A Short Chat with Artist in Residence Ronnel Abrigo

A Short Chat with Artist in Residence Ronnel Abrigo

Ronnel Abrigo is a dancer, musician, and videographer. He is also one of Freehold’s two 2024 Artists in Residence. We sat down with Ronnel to talk about his art, the connections between dance and music, and his goals for the residency.

Can you talk a little bit about yourself? Tell us what kind of art you do and how long have you been practicing?

That’s a good question. I don’t typically speak about it. So thinking back, I honestly got into a lot of the stuff that I do now, when I was in middle school. So this is like, early 2000s. For me, this is when I got into breakdancing and then I also picked up the guitar. And eventually that got me into other instruments. And also that’s when I got into video editing. I was using a camcorder and I had just really low-end equipment. I was using an old Windows laptop, plugging in instruments through the mic jack, which, you know, I’ve learned some things…So from that point, I kept up with these things over the years, but just a little more expanded, more in depth. 

So for dance, I still b-boy–that’s where I started. Those are my roots, but I call myself a freestyle dancer. I do different styles. So not only will I b-boy, but I’ll do some house dance, I’ll do some hip hop, and I’ll try to do other street and club dances. And for music. I play a few more instruments now and I’m into audio production as well. And for videography, I’m also a content creator, but I’m not…I feel like that title comes with the expectation that, Oh, you’ve got a certain following, but I’m just a content creator currently just for myself. My own leisure. For fun. 

So you said when you were in middle school you started breakdancing and started playing the guitar. Was there something that connected those for you? 

Yeah, they’re totally opposite when you think of them independently. Breaking–that’s Hip Hop. Guitar playing–there were a lot of kids at my school playing a lot of pop/punk. So what connected the two was just wanting to be seen. I think the common denominator between the two was, it was a way for me to perform. Honestly, it was an outlet for me to perform. At the time, I wouldn’t have considered theater. I don’t even think my middle school had drama. So breakdancing at a school dance, or playing guitar in guitar class and in between classes–that was an outlet for me to, in a way, show off a little bit, but also connect with other people. And I honestly had fun doing it. That’s what kept it up for me over the years. I tried it out and I was like, I’m actually enjoying trying to put a song together, or when I was learning b-boying, there was something about working on something over time to eventually be able to get a movement.

How would you describe being with a theater community versus a breakdancing community or music community?

I went to UW 2008-2012, and that’s when I got my first taste of theatre. I kind of had a feeling like: I like performing, let me just give it a shot. I did it for two quarters at UW and later came back to it after college. And I thought, this art form feels like a combination of all the things I like to do. It’s expressing emotions, while also there is movement–maybe not on the scale of dancing, but it’s there. It’s all there.
But for me, the easiest way to connect with people was through the freestyle dance communities, because you’re in these get-togethers–these sessions, as we call them. We’re all just in a big room, there’s music playing, and we’re all either dancing by ourselves, trying to just make up stuff–”lab” is what we’d call it–or we’d be dancing with each other. And that’s a weekly thing. So you already knew that, “Okay, Tuesdays, I can meet at the spot from seven to nine. And I’ll see some regular people, but also see some new folks.” 

So to me, that was a lot more accessible [than theatre] because theatre things I was involved in were mostly [class-related]. So I felt like the only way I was able to connect with people through acting was doing a class because we didn’t know each other well enough to really hang out outside of class unless we were partners. 

So that’s dance and theater. Music was also difficult. If I had a musician or singer friend I could say, “Hey, let me come over and let’s jam!”  But I can’t go somewhere and meet other people and collaborate; there’s no public thing that I could go to on a consistent basis and just jam that way. So dance was the easiest for me to be consistent with and still feel like I was making connections.


How do you think about prioritizing your different artistic fields? Do you think, “Okay, I want to prioritize dance. Now I want to prioritize music.” Or does it kind of happen naturally? 

I was super spread thin in college, I was doing a lot of different things. A mentor gave me the advice to try to find what was similar between things so it wasn’t separate. Like, dancing is going to be different from strumming a guitar or playing an instrument. But for me, when I’m dancing, I’m listening with a musician’s ear. And I’m still paying attention to rhythm. And because I’m in freestyle dance…I can still act. It’s not the same as actually having lines and doing a monologue, but I’m having moments, I’m doing actions when I dance. So, for me, that’s how I maintain it. 

If I feel like I’ve danced a lot lately. And either I’m sore or just, I just feel the urge to do something musically. And it probably will come from seeing something on social media or something in my environment or something that I’m going through. I’m like, “Okay. I think I want to make a beat, or I want to improvise on my guitar. So for me it’s never all that separate. I find the commonality. It’s all connected.

What are your goals for your Freehold residency?

I don’t want to plan too much, or have too much of an expectation, but I know that space is hard for me to come by where I can be creative. 

Where I’m living now, if I wanted to dance I’d have to do it in public where I’m kind of performing for people, or I have to concentrate hard enough so that people walking by aren’t affecting how I dance. Or I’ve really got to plan to have a place. “Oh, I’m going to be at a dance studio later.” 

Maybe you could tell from me talking about it, but I go by feeling. So I don’t have anything necessarily planned. So this time at Freehold I do want to try to, in a controlled environment, make something recorded. I do want to bring some of my instruments and just play in that space, and just see what happens. At some point I do want to try to collaborate with some of the folks that I danced with who I know are also musicians. So yeah, that’s the gist of it. Just trying to take advantage of having an entire Black Box to myself. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I mean, first off, a lot of love to Gin for keeping me in mind for this. The timing was super nice because I’ve been wanting to actually put energy and effort into something creative.

I think in Western society there’s a lot of expectations that are placed on being an artist and being creative. Like you’ve got to be good. Whatever that means, right? You’ve got to have a certain amount of exposure and talent is something you are born with…And for anyone who even has a slight interest but just feels like they won’t reach that goal: Do it for you. Even [if you have] just the smallest urge to do something creative, nurture that. Because even if it doesn’t get you the reputation or the validation that you’re looking for, it’s therapeutic. It’s been a way for me to find community and make my own community.

I interact with my friends, my family, and I feel like there’s so much happiness and fun that I sense is missing. From the time that I spend doing art and being creative, [I ask] why don’t the rest of us allow ourselves to play, improvise, allow ourselves to be imaginative or make mistakes. So my message is, if you have just the slightest urge to do something creative. Do it for yourself. Do it like no one’s watching. And just let it grow. That’s how I’ve done it, and it’s a huge part of my life now.