Dancer Angel Chinn, now 28, ran track at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, and was so good she got an athletic scholarship to attend Morgan State University in Baltimore.
She was in her senior year at Morgan and close to earning a degree in education, when she saw a performance on campus by the university’s Modern Dance Ensemble.
The experience set her life going in a whole new direction.
“I had been running since I was 4,” she says. “I was tired, and I knew I wasn’t happy.”
Chinn’s grandparents died that year and attending the funerals caused to her to miss classes. As a result, she had to do another semester of student teaching.
“I was crying, and I realized that I didn’t really want to do this anyway,” Chinn says about her decision to transfer to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Catonsville and earn a degree in dance.
“That’s why I have my company,” says Chinn, who named the troupe she started last year the NonaLee Dance Theatre, using her grandparents’ names.
“That was the gift they left me, to go do what I love,” she says.
Chinn, who lives and works in New York City, will bring a team of six dancers to perform in her contemporary dance piece, “Nuclear Quest: Journey to the Core,” on Saturday at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier.
It is the troupe’s second time at the venue, where it will perform the piece to a mix of electronic and ambient music.
“That first show [last year] was sort of like a purge of ideas that I’d had for years,” says Chinn, who adds that she will incorporate a few elements from last year’s show.
“This year it’s more focused,” Chinn says. “It’s a fresh take on modern dance and something people haven’t seen yet. It has a modern feel, it has a hip-hop feel, it has a funk feel.”
Last year the performance was danced by women, but this year it will include men, as well.
Chinn says the two-hour performance will start with dancers in the lobby interacting with the audience in a piece called “The Living Art Museum.”
“It’s like you’re in a museum, and the dancers are the exhibits,” Chinn says. “It blurs the line between audience and performer.”
The first piece also makes use of the irregularly shaped lobby at Joe’s Movement Emporium.
“It’s totally specific to the space,” she says. “There are lots of interesting things to play with in there that determine the dance.”
The second part of the show takes place on the stage in the center’s theater, where the troupe will perform three related dances, each about 20 minutes long.
“They’re about the questions of life, and they can go in any order,” she says. “What I see is maybe different than what you see.”
One section is about the birth of an idea and “how exciting that is and what a naïve time that is,” Chinn says. Another is about being “a well-oiled machine, but that things are not as you thought,” she says about the times when life “throws you that curveball.”
The third is about “faith and hope and that you’re OK with your decisions,” she says.
Doug Hamby, an associate professor in UMBC’s dance department, says Chinn brought her athlete’s strength and presence to her dance classes.
“There’s a force in her movements,” Hamby says. “She was always very dynamic and physically strong. You couldn’t take your eyes off her.”
Chinn’s choreography also is creative, he says. She takes her knowledge of modern dance by people like Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham and fuses that with street dance.
“In modern dance there is often no story,” he says. “Audiences delight in the movement and the way it stimulates your eye.”
Hamby says Chinn will return to UMBC at his invitation to dance a solo performance in the Baltimore Dance Project’s event Feb. 7-9 to mark the opening of a new arts building.
“She’ll be dancing a demanding, percussive solo to music by John Cage,” says Hamby, who choreographed the piece.
Chinn says she has no regrets about her decision to pursue dance as a performer and she hopes one day as the owner of a dance school.
“There’s something definitely satisfying about being in the city and choosing this life,” she says. “I found what I was supposed to do.”