especially poetry?

Thanks to Anthony Acevedo. I read his first book and was so inspired to actually work on my writing. By that time I was in love with Poe and Julia de Burgos. I mean, I knew and still know "A Julia de Burgos" by heart.


I’ve seen your work is highly influenced by identity, beauty, and your passion for the arts. How did this happen?

Identity, because I've always fought in finding out who I am. My life has been a series of crossroads where at many times I made the wrong choice to see if I could survive. Through that I found out that my "beauty" was not the norm in society and so I went through my years fully knowing I was never gonna be called beautiful. It's a thing I struggle with on the daily but it's gotten better. I went through depression, and hit some low points where I was on the brink of anorexia and felt so alone and defeated that I felt there was no way I could make it. I Felt that I was always gonna be stuck, both in life and dance, which I've done since I was 8 years old. And being a dancer with my body in a world where ballerinas HAVE to be stick thin and light as feathers sucks. And back then, it was worse. And the arts, well, it's the best medium for social change, the best vehicle to express feelings, and to make others feel that without having to say words. It's our own magic in this muggle world.  



I’ve seen you’ve delved into dancing, how did this happen? How do you balance and/or mix poetry and dancing?

It’s a beautiful mix. The first time I danced to poetry was in a Julia de Burgos ensemble I danced when I was like, 16. It was so powerful. I remember feeling Julia's words and my fellow dancers as well. It's so powerful to be the visible energy of a poet's words. You don't need music to make poetry with your body; just a feeling, energy and you get that by mixing poetry and dance. But a lo raitru: el baile es mi jevo de por vida (But for real: dance is my boyfriend for life).


What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?

It sucks. We're a lot of artists that are doing what we love and trying to get people in love with it too. But sadly, the general public doesn't care. I don't really know why, since I’ve been part of the art world since I was 8 years old. But now that I'm a dancer, choreographer, and a poet, I can see how our support system is mainly other artists. And while it's a beautiful sense of community, I sometimes think we could join together and do something big and amazing, as well as transform people's conceptions about art. I mean it can change the world, damn it! People should be motivated to be more into art and supporting it instead of esos shows de chisme en la televisión o la politiquería pendeja que pasa everywhere (People should be motivated to be more into art and supporting it instead of those television shows focused on gossip and stupid politics that are found everywhere).



What do you seek to achieve with your work?

Impact someone, make someone feel something they've been bottling up, or something completely new. I want them to fall in love with art, let it be dance or poetry. And I want to awaken something in them that makes them daring. Que se atrevan a intentarlo por sí mismos (Give them the courage to try it by themselves). And of course to keep supporting art and all its forms.


What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

Indie? Well hace tiempito no voy a actividades así por que estoy de cabeza en mi negocio de escuela de baile Avant Performing Arts in Cabo Rojo (It’s been a while since I’ve attended activities like that because I’m focused on my business with my dance school Avant Performing Arts in Cabo Rojo). But from what I remember, it felt so nice. Very relaxed and just an environment full of people that never get tired of experimenting and bettering themselves to reach their dreams.



Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

Whoa. Dance is my jevo (boyfriend) so if I had to try one else apart from that I'd choose paint. I love to see gorgeous pieces of art in museums and even local artists' pieces & I'm always so, SO inspired to just pick up a brush and paint. But si me dejo llevar por como dibujo (if I’d use my drawings as a reference), I'd wind up doing only Jackson Pollock-y paintings!


If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

"YAS! It's the best thing to be in a world cluttered by doctors and engineers that are only doing it for the money. But, be prepared to fight for what you want. Learn perseverance and a bit of marketing."



What is your biggest goal right now?

Make Avant Performing Arts grow, get back into dancing professionally (being an ex-member of the dance team is KILLING ME--I miss it so much it hurts, like, daily), finish my dance teacher certification, & make it through the semester alive and of sound mind and health.


Find Partida en Dos on Amazon

Find Avant Performing Arts Studio on Facebook

All the pictures in this article were found in the Armstrong’s Facebook Page