From center stage to behind the scenes, Gabrielle is combining dance and wine across the east coast.
By Gerrard Roberts
Gabrielle Tull Spore is an Assistant Professor of Dance at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, and an avid wine enthusiast. As an Afro-Latina woman, Cha Cha, Rumba, Contemporary Jazz and Salsa principles are woven into her work allowing the body to release and regenerate. In 2020, her academic research entitled Black Female Bodies: Studying Modern Representation in Contemporary Dance, which studied multicultural dance form was selected as a lead presentation for the National Association of African American Studies international virtual conference.
In 2021, her scholarship in Afro Diaspora Foundations in Jazz Technique and Performance was awarded through the Artist Express Grant, funded by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. When she is not educating in her first passion of dance, she works as a Wine Server at Cat’s Paw Winery, advocating for wine education in her local community.
What significance does dance have in your life, and what inspired you to become a dance educator?
Gabrielle: Dance has been ingrained in my life for so long it’s almost like an appendage for me. I’ve been taking dance lessons since I was thirteen and never looked back. Dance has become a partner that I cherish; it has helped me learn the value of hard work from a young age. I learned and observed how it could inspire many people, dancers and non-dancers. They can feel our energy and love for what we do. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, but it is so rewarding.
When I was in high school, I had a couple of dance educators that inspired me to examine the potential of becoming an educator. They had a different level of engagement with me and other students that I did not see in other regular academic classes. There is a strong connection between students and performance arts. I believe the common interest of wanting to be creative and learning how to explore that creativity captivates students’ attention. I was teaching high school students by the time I graduated from undergraduate school.
To this day, they still reference the impact of the dance classes they took. Performing and choreographing dance brings me joy on an individual level of being able to express myself. However, as an educator, you are serving others and helping them find that voice within, which identifies more with the servant leader within me.
As an Afro-Latina, what is your perspective on how BIPOC dancers are viewed in America?
Gabrielle: Early in my career, I did not have a strong connection with what it meant to represent multiple cultures. I grew up learning Latin dances like Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata, which was fun. However, I didn’t realize that part of learning these dances was exploring the cultural magnitude of the dance forms. As an Afro-Latina, you are a person of Latin and African descent and have a multicultural dualism. I have grown in my understanding of both parts of my culture. When I got older, I learned that some of my favorite actors and actresses are Afro-Latina or Afro-Latino who masked part of their culture for acceptance.
When I got to graduate school, I had the opportunity to truly embody what it means to navigate and proudly display my entire identity on a concert dance stage. I spent a considerable amount of time focusing on how I could infuse Hispanic cultural roots into the contemporary dance elements that people were used to seeing from me. As academic scholars, we ask these questions in conferences and meetings. At what point do we see the pendulum swing towards historical and cultural accuracies of BIPOC contributions in the American dance curriculum? I did not see a lot of diverse figures, choreographers, and artists working mainstream until I trained with the American Dance Festival, which was postgraduate school.
One of the things that I’ve learned from the standpoint of ensuring historical accuracy, is if it’s not published in a textbook or article form, it’s difficult to ensure the information gets distributed consistently. This is the main reason information gets lost, so it is really up to us as BIPOC and educators, to highlight these opportunities and resurface this information through publications.
In my academic research, Black Female Bodies: Studying Modern Representation in Contemporary Dance, the goal was to explore what multiculturalism looks like in the dance space. While conducting my research, I had the opportunity to discover the history of how people have infused Latin and African dance forms into choreography to showcase elements of these dance forms.
What experiences initiated your appreciation of wine?
Gabrielle: In college, I didn’t really like wine, but we were buying box wine, so we didn’t have a sound palette back then anyway. After college post-undergraduate, I started going to more events that offered more styles and qualities of wine. I told myself I was not going to learn if I liked or didn’t like something unless I tried it. After going on a tasting spree, I began to favor certain styles of wine and developed my pallet. My go-to red wine is definitely Pinot Noir because it has a medium body and rich berry and cherry flavors. If I’m in the mood for white wine, I’ll have a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. I recently started liking Vinho Verde; this has been gaining attention in the Greensboro and Durham, North Carolina area.
In the summer of 2018, I was dancing in California and took advantage of my proximity to Napa Valley. This experience sparked my love of wine. What I enjoyed the most was that they went the extra mile to teach you about the grapes used to make the wine and how the soil and location affect the production of the wine. I learned that there is education in wine. As an educator, at that moment, it was the first time I could see myself in this industry full-time.”
How did you become a Wine Server at Cat’s Paw Winery?
Gabrielle: Further down the road, I want to open a tasting room or distribution center. But I realized that I don’t know much about the wine industry. I spoke with my husband about this, and he encouraged me to find a local winery. While conducting my research, I learned that because of the soil in South Carolina, we don’t have many wineries. However, I was able to locate Cat’s Paw Winery in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
John Burks owns the winery, who has been in the wine industry for over 20 years. He opened Cat’s Paw Winery in 2016. The winery currently ranks as the number one winery in the State of South Carolina by Choice Wineries. I joined the team as a Wine Server in February 2022. John has been a great advocate of wine education. During my training, I had to sample all 20 wines the winery offers. During the tasting process, I had to accurately describe the tasting notes for each of the wines.
I’ve also had the opportunity to participate in the bottling process, which took me out of my comfort zone. There is a large machine that’s a bit intimidating, it runs four to five bottles at a time. You have to be ready to remove it, seal it, and put the cork in it.”
What’s next for you on your journey of dance and wine education?
Gabrielle: “In the dance community, we consider ourselves entrepreneurs. Sometimes you’re a social worker, business admin, marketing rep, etc. There are so many duties and responsibilities you have to own to make a dance company run well. I know these skills will transition to my goal of opening a tasting room or distribution center in the future. I’ve received outstanding mentorship during this journey and look forward to learning from the Cat’s Paw Winery team.
On the dance side of things, in October, I will be presenting at the National Dance Organization conference. I’ll be presenting on work done this summer with three of my colleagues in South Carolina. We received a grant for social responsibility dance pedagogy and how we can develop other dance educators. Then, we had a successful workshop at the University of South Carolina with attendees from South Carolina, Maryland, Texas, and a few other states. We will discuss how we can serve our students from different socioeconomic spaces.
I’m up for pre-tenure this year at Winthrop University, so I look forward to participating in that process. A few years later, I’ll be up for tenure. I’ve also recently married the love of my life. So I’ve spent a lot of time wedding planning, and now I’m ready to enjoy my time being a newlywed.”
Follow Gabrielle Tull Spore’s dance and wine journey here: