Trimbur wears a bodysuit and tights by WOLFORD.

  • Words Emily May
  • Photography Luke Lovell
  • Styling Heather Rest

Angela Trimbur:
An all-out tour de force.

Trimbur wears a bodysuit and tights by WOLFORD.

Issue 50

, Features

,
  • Words Emily May
  • Photography Luke Lovell
  • Styling Heather Rest
  • Hair & Makeup Nicole Maguire
  • Set Design Lee Levy

Trimbur wears a top and skirt by SIMONE ROCHA and shoes by LABUCQ.

( 1 ) The inclusive ethos of Trimbur’s mother’s dance studio, Pitter Patter Dance Studio, had a formative impact on Trimbur and can be seen in many of the classes she runs today.

( 2 ) The Trimbur sisters named their homeschool “Cornerstone Academy” and for the first month wore uniforms before deciding that pajamas were better.

Angela Trimbur’s first experience of community was at her mother’s dance studio in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.1 “I spent so much time there, it was basically my second home,” says the actor, choreographer, writer and dancer, who’s speaking to me on a video call from LA, having narrowly escaped a hurricane on a weekend road trip. Outside of classes, Trimbur’s mom would get people together for themed parties or to paint props and sets for recitals. “I felt like I was always hosting people. I became a little community leader by proxy.”

This community would disappear suddenly, however, just before Trimbur was supposed to start middle school. After speaking with the parent of a student who was a Jehovah’s Witness, her mother became “swirly-eyed” for the religion. She closed the studio and convinced Trimbur and her younger sister to be homeschooled.

Though initially excited about the prospect, the sisters slowly realized that they weren’t allowed to hang out with anybody other than people at the church.2 As time went by, they became desperate to go back to school, running to the window every afternoon at 3:15 to see their old school bus go by and begging their mom to let them return to class. At home most of the day, the Trimbur sisters’ world narrowed to their house and backyard.

Trimbur now has mixed feelings about this period of her childhood. While she describes feeling trapped—10 years ago, she used this word as the title of a one-woman show reflecting on her time as a homeschooled Jehovah’s Witness—she recognizes that everything she went through during that time has informed the arc of her career and made her into the person she is today. “I like who I am right now,” she says assuredly. 

For one, the isolation cultivated Trimbur’s love of acting. “I was performing all the time, pretending to be at parties, making out with my reflection…” she recalls. Starved of creative input, Trimbur and her sister found inspiration in unlikely places, from flowers growing in the garden to the rhythm of door knockers during their door-to-door preaching visits. They played clock radios secretly under their bedsheets, and were once even snuck Tori Amos, Hole and Fiona Apple albums through the window by an old school friend.

Eventually, the family was disfellowshipped from the religion due to a tryst Trimbur had with a boy at the church.3 “My mom was really frustrated with the punishment. She was like, ‘This is a cult, let’s get out.’” Trimbur was able to attend her senior year, which she describes as the most fun she’d had in her life. “I had zero social anxiety. I was the class clown.”

( 1 ) The inclusive ethos of Trimbur’s mother’s dance studio, Pitter Patter Dance Studio, had a formative impact on Trimbur and can be seen in many of the classes she runs today.

( 2 ) The Trimbur sisters named their homeschool “Cornerstone Academy” and for the first month wore uniforms before deciding that pajamas were better.

She wears a dress by REJINA PYO.

“Seeing that I can create spaces where I can help people in a playful way is amazing.”

After a short stint at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Trimbur moved to LA and began taking acting classes. Once on the West Coast, her childhood experiences set her on a quest to find, join and create as many communities as possible to make up for lost time. “I always longed for any sort of friendship,” she says, attributing her yearning to having not been able to forge relationships during school. One of the first groups Trimbur joined in LA was a women’s recreational basketball team, the Pistol Shrimps, which she discovered on Facebook. Named after the innocuous-looking sea creatures that release a flurry of bubbles to stun prey into submission, the team included famous faces such as The White Lotus actor Aubrey Plaza, and would later become the subject of a 2016 documentary directed by Brent Hodge. “I was the silly one,” laughs Trimbur, describing how she’d do cartwheels in the middle of the court during gameplay. “I had no basketball skills.” 

Trimbur’s irreverent—a word she uses repeatedly—approach to basketball also extended to the routines she choreographed and performed with the L.A. City Municipal Dance Squad, an all-female group she established after watching a halftime performance at a Lakers game. “I wanted to do my own version of it,” she says. The weekly routines she choreographed featured silly humor, throwback songs and partner work that parodied professional sports dance teams. “What I love about halftime dancing is that you have two minutes to infect the audience with joy, get them laughing and keep the energy up.” 

Trimbur’s love of imbuing others with energy was also the motivator behind her event series A Slightly Guided Dance Party. Inspired by seeing the relief on guests’ faces when “Throw Your Hands in The Air” by Outkast came on at house parties—a song effectively telling them how to move—she wondered, How would it be if everyone had permission to be silly in a specific way, song by song? As a result, an instructional, task-based format became the basis for her now-famous dance sessions, hosted at venues ranging from LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art to a private wedding reception. “I also did a Valentine’s Day–themed one for couples in New York,” she says. “It was very dance therapy–based. Seeing that I can create spaces where I can help people in a playful way is amazing.”

Being part of all these different groups has helped Trimbur define what makes a good community: “It’s about holding space and having empathy for each other’s personal growth,” she says. “It’s also confidence contagion. Whatever activity you’re doing, you’re encouraging each other to shine.” Her dance squad made her fall in love with the idea of sisterhood. “It was almost like my own little sorority,” she says. “There are so many hoops women have to jump through just for any sort of respect. When we come together, it feels like we have each other’s backs. That became really necessary for me.”

In 2018, Trimbur was diagnosed with breast cancer and her sisterhood became more necessary than ever before. “The first thought that went through my head was, How am I going to do this? I can’t work. What am I going to do?” 

Trimbur wears a top by MARYAM NASSIR ZADEH, a dress by YUZEFI and shoes by STELLA MCCARTNEY. She wears a top by BODE.

Trimbur wears a bodysuit by SIMONE ROCHA.

( 3 ) Jehovah’s Witnesses are disfellowshipped if a judicial committee decides they are unrepentant after committing a serious sin. According to The Watchtower, the official publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1 in every 100 members are disfellowshipped each year. Adherents are forbidden to have contact with anyone who has been excluded from the faith.

( 4 ) Founded in 1926, the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance is the oldest continually performing contemporary dance company in the world. It teaches the “Graham technique” of contemporary dance which was developed by its founder and is considered the cornerstone of American modern dance.

( 5 ) One of Tharp’s most famous works is “Nine Sinatra Songs” from 1982—a series of nine meditations on relationships choreographed to Frank Sinatra’s music. At the age of 81, Tharp briefly revived the show in October 2022 at the New York City Center.

“I’m talking to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority…. I want to do a rat king ballet in the subway.”

Immediately, the Pistol Shrimps set up a GoFundMe to support her financially, and friends started a schedule to make sure she always had someone to take her to medical appointments. One would turn up in costume and sing songs in the hospital waiting rooms, creating, as she puts it, “a kind of Patch Adams energy.”

Though she was initially reluctant to do so, Trimbur documented her cancer journey openly on social media. “When you’re an actor, you’re so hungry for opportunity. I was scared to announce that I had a sickness that might take me away from jobs,” she explains. But after becoming drained by having to repeat the sentence “I have breast cancer” what felt like thousands of times, she decided Instagram was the easiest way to save herself from more of the same “dreaded” exchanges. “At first, it was like a bulletin board of updates for my friends,” she explains. “But then people started sharing my account with other people that they knew were going through breast cancer. It was a win-win.”

In Trimbur’s hands, social media became a force for good. Saddened by seeing women having to attend appointments alone during the pandemic, she set up a digital support group on the video messaging app Marco Polo. The success of the platform, which is now used by around 500 women, also led to Trimbur hosting Good Support, an online series in which she talks candidly with other survivors about their experiences. “I almost became some sort of torch carrier for young women going through breast cancer,” she says. “I didn’t mind; it made me feel like there was a purpose to all the pain.”

After a long period of not being able to dance to her max due to surgeries—she describes making hand shadows and foot dances in bed during periods of healing—Trimbur dove back into dance in a big way, relocating to New York in 2021 with only $3,000 in the bank and not knowing anyone. “Thank God I did, I’m in love with New York!” she says, enthusing about her Flashdance-style loft in Bushwick, and the fact that, unlike in LA, she can go to a dance performance every night.

Trimbur is still getting surgeries and learning about her new body as a young woman in forced menopause. “You live with it; it’s a constant battle it seems,” she says. But, after only two years in New York, she’s already found a sense of belonging in the city’s “massive” dance community, taking classes and opportunities everywhere she can. She’s performed a Broadway number at a fundraiser talent show for artist-run dance space Pageant, won Montez Press Radio’s fifth annual karaoke contest, made friends with a community of line dancers in the back of an East Village Ukrainian restaurant and choreographed Slanted! Enchanted!, a musical based on indie rock band Pavement’s debut album. Her secret to making lots of friends fast? Never be afraid of rejection, and always follow up on vague invitations.

True to form, Trimbur has started establishing new communities, in the form of her own dance classes at venues including the New York City Center and the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance.4 Her first, and most well-known, is Thirteen, which forgoes the intimidating and mathematical approach of “5, 6, 7, 8” dance counts in favor of encouraging participants to connect with their inner child by screaming, running around to Britney Spears’ “Sometimes” or pretending to come out of the womb to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

Thirteen, like all of Trimbur’s classes, is rooted in make-believe and nostalgia. “At the beginning of class, I always say that we’re all best friends, we’re in a backyard and we’re going to show our parents this silly routine we’re doing before dinner,” she says. “Nostalgia is a way into your body through memories that you need to unlock, hold onto or expand on.” It also informs the way Trimbur and her students dress for class—in leotards and slouch socks. “It makes you more excited to attend when you have these outfits to wear. Looking at yourself in the mirror is like seeing an old version of yourself, or a version of yourself you wish you could be.”

Off the back of Thirteen, Trimbur has created various other teaching concepts, including “TRIM/BUR(N),” an ’80s VHS workout-inspired fitness session, and “balletcore,” which invites dancers to enjoy the aesthetics and music of ballet while leaving the intimidating perfection behind. She wants to make ballet “a playful place,” particularly for anyone who quit when they were younger because they had the wrong ankles, grew boobs or just felt like they didn’t fit into the competitive scene. Assuming the persona of a director, she calls her students her “company,” leading them through a reimagined ballet barre featuring sloppy fifth positions, and instructing them to lick the air and perform chest pops before teaching them an “irreverent” routine to Swan Lake or Beethoven. “There are ballet moves in there, but we’re doing it differently,” she says. “In the same way that people aren’t in the NBA but still wear jerseys and play basketball, I wanted to create a world where people can pretend they’re professional ballerinas.” 

Though she’s already instigated many community-building projects in her new city, Trimbur still has plenty of ambitions for the future: She chats excitedly about her plans for dance camps and Christmas recitals, as well as her goal to choreograph for Broadway. “I’m also talking to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about doing something with them. I want to do a rat king ballet in the subway,” she says.

More than anything, Trimbur has resolved to remain open to whatever life throws at her. “You just have to be curious—that’s your way into other people’s hearts, as well as your own,” she says, paraphrasing her acting teacher. She recalls another quote from Twyla Tharp, a seminal figure in modern dance whose melding together of contemporary, jazz, ballet and even aerobics has been a great influence.5 

“She says that you’ve got to bend with the wind, to keep it moving,” Timbur explains, adding that this philosophy—which she references in her Instagram bio—has informed her approach to life in recent years. “You get cancer? You get hit by a global pandemic? You lose an opportunity? You bend with the wind. It’s the best way to live in a way that doesn’t feel limiting,” she says. “You go where the wind takes you. You dance with the wind.”  

( 3 ) Jehovah’s Witnesses are disfellowshipped if a judicial committee decides they are unrepentant after committing a serious sin. According to The Watchtower, the official publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1 in every 100 members are disfellowshipped each year. Adherents are forbidden to have contact with anyone who has been excluded from the faith.

( 4 ) Founded in 1926, the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance is the oldest continually performing contemporary dance company in the world. It teaches the “Graham technique” of contemporary dance which was developed by its founder and is considered the cornerstone of American modern dance.

( 5 ) One of Tharp’s most famous works is “Nine Sinatra Songs” from 1982—a series of nine meditations on relationships choreographed to Frank Sinatra’s music. At the age of 81, Tharp briefly revived the show in October 2022 at the New York City Center.

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