Last Sunday night at the 2015 GRAMMYs, Katy Perry toned her usual flashiness down to deliver a message. Hot off the Super Bowl halftime show, Perry performed a minimalist version of "By the Grace of God" with introductions from President Barack Obama and domestic abuse survivor Brooke Axtell.
What most viewers probably didn't realize was that the shadowy figures during the performance were created by just one dancer, Andrea Dobbs. The graceful artist sat still for a few minutes to chat with Fuse about working with the Super Bowl performer and having her identity hidden during such a huge show.
Dobbs has been dancing almost 20 years, teaches ballet to teenagers, and is signed with a commercial agent in Los Angeles. Not many commercial dancers would be okay with having their face and body completely covered, but Dobbs sees the opportunity very differently. –Maritza Navarro
How did this opportunity come about?
It honestly fell into my lap one day. I hadn't really been dancing for a bit—the industry is really hard sometimes and you need to take a step back a little bit because it can beat you down. The last few weeks I was missing the fire I had for dance. All of a sudden, my agent called me and told me, "I have an awesome opportunity for you. The choreographer wants to you dance at the GRAMMYs for Katy Perry." I didn't have a lot of details, but I knew I was going to be the only dancer, and it was going to be contemporary, and I love contemporary dance. I was like, "Sign me up! I don’t care how much it pays."
So you took the job without having all the details?
It's funny because when I lived in New York I used to take the choreographer's class at Broadway Dance Center and I was obsessed with [her]. So when I found out it was her, I knew I had to take it. So, I met her at the studio that night and we connected, danced, listened to the music and it was amazing. The next day we went to set and spent the whole day there.
What's the name of the choreographer?
Her name is Cherice Barton. You’re definitely going to see more of her work.
Was the movement a collaboration or did Cherice take the lead?
Cherice and I were in the studio a couple hours the night before. We just messed around with the song. I followed her lead and she taught me stuff. With something like this, once you get on set, you talk to the director and get a feel for what they really want. And you adjust the choreography to what they want specifically.
Did you get to meet Katy?
She came toward the end of the day and saw what we had done in the editing room. She asked questions and told us what she thought. She did some of her stuff on the green screen also. So it was her shadow at the beginning and the end and I was the person in the middle.
What did Katy think when she finally saw it?
She loved it. I think it was just different for her, from what she did at the Super Bowl. She was excited about it. She only had good things to say about it when I was with her, and thought all the work that Cherice did was beautiful.
That’s encouraging! What was it like to work with her?
I think she's just real. The way I've seen her in videos and interviews, is the same on and off. It's very refreshing, especially for L.A. She's exactly how I thought she would be. She introduced herself to me and made a funny joke about how long my arms and my neck were. It was easy to be around her. The mouth speaks what the heart is full of, and she was full of gratitude and kind words.
Did you have any personal connection to the music or song, "By the Grace of God," to incorporate to the movement?
I felt like Katy Perry read my journal and wrote that song for me. I was able to put my heart into every movement I did. You couldn't see my facial expressions, so there had to be something behind it. It was awesome that I could relate on such a deep level to this song and bring that movement to life.
Why did you relate to it?
I went through a hard breakup a few years ago and almost moved back to New York. I just wanted to leave and run away. I guess that's what Katy went through as well and I found God in a whole new way.
Was there a specific lyric that you related to the most?
The chorus, "By the grace of God (there was no other way) / I picked myself back up (I knew I had to stay) / I put one foot in front of the other / And I looked in the mirror and decided to stay, Wasn't gonna let love take me out that way."
All of that was just exactly what I went through. I remember lying on my bathroom floor and thought "I can’t do this anymore, I have to get out." And it was by the grace of God that I was able to pick myself back up. It was a day-by-day thing. Don't let this heartbreak take you from what you came out here to do. So I just put all that into it.
What did you think of the end result?
I was nervous to see it because it was a lot of editing and overlapping footage. But I thought Katy looked stunning. It was so elegant and classy and so raw. There was so much behind it, more than just a song and cool dances. There was substance to it. I think people liked it because they felt something when they watched it.
What moves did they end up using?
I think for one of the takes, I freestyled. It was cool because they actually used my freestyle when they edited the footage. I didn't think anything was that great, I was just kind of feeling the music, but when I was watching it on TV I thought, "Oh, cool, they're using my freestyle." But mostly it was all Cherice.
This was a different style for a Katy Perry performance. Did you get any feedback that stood out to you?
My friend sent me an article that said who are those scary shadow figures and are they going to come haunt you while you’re sleeping and I was cracking up. I’m like, "Yeah, I will!"
That's funny. How did you feel about being anonymous for such a big performance?
The coolest thing is, most jobs, it’s all about how you look. It’s about your body and your face. I loved this job so much because I personally have been so concerned about how I look since I've been out here [in L.A.]. It's all about how you look and not how you dance anymore. For this job, you couldn't see my face and it wasn't a silhouette of my flat tummy and trying-to-be-skinny body. It was about the way I moved and what was behind that movement that brought it to life. Not being able to see my face, but knowing there was beauty, and you couldn't even see what I looked like—it gave me hope that it's not all about that. It reminded me that beauty isn't always about outward appearance, but it’s about heart.
Follow Andrea on Instagram @dreadobbs