UC Berkeley student performer Telice Summerfield talks dancing without boundaries

Illustration of Telice Summerfields
Ann Liu/Staff

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Student performer Telice Summerfield has been dancing for as long as she can remember. The fifth-year social welfare major, who dances in professional video shoots, concerts and on the streets of San Francisco and Oakland, explained her relationship with dance in a recent interview with The Daily Californian.

“Dance is my baby,” Summerfield professed with a smile, going on to say that dance is incredibly close to her heart. Summerfield emphasized that she has always been very careful never to exploit or corrupt her relationship with dance by allowing money or fame to become a priority. 

“I dance to find community; I dance to free myself from certain narratives; I dance to free myself from certain physical boundaries. Dancing for me is a craft. It’s definitely an artistic practice, and I protect it,” Summerfield expressed.

The 21-year-old then went on to weave a beautiful narrative of her dance journey, which has been intertwined with love and community. A self-taught artist who has been dancing since she could walk, Summerfield identifies as a turf dancer, which stands for “Taking Up Room on the Floor,” a genre which originated in Oakland and was born out of the hyphy movement. Summerfield described turfing as “a form of resistance to take up room on the floor right, like we’re not encaged, you’re not going to tell us what to do. … We can present ourselves freely and confidently and boldly in the ways that we wish to.” Turfing is a freestyle dance form, which Summerfield differentiates from other dance forms by its lack of narrative structure and boundaries. She argues that turfing allows a dancer to own themselves and their movements.

Originally from Sacramento, Summerfield has found what she dubs her “dance family” in the Oakland turfing community, where she goes to find support and perspective when the stresses of life and Berkeley become overwhelming. “My dance friends know when there’s something wrong with me, even if I don’t say it,” she explained, noting that dancing has never been about the money for her, but about the craft and the community.

This community is based at the West Oakland BART station, where the members dance on BART from West Oakland to Embarcadero, sometimes to 12th Street, and then back to West Oakland. Summerfield emphasized that West Oakland is the hub of the turf community, as she stated, “I can pull up to West Oakland, and I can find all my friends there. I can find whatever I need there.” 

Her dance team, TURF FEINZ, is a well-established group with a notable history and cultural impact, appearing in music videos for various artists and on television shows such as ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “Nightline.” Summerfield summed up the presence of TURF FEINZ: “Anywhere you find pop culture, you can find us.”

Impressively, Summerfield recently danced in both a new H.E.R music video for “Slide ft. YG” and onstage at a H.E.R concert in front of a staggering amount of people. Although she wasn’t nervous going onstage, as she has extensive experience dancing in front of crowds, she explained that she did have to adjust her presentation to account for the number of people in the audience and the presence of cameras, which dramatically change a dancer’s self-awareness. 

Summerfield identifies herself within the turf community as one of the very few female dancers. A huge inspiration for dancing stems from this part of her identity, as she stated, “I bring a feminine energy to the space, whereas turfing is a very male-dominated culture.”

Because there are so few women in the turfing community who really embody the culture, Summerfield explained, she is frequently called on to perform in shows, festivals and shoots. Alternately, because it is a male-dominated culture where gender discrimination does exist, she also has to present herself as confident and present at all times, an attitude which translates to her everyday demeanor.

When asked about her future plans pertaining to dance, Summerfield responded that she intends to continue to do shows, continue to explore as a dancer and that “eventually (she’ll) be a teacher and … teach dance classes at night and perform during the day.” In addition, she stressed that she is not done as an academic, as she explained, “I have a lot to say. My perspective is urban developing, and I want space to critique and learn and widen my perspective.” In addition to teaching others, Summerfield strives to use the academic tools she has accumulated throughout her education.

Summerfield’s narrative illustrates that her love for dance has guided her to protect and nurture her practice, and through dedication, passion and community, she has built a meaningful life and a bright future. The dancer beautifully and sincerely articulated her relationship to the art form when she said, “I dance because I love to dance.”

Contact Nathalie Grogan at [email protected].