No two days are the same in Toniah Pedersen’s life. “I wake up, meditate, and do my stretches. Besides that my day isn’t typical because my work is so different,” she says. Pedersen is a dancer to the core. Movement is her chosen language, and it becomes palpable everytime she raises her arms in the air to explain herself.
The first time the world was properly introduced to the smiling dancer she was moving her feet to the beat of 90s icons like Biggie, Mary J Blige and D’Angelo, who she toured the world with. Today, she has settled down at Vesterbro with her two children and dog, Koda. She’s swapt the big stages in favour of a spot behind the curtain as a choreographer of various shows, commercials, and theater performances, and then she helps established artists, hopeful singers, and fledgling dancers in Danish TV programs such as X Factor and Vild med Dans.
How would you describe your home? What’s the references and inspiration?
Well, I live in an old apartment so I’ve deliberately chosen to keep that vibe. There’s still stucco and rosettes and old wooden doors and panels, so it’s very rustical. And then I’ve decorated it as a place where there is room for children and lots of people. It’s filled with stuff I’ve collected through the years so I wouldn’t say there’s a specific style. It's mostly stuff I’ve chosen because I liked it. I haven’t thought specifically about the design but more that it should feel cozy.
Is there anything in your home to have a special attachment to?
I inherited a bench from my grandmother when she passed away. It’s more than 200 years old, and she grew up sitting on it. So did my mother and so did I and my children as well. So I’m never getting rid of that.
You have lived in different countries and travelled a lot, what would you say gives you a feeling of home?
I think it’s the feeling of being surrounded by things you care about. Something you have created and decorated yourself. That’s the feeling of home. Like I never feel at home when I step into a hotel room. I think it’s super nice but I don’t feel at home. So it’s the feeling of it being mine.
What do you love most about Copenhagen?
I love the summer. I never travel during summertime because I love being in Denmark and particularly Copenhagen. It’s just a completely different life. First of all there’s not many Copenhageners, as they’re all travelling, so it's peaceful in another way. And then I just enjoy the environment around the harbours, beaches and parks. And cafés and restaurants, too. It all comes alive and I enjoy that so much. And then I think Copenhagen is an incredibly beautiful city this time of year.
Where do you find peace?
I find peace sometimes when I am teaching, or when I’m just dancing by myself or with my daughter. But I also find peace when I go for walks with my kids or on vacation with them. You know, just checking out for a minute and enjoying being together. My family is where I find peace.
How did your interest in dance and hip hop start?
I have always been dancing. I just loved dance and movement. My interest in hip hop didn’t come until much later when I met a dance crew in Denmark, which was called Out of Control. They were definitely frontrunners in putting the style on the map here. I’m not saying there wasn't anyone before them, because there was, but they made it mainstream. And I joined the crew and was dancing with them, and they introduced me to the world of hip hop.
Do you have a motto you live by?
Go with the flow – that is a saying I always go by. It’s just as much to remind myself about, you know, instead of always having to know the answer to everything you embark on, then sometimes you just have to surrender and go with the flow and kind of see where it takes you. We are all very keen on knowing what the end result is before we do something. We don’t like just throwing ourselves out there if it’s something unknown. So that’s a saying I go by.
Which items in your wardrobe do you keep returning to?
Something I keep returning to is probably Henrik Vibskov and that is because his prints and designs are so quirky, but besides that I also really like the humor in it. And then there is of course the tracksuit because that’s what I work in. You can’t really say “7,8!” in a pair of tight denim pants.
What’s your work process like?
It’s always a collaboration with the dancers so the process can be very different. I don’t have a go-to guide for where to start. The dancers have this joke about me being that person that two minutes before show start says: “You have to mirror that move and then besides that you always have to turn here instead of jump”. So I’m the person that works till the last minute.
You work from your intuition?
It’s incredibly intuitive. It’s all a gut feeling. I’m also not very good at things with words and texts. When I’m instructing and they have manuscripts where they have to sit and talk and stuff, then I’m about to die because I can’t stand it. I can’t keep focus for that long when people are just talking, but as soon as we’re adding movement to it then I’m back. But I would die slowly if I had to do just a monologue. I wouldn’t even know how.
How do you connect music with dance?
Music is for me what a manuscript and words are for an actor. I can listen to music and instantly have images pop up in my head. I like creating choreography to music and lyrics. Like when the lyrics are telling a story. I love that. When I lived in the USA I experienced them doing it a lot. But also if you go back to the african tribes, the dances they have are all a symbol of something they have to do, or they pray for or hope happens. It’s a visual language using dance. I’m a big fan of that.
Where do you find inspiration?
If I know I have a job in the future I’m subconsciously collecting inspiration if I see something or if someone sends me something. As an example I had a workshop the other day where I got really inspired by watching people that aren’t dancers and how they moved. All of the sudden there’s new expressions and ways of moving, and that’s interesting, so I’ve filed that under stuff I need to remember for future projects. So it can be anything. It can also be my kids showing me some ridiculous clip but then there’s something in that clip I can use. Sometimes I have a thought and then my head just starts spinning out ideas. That’s also why I sometimes have to put my phone and laptop away. Kind of isolate myself a bit to not be bombarded. But the funny thing about that is once I do so my own mind just takes over. Then that’s just producing.
Boredom often has that effect on creative minds…
Yes it’s just a channel for let’s go. When everything shut down 1,5 years ago I was really down for two weeks. I got shut down six months ahead. Every job I had was canceled, so I had to ask myself who I was when I wasn’t working. And then ten days went by where I had a breakdown and then my brain just took over. This drive that I have just took over and was like: lockdown? Pfft. Let’s go. And then all sorts of new ideas came to me and I just got on with them instead. One of the things I have done is rent a space where dancers can come and practice, and then we’ll also host events of different kinds all with the aim of promoting dance.
What was it like suddenly finding yourself in that situation?
Well, it has ended up being a really nice experience because once more I have proved to myself that even though the world stops, I don’t have to. And then to be able to release things I’ve been dreaming about but haven’t had the time to do because of work, that’s been amazing as well. So I feel like I’ve ended up in a good place.
What’s on your playlist this summer?
I don’t really have anything going on repeat. I like to explore so whenever I discover a song I always put it on radio on Spotify, then I’m suddenly introduced to like 87 other songs. But there is a playlist on Spotify at the moment called ‘Enjoy Yourself’ that I like.