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(JUMP Presents) How JJ Moves.

March 10, 2011

Text by Cary Carr. Image courtesy of JJ Tiziou. As a maze of young dancers decked out in bright yellow and green costumes frantically leap and spin on the stage, one man in particular stands out amongst the spotlights and sharp movement at Drexel University’s Mandell Theater.

He flies back and forth, weaving his way through the performers, throwing himself into the midst of the fast-paced music. Like a magnet, he spots where the center of energy is, fully saturating in the power of the moment. As one dancer thrashes her entire body in a short solo, he tosses himself on the stage with one leg hanging off the side, getting as close as possible to the action so that he can snap photographs.

But despite his consistent interaction with the performers, no one appears distracted. Instead, the dancers allow him to become part of their show, asking him to join in and participate in their movement.

Jacques-Jean Tiziou, better known as JJ, was not hired as a professional photographer for the freshman dance ensemble’s rehearsal for their winter show, New Beginnings.

He was hired him as a photographer but also as a guest-performer – someone they trust loves movement just as much as the dancers do.

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Tiziou started JJ Tiziou Photography with hopes of inspiring communities and proving that everyone is beautiful. He’s been based out of West Philadelphia since 1997, when he arrived here to attend the University of Pennsylvania.

“Philadelphia felt like home right away,” Tizou say.. “I clicked well with this city. I love it here. There really are a lot of beautiful people here, doing beautiful things.”

Making a profit is secondary to the genuine love and respect Tiziou feels for each client he works with. And while the 32-year old finds inspiration in the everyday world, he began focusing on dance photography after the 2003 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Addicted to the adrenaline and excitement of dance, and understanding the importance of movement, the self-proclaimed “bookworm” ditched his sedentary life and successfully became a part of the Philadelphia dance scene.

While the dancers he photographs appreciate his work, Tiziou yearns for whole communities to gain from his art. He celebrates Philadelphia through sharing over-looked beauty found on the streets of his city. Rather than guard his photographs and only shoot what he gets paid for, Tiziou provides unedited galleries online to the public, so that they can use them to “tell their own stories.”

Tiziou took his love of dance, people and community and combined them to create the How Philly Moves project – a 50,000-square foot mural of dancers photographed by Tiziou, painted on the facade of the Philadelphia International Airport parking garage. Scheduled to be installed this spring by the Mural Arts Program, it will be the second largest mural in the world.

Tiziou photographed more than 170 dancers over eight photo-sessions to create the tribute to the Philly dance scene and the dedicated sense of community that accompanies it.

It wasn’t easy to select which dancers would be portrayed in the mural when considering the plethora of people who consider themselves Philly dancers. While trying to decipher the genres of dance found in Philadelphia, Tiziou found himself in awe of the non-traditional dance styles in every section of the city.

“There are more styles of dance and more demographics in the city than we could fit into twenty-four pictures on that side of the airport wall,” Tiziou says with a smile.

Dancers of all body-sizes, whether they trained for years or simply like to dance in front of their bathroom mirror, are included in the project. Tiziou truly believes that each individual is just as photogenic as the next, whether it is the 73-year old woman who inspires him to keep moving regardless of his age or a two-year old ballet dancer. Jumping up from his chair, Tiziou impersonated the young ballerina, spinning and bouncing around the room on his tip-toes with his hands above his head.

“They were all the most beautiful dancers, really,” Tiziou professes. “The biggest resource this city has is the citizens, Philadelphians. That’s what this is, a celebration of them.”

Tizou wants to impact the entire city. The project, he believes, offers something more than an advertisement found on a billboard. It values community over corporations.

“You’re sitting in traffic, in your little tin box, and everyone else is an object around you that’s in your way,” says Tiziou. “People don’t realize that all of those people are also potential dance partners.”

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Leaning so far over the edge of the stage, he almost falls, Tiziou slams his hands down to catch his balance. Once upright again, he frantically clicks his camera, hoping to capture each dancer’s emotion.

He loses himself in a choreographed piece full of love and loss. Scanning the floor, he darts his head back and forth, then crouches close to a pair of dancers tangled together in a duet.

He runs back to a seat in the audience, crosses his legs and contemplates what to shoot next. As the song ends, the hall goes silent – except for the clicking of Tizou’s camera.

He lies down on the floor with his arms above his head, preparing for the next piece. He needs to stretch between sets – he moves almost as much as the trained dancers. In this cat-and-mouse relationship the photographer and artists have, Tiziou finds himself chasing after the dancers to make the perfect shot.

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“He moves with the dancers,” Miriam G. Giguere, Assistant Professor and Program Director of Drexel’s dance program,  explains with a laugh. “His photography has its own movement, so it captures movement better than just a posed photo.”

Giguere hired Tiziou as a photographer for this evening’s event because of his ability to connect with the performance and his unique photography technique. Tiziou has an excellent reputation among the various dance troupes around the city.

“The community interacts with each other,” Giguere says. “It’s not that the ballet people are very separate from the modern people or very separate from the hip-hop community. The dance community is like the rest of Philadelphia – it’s like little neighborhoods that connect together really well.”

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Tiziou hasn’t just made an impact on the dance world. He also supports Philly’s music scene by holding concerts in his West Philly home, featuring bands of an assortment of musical genres. He happily boasts about his ability to intimately connect with musicians through song – in his living room.

“We have this big open space and it’s great to have people there,” Tiziou gleams. “I kind of want my home to be my refuge for the world.”

As Tiziou plans future concerts, prepares for the mural’s debut in June and works on an upcoming project with the Kimmel Center as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, you can still find him getting lost in the beauty that many people take for granted during their day to day routine.

For a man, who proudly calls the whole universe his home, it’s simply impossible to think of any person or place as plain or ordinary. He just hopes everyone will soon see themselves as fitting into this “big, crazy kaleidoscope” we call Philadelphia.

Click here to find JJ Tiziou’s images from the How Philly Moves photo shoots.

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