Artists in their own words: Whitney Cato
Who: Whitney Cato
What: Dancer and seamstress
Where: 7th Ward
Artist’s chosen location for interview: CC’s on Esplanade
Q: Who do you remember impersonating when you were a kid?
A: Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy. I did a lot of voices when I was a kid. I actually got in trouble for doing it. I remember this conversation with my mom when I was really young and she said, ‘Whitney, speak in your real voice.’
I looked at her and said, ‘I don’t know my real voice.’
I would impersonate people, do goofy voices, and there was a lot of imitation that would go on. Lucy was one of my favorites, though. I don’t know what it was about her. I definitely like those old comedies, but there was something about her that stuck with me. I was a goofy kid.
To this day, I have to control how I talk because sometimes I will slip into really silly voices. I have gotten it under control now, though, for the most part.
Q: How do you know when you’ve found something worthwhile?
A: That definitely started young for me as well because it started with dance. I was actually the one who asked my mom to put me in ballet. A lot of times parents are trying to expose their kids to dance so they’ll put them in ballet classes. I was the one who said, ‘Hey, I want to do that.’
I started dancing at 5. I only did ballet, and it was when I was around 9 years old that I knew dance was it for me. I was a pretty crazy, rambunctious kid and dance was something I could focus on and enjoy. It fit with me.
When I was at the University of Oklahoma I majored in dance, and it was a pretty intense dance department. We had dance classes in the morning, then we would have our regular classes in the afternoon, and then we would come back in the evening for rehearsals. Performing was great. The costumes were great. It was such a fantastic environment.
It’s funny because I’m in costuming now, but I only got into that about four years ago. I grew up sewing, but it was never something I thought I would do as a living. But when I stopped with dance and was trying to find something else, I knew I wanted to do something creative and something tied with the arts, and that is how costuming came about.
The zone I get into with dance is so different than the zone I get into when I am sewing. There’s more creative expression with dance. With sewing, it is someone else’s vision. In dance there’s that element as well, but it is still your body. No one else can control that. Maybe that is why I’ve always felt the most connected to dance. Even when I took time off from classes or performing, I still was always thinking about it and somehow part of the dance world. I think it will always be like that.
Q: What is something you’ve always wanted to discover?
A: I always want to discover new artistic avenues. I tried to get into sculpture work for awhile, but it takes a lot of equipment to be a sculpturist. [Laughing]. It’s a very expensive hobby. I had to rethink that one, and it might take a backseat for now.
I just started violin lessons. I never got to play a musical instrument as a kid because I was always in dance. That was my thing. I was thinking about what I wanted to play, and I have always loved the piano and violin. Two years ago I bought my violin, and I have been working on it by myself -- watching YouTube videos and teaching myself.
Finally I was like, I need a real teacher. One-on-one. And I absolutely love my teacher, Candace. I take at this new little studio called Spreading the Music. My teacher is absolutely amazing. I asked her how many instruments she plays and she said, ‘Oh, all of them.’ My first lesson went really well. I mean, the lesson was just two days ago, but I practiced yesterday, and I plan to practice throughout the week. I’m working a lot on my posture and muscle memory.
I’m working on how to hold the bow, how to hold the instrument, and how to strengthen my fingers, which have turned out to be so weak. My pinky is just so weak. I look at it sometimes and say, ‘Come on. Work!’ I’ve been doing all these exercises to strengthen my pinky.
I feel like there are going to be some revelations with this new endeavor.
Q: Which textile or fabric can you not stand having on your skin?
A: I don’t like any kind of plastic-feeling fabrics. Like a rain jacket. I don’t like that or any kind of parachute material.
I don’t like working with really heavy fabrics either. People will always ask me if I’ll sew some upholstery for them, and I don’t want to do that. The fabric is so thick, and I just don’t want to make someone a pillow. [Laughing]. Yes, I have the skills to do it, but I really don’t want to.
It’s great to work with medium-weight cotton. Or satins. I work a lot with costume satins at my work, and those aren’t terrible. Although, anything that’s stretchy is pretty difficult to work with, even jersey materials. You have to make sure to really line the pieces up well and be meticulous with your pinning.
That’s not the worst situation, though. The worst, for me, is putting in sleeves. You put the sleeve into the arm hole, and you can’t see what you are doing, and you have to wait until the end to see if you did it correctly. For me, I always end up running out of bobbin thread when I’m working on a sleeve, so I think, ‘Yes, I’m finished,’ and then I hold the shirt up and the sleeve isn’t connected at all.
It’s a constant life lesson.
Q: What’s your favorite wall or small space in your house?
A: I have a hat wall that I love. It’s full of hats that I’ve collected throughout the years. It’s in my dining room, so it’s a regular sized wall, which means there are about 12 hats on there. Some of them are costume hats and some of them are my great-grandmother’s hats. My mom was cleaning them out and thought, Oh, Whitney will like these. She was right.
I’ve been in my place for three years, and another space that I love in my house is my craft room. It’s really messy right now, but I’m pretty sure all craft rooms are messy. I just got a new organizing, spinning, cubbie-shelf thing.
It is a cube shape that spins, so you can access everything. I bought the drawer bins that go in the cubbies, so everything has its space. All I can think now is, ‘I need more cubbies in my life.’
Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at email@example.com.