Get to know our featured alum, Jennifer Weber, C’00! Jennifer is a choreographer living in New York City. She graduated from Penn in 2000 with a major in Communications, but not before founding Strictly Funk Dance Company. Before Strictly Funk got off the ground, Jennifer was a choreographer and performing member of Bloomers. She says it was amazing, but singing is not her forte, so she wound up playing a mime and a bunch of frat boys. She auditioned for a handful of dance groups on campus, and was not selected, but she really began to miss dancing and decided to take matters into her own hands. Jennifer placed flyers all over campus and drummed up a ton of interest for a new dance group. Funk’s first audition had 20 people. When she came back for her sophomore year, Funk participated in Freshman Performing Arts Night (now rebranded as Student Performing Arts Night). After that showcase, 80 people auditioned for the group! Jennifer reflects fondly on the relationships that were built through that experience. She says that dancing is a “magical way to connect with people [I] wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
Creating Strictly Funk really launched Jennifer onto her future career path. She did not originally think she would be a professional choreographer. After graduating, she landed a job in marketing, but she found herself pulled toward a life in the arts. Jennifer says that seeing Funk succeed made it seem like it would be easy to create a company and succeed in New York. The reality of that goal was much more complicated, but her experiences with Funk absolutely prepared her to face any challenges head-on. And her success has only grown, demonstrated by the many exciting projects she is working on. She choreographed her first movie Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2, viewable on Disney Channel. One of the videos she made for it, Flesh and Bone has an astounding 23 million views! She also choreographed the musical & Juliet, currently running in London’s West End. It tells the story of a Juliet who leaves Romeo behind and goes on an adventure to discover her own identity. Her choreography for & Juliet was just nominated for an Olivier Award. And Jennifer’s acclaimed The Hip Hop Nutcracker has been touring in the US for the past five years and was even featured on a PBS special. This show, that she directed and choreographed, is a reimagination of the Tchaikovsky score told through the language of hip hop.
The road has not always been easy. Jennifer shares that working on a project basis necessitates a constant cycle of creation and hustling to find something else to create. She says that each time she takes on a new project, she essentially starts over, working with new people, redefining dynamics, and using her own vision to be a part of the project. It can be difficult for her not to not get frustrated, but she says it is important to focus on the amazing opportunities that await. To students interested in pursuing a career in the arts, Jennifer says “It is important to be honest with your passion.” She advises creating your own path, especially if one is not readily available to you. Jennifer also stresses the importance of building relationships and being authentic, as fostering those connections can lead to other opportunities. Jennifer reminds us that the arts are important because they bring people together, illuminate commonalities, and inspire. “Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, and dream really big.”
This interview was conducted by Hannah Lottenberg, C’21.
Photo Credit 1: M. Emran