People with dwarfism are often misrepresented in popular media and culture. Yet our own voices are rarely heard. That’s why we embarked upon the RGA Dwarfism Role Models project – to amplify the voices of figureheads in our communities. One person we’ve been admiring for a while is the performance artist and educator, Sofiya Cheyenne, who recently appeared in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard III. Here’s what she told us.
Please introduce yourself: who are you and where are you from?
My name is Sofiya Cheyenne and I am from Brooklyn, New York.
And what do you do?
I am a performance artist and educator.
Do you enjoy it?
Are you kidding!? I love it! I am so grateful that I have found something that I love and can pursue a career in. Even though I am still growing, learning and developing my own work, it is the best feeling in the world!
How did you end up doing it?
Performing has always been apart of my life. I started dancing at the age of two years old. I went to The Professional Performing Arts High School, majored in Drama Arts. Then went on to graduate from CUNY Brooklyn College with a BFA in Acting & BA in Psychology. And, outside of school, I did dance shows, community theatre, not to mention that my dad is a visual artist, my mother a dancer, and my brother can pick up any instrument and play it. The arts have always been apart of my life.
My passion for educating came from a combination of my performing and life experience.
As a person with dwarfism I am constantly educating others about my lived in experience.
Peoples’ curiosities often become a moment to engage and shift perspective. So, as an actor and an educator, I find comfort in educating others. I started teaching dance classes at a young age, I tutored students in college and now ultimately work as a Teaching Artist in different schools in NYC.
If you were 21 again, would you do something different? NOT ONE THING DIFFERENT.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I’ve found inspiration in other role models, who teach me that being a storyteller is a vital part of the human existence. There is so much power in storytelling; without stories we don’t learn, we don’t grow, we don’t build empathy, we don’t change. We need those things in life and that is the best part of this job. Impacting someone else’s life through a story is what I LIVE FOR! Even though the Entertainment Industry is a tough business, I hope to break barriers and stereotypes to change how the world views people with dwarfism.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
I would have to say that it would be the jobs where it feels like I am the “diversity check box” Its pretty easy to tell when that is the case. Things are changing, but unfortunately its happened to me all too much.
What are the best and worst aspects about being small?
The worst is that we constantly have to deal with the ignorance of the world. The best is that I have an incredible community that lifts me up and they are from all across the globe.
If you could pass on one piece of advice to your teenage self what would that be?
I would say … LOVE YOURSELF. You are exactly who you are supposed to be and you don’t have to pretend to be anything you’re not because you are worth it!
Which living person do you most admire and why?
Oh this is a hard one! I admire so many people for so many different reasons. But the first person that is coming to my mind is my grandmother. My mothers mother, she is a survivor, having her first kid at the age of 17, living in rough neighborhoods raising a family, getting divorced, remarried, became a widow and now battling breast cancer for the second time. She is my hero truly!! And she is such a positive, giving and creative person. She means so much to me.
How do you like to pass the time, outside of work?
I am always working… all the time, everywhere! But I do love to read stories about different people, and history. I love to cook and do DIY projects. I also do a lot of volunteer work for Little People of America as the Chair of Dwarf Artist Coalition.
What’s your favourite book?
Right now I have been digging deep into my roots and learning more about my history and the history of Tainos (Indigenous tribe of the Caribbean). Reading a series called “Taino Ni Rahu” Series written by Lynne Guitar – an archeologist and scholar that I have had the pleasure to know since a young age.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I think my greatest achievement would have to be my recent credit on Audience Network. I booked my first recurring role ‘Louise’ on a TV show called Loudermilk, which airs on AUDIENCE Network on DirectTV Ch 239 or AT&T WatchTV. It is very exciting because Louise is a strong fierce female character, the role is written for a woman with dwarfism and it is good storytelling over all in the show! I hope to be back for the next season!! *fingers crossed*
When your time comes, how would you like to be remembered?
That I made a positive impact in peoples lives.