Gosh I guess it was about five years ago I was introduced to Savage as he likes to be called. I had done some work for Juan at Teatro ZinZanni who recommended me to Savage when he wanted to have his dance company photographed. Savage works for the Oakland School for the Arts and is also the Artistic Director for Savage Jazz Dance Company. When I first met Savage I was amused that he had a ring on every finger of both hands. Unlike me, he dresses well and is very fashionable. They were in rehearsal and so he pointed me to an adjacent room where the shoot was to take place.
As is normal Tracy and I began to set up our gear. At the end of his rehearsal he came into the room and seemed a bit shocked that we had begun to set up. He wanted to see some of our work so I showed him some of our dance imagery. It was at this point he said, “Good, that’s what I want. I had a guy from the Chronicle take shots for us and I didn’t like them!” Ah here’s a guy I can appreciate, direct!
One of the things both of us noticed immediately is how much Savage likes to yell during a session. “LOWER! Go down LOWER. Make it HURT!” were common sentences he yelled to his dancers. Sure there was some eye rolling, but I never thought the eye movement was directed toward Savage, but instead toward themselves. I was overwhelmed at the skill of his dancers. It was so obvious that their natural ability was keenly honed by his tutoring. Although I had worked with dancers before I learned a ton from Savage about dance that day. I was the only one shooting that day. When we went home Tracy said “Man I should have shot too, he yells at the people like you do so I could have easily shot!”
Savage is what I call ‘old school.’ He is direct. He is tough. He doesn’t mince words. He’s the definition of what I consider a ‘tough love’ mentor. In so many ways Savage reminds me a bit of my own Dad. He encourages people by pushing them beyond what they consider to be their limits. And no matter how tough he is, underneath that gruff yelling exterior is a man whose sole purpose is to bring out the best in each person who crosses his life. Savage is not for everyone, nor are his methods. For those accustomed to false compliments in order to achieve better results, those individuals are best served looking somewhere else. But for those who truly wish to bring out the best in themselves, Savage is the right man for the job.
OSA attracts both the inner city and privileged children, those from tough neighborhoods as well as those from very affluent areas. Each time I watch Savage interact with both segments of teens his methods do not favor either. And when parents do not keep their commitments for their own children, Savage is quick to point out their deficiencies and lack of follow through, something that is rare in our current society. Taking responsibility for your own actions or lack of action is how he’s built and I believe his example is what builds strong adults.
When I see the self pride he builds in his students I am constantly impressed that people like Savage still exist in our ‘meme’ society. The kids he mentors are fiercely loyal to one another and I’m certain his methods teach each of those kids to put aside social status, race and gender and is replaced by solid loyalty for other souls. What Savage contributes to our world cannot be completely summed up in a few meager paragraphs, but can be seen in the countless lives of those he has touched. Because of him, our world, and the world of the future is both a richer and better place.