A Life in Motion

When a professional New York Broadway dancer contacted Tomorrow and compared a contemporary jazz dance class at the Movement lab in Lagos to attending church, we were intrigued. Tomorrow sent Nirali Shah-Jackson to one of their dance rehearsals to discover more about the teacher she refers to and the experience behind this profound statement. 

When I was assigned to this article, I was beyond stoked. I, too, have a little window in my life where dance played a huge role in my teenage years. Taught and mentored for a few years in Nairobi by a New York Contemporary Jazz Dance teacher, I performed in a few shows there. To this day, the memory holds a special place in my heart.

Candace Olsen, who has three decades of experience on Broadway, has told me that In-za Jenny Odriozola Jacobsson’s jazz class is akin to a religious experience. When Jenny meets me at the entrance to The Movement Lab, her dance studio in Lagos, I am excited. I am drawn in by the undefinable spark in her eyes that instantly feels warm and welcoming.

Invited to watch their rehearsal, I am later told that all the performers are ex-professional dancers. Jenny is passionate about encouraging ex-professionals to ‘find their feet’ again – no pun intended. 

As a teacher, Jenny is composed yet imbued with a liberating openness in her direction. Her dancers follow her with grace and respect. Her style explores every inch of the body, and there is a subtle and disarming understanding between her and the dancers. It is as though an invisible umbilical cord pulls them all together and then apart, all at the right moments. I can’t help but visualise the experience as each dancer being a different organ within a body, each with their own form and function, yet effortlessly moving in unison with one another.

Class at The Movement LAB

I am mesmerised by the choreography and mainly the humbleness of the entire piece. It is very simple, yet it triggers an emotion in me and I find myself holding back tears. I am still unsure if peri-menopause has anything to do with this reaction, but I do feel that it is more the energetic exchange in the room that triggers it. 

In my opinion, watching contemporary dance evokes different emotions in people. It can be both therapeutic and disturbing to experience, depending on the content and how it resonates with each individual. I believe this can only happen when the performers and choreographers are passionate about their work. In this case, it feels like they are.

After the rehearsal, I spoke with Jenny. Similar to the choreographed piece that I just experienced, she appeared humble but open and expressive. There is an undeniable ‘life force’ that generates from her. She strikes me as an enigmatic and powerful woman who could quite easily be intimidating, but she carries this with grace and no attitude, so you feel reassuringly at ease in her presence. 

A little story of Love with Aylamiquel 1 2021

Jenny articulates her words like she choreographs her dance movements –– thoughtfully and with passion. She has a sense of complete balance about her and playfulness as well, yet a subtle and quiet heaviness keeps her somewhat intriguing. Both on and off stage, she is one of those individuals who is just naturally captivating, and I want to find out more.

Jenny was adopted at 10 months of age in the early 70s from Korea and brought to Sweden by a mother and father that showered her with love. At the age of three, she would have easily been mistaken for having ADHD with her constant restlessness, but luckily when her concerned parents took her to the doctor, he advised them to take her to a movement class, and that is when her dancing journey began.

Growing up in Sweden as a Korean, she really stood out from the normal blonde-haired blue-eyed children and adults that surrounded her. She felt different, and was occasionally bullied for appearing different. She just wanted to hide. She found comfort in books and describes herself as a speed reader, covering 3 to 4 books in a week. 

When I ask her what she would have become had she not found dance, she surprises me by saying, ‘a writer.’ Jenny shares that she has written a book that has yet to be published. She intends to write another, based on the confusion behind cultural identity as a consequence of growing up in Sweden as an adopted Korean. The lack of really belonging to any particular place can be a destabilising and a very lonely experience. I instinctively feel this would make a great read, as many of us, myself included, don’t have a ‘real’ place to call ‘home’ anymore, and this lack of belonging can feel isolating.

Jenny Hendrix house by Tim Feldman Copenhagen 2003

I wonder– of all the professions to choose for someone who dislikes the limelight– why Jenny chose dance. She explains that a lot of performance artists come from a broken place full of insecurities and are really trying to prove something of themselves and to themselves; she is no different. 

After completing two years at Balettakademien between 1990-92, a professional ballet school in Stockholm, she quit to explore the Big Apple. Her six or so years in NYC were all about living from day to day, performing, teaching, and surviving the harsh and competitive scene that comes with the dance profession. She openly admits to indulging in ‘sex, drugs, and rock n roll.’

But Sweden called her back, and her sensible, level-headed side accepted a one-year contract in 1999 to dance at Skånes Dansteater. For a dancer to secure a contract is a dream so she took the opportunity. She went from living day to day and in the moment to planning her career and looking to the future. 

While in Sweden, she was interested in all forms of body movement and experimented with yoga. The first time in the downward dog asana, she cried and could feel that yoga had a power she’d never experienced before. Determined to explore this new emotion, she set off to India in 2001, where she met Spaniard Igor, who was in a bungalow next to her. They have been together ever since. They have a 16-year-old daughter, who was born in Sweden but brought up in Portugal, after their move here in 2010. 

Both Igor and Jenny, who is now a qualified Yoga Alliance teacher, started the Lightroom Yoga studio in Lagos in 2010 (now called Inlight). Financially, it proved to be a difficult venture. In the years that followed, as her daughter grew up, Jenny wanted to attend ballet classes and joined Gwen Morris Ballet school. It was there that she slowly found herself teaching dance. She realised then how much she loved and missed it. 

Just before the pandemic hit, Jenny was offered the opportunity to run the Movement Lab, which was attached to a guest house in the middle of Lagos. The guest house has now closed and Jenny runs the Lab herself with the intention to one day open an academy to support dancers of all ages. First, duty calls; she will return to Sweden in August for two years in order to support her daughter, who wants to pursue a career in music, and to help care for her elderly parents.

There are hundreds of different stories about her professional career as a dancer and teacher but one that stands out here in Portugal is when she was invited by Nelda Magalhaes from Theatre Experimental de Lagos to write a piece as part of the Ventania Festival entitled ‘The Clean Water Act 1st Edition.’ Unfortunately, one week before the premiere, the whole country went into lockdown. Once the COVID measures were dropped, she was contacted by Agrupamento Escolas Bemposta in Portimão. The show finally premiered at Tempo Theatre, Portimão, in May 2022. A bilingual rap/jazz piece, it was performed by ex-professional dancers and watched by Algarve’s Regional Director for Cultural and National Arts.

The Movement Lab will continue without Jenny and will be run by the current ex-professional dancers that already teach different classes here. Jenny wanted to create a safe space for dance to be expressed and experienced in the Algarve and she leaves her legacy in safe hands until her return. Before she leaves for Sweden, she has organised a performance, An Ode to Dance, in June, at a venue to be confirmed. If you would like to watch this, follow The Movement Lab on both Facebook and Instagram for more information.

At the end of our conversation, I ask Jenny what dancing gives back to her. After a moment of quiet contemplation, she replies that she experiences a sense of “god’ when she dances.  I finally understand why Candace, the Broadway dancer who introduced us to Jenny, feels like she is going to church when she dances with her. It all makes sense now!




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