“A voice for the voiceless” is a phrase that we hear often within the animal-welfare movement, but what if that voice was able to convey a message without using words? Vegan choreographer James Koroni uses his love of dance as a form of activism through his creation and curation of Enforced Arch, a group of performers who are using the power of their movements to create dialogue about big issues like animal welfare and social justice. VegNews chatted with Koroni about his passions, his anti-fur project, and his favorite vegan munchies.
VegNews: What made you decide to go vegan?
James Koroni: I was raised in Orange County, where I was never exposed [to veganism]. Then, when I moved to San Francisco for college, there was so much more of an influence from my friends. I worked at this teahouse that was all about health and a community around food. At the same time, my father was sick with cancer and I felt like [veganism’s] health benefits would be able to help him. He was always eating fast food, and not really thinking about what he ate as a source of health.
VN: So many people don’t consider that the foods that we choose could have such a great effect on our health, our psyche, and our personal well-being. How did that realization affect you?
JK: It made me find this new interest in food and where it came from, and through that I explored macrobiotics, raw food, vegan food in general. I moved back to Los Angeles and worked at a raw-food vegan restaurant called Taste of the Goddess and later at Real Food Daily. During that time, I made the transition [to veganism] because of volunteering for Vegan Vixens in Los Angeles. They were talking about the animal-cruelty element of what we eat, and from volunteering with them, and also [from] the passing of my father, I realized how important it is to really be conscious of what we eat and where it’s coming from, Not only from the health side, but also the cruelty that’s involved.
VN: How did that tie into your budding desire to express yourself through dance?
JK: I started dancing at 18 or 19, around when I actually started becoming vegan. Before that I was a singer my whole life, and I thought that was actually what I was going to do. I had always been a silly dancer at the clubs—well, at the Mormon dances, because I was raised Mormon. Mormon dances: you can be silly there! I was like, why am I not doing this? I’d always loved to dance. Then, I took a few classes in college, studied at Edge in Los Angeles, and moved to New York, I felt like that was where all of my passions could come together into one.
VN: A lot of the themes that you explore in your choreography relate to topics like power, vulnerability, and struggle. What are the main things that you want to evoke when you choreograph pieces?
JK: I want to be able to reach as many people as possible because the messages that I’m trying to communicate—they carry a lot of weight. I think that everyone, in their private life, is silly. I wanted to add an element of that so people [think], “Oh, that’s what I do in my living room.” Quirky elements, but also that technical side so it’s almost like it’s coming from this hero, with the eccentric costuming. In terms of the message, my [second] piece, “Arrest Yourself,” was about how people don’t realize the tiny little things in their daily lives are what make the big difference, like not taking a bag to the grocery store or putting a little bit of cream in your [coffee] instead of soymilk, and not realizing what you’re contributing to. My latest piece, “Please Don’t Touch,” is about animals used for fur, and it was an artistic contribution to Pinnacle, the anti-fur initiative. We created these pants that made us look like satyrs, half-human and half-animal, to let the audience see that [animals] live lives much like our own. This piece really tries to give you a first-hand experience. I hope that people who aren’t vegan or don’t know anything about fur will be able to wonder now—what is going on with fur? And they can go research about it for themselves after seeing this piece.
VN: You were invited to perform “Please Don’t Touch” at Paris Vegan Day, and have started an Indiegogo project to fund the trip. How do you think people in other countries will respond to the piece?
JK: We’re very interested in doing that because I think that this piece can be performed all over the place and we can create relationships with other dancers in other parts of the world and, hopefully, make a stand. I see so many performance pieces in the dance community that don’t [incorporate] a message. Why can’t it be just as fun and exciting, but also mean something behind that? Everyone loves dancing, so why couldn’t it also be a form of activism as well as a form of entertainment? [Dance] is a universal language.
VN: What other kinds of activism and issues does Enforced Arch, your dance group, address?
JK: I seek out professional dancers who also do side projects in activist work. A lot of the dancers are vegan. There are other artists such as Nicole Johnson, who has a nonprofit called MOVE, which stands for Motivation Opportunity Vision Entertainment. She dances and puts on shows to raise money for building schools in Cambodia. And there’s Bettina May, who’s a burlesque dancer. She’s vegan and she makes all of her own costuming so that she doesn’t have to use any feathers or fur. And there’s Tonya Kay, who travels and works with endangered species—more specifically, elephants—and is a raw-food vegan. Others are dancing for gay rights, such as Tracy Katof, who works for the It Gets Better Project.
VN: As a dancer, you have to stay in great shape. What are your favorite vegan snacks to keep you energized?
JK: Brooklyn Kombucha is my favorite beverage to drink when I am out and about. I eat a lot of organic baby carrots. One of my favorite indulgences is the Gardein Chipotle Lime Crispy Fingers for protein. I put them on arugula, with Goddess dressing. When I’m in a big hurry, I eat Clif Builder Bars or ProBars.
Don’t miss “Please Don’t Touch,” which is available to watch online at Koroni’s Indiegogo site.