What do a Wiccan priestess, a Michael Jackson impersonator and a young Jewish girl from Chula Vista have in common? They are all players in the life of multi-talented performing artist Devra Gregory, whose one-woman show “Woman in the Mirror, a Dancer’s Journey” was part of this year’s second annual San Diego International Fringe Festival.
The one-hour show, as presented at the Fringe Festival, is about life, dance and transformation.
Dance and transformation play a significant role in Gregory’s life.
Born Devra Yufe, Gregory attended a private Jewish school from first through seventh grades before attending Hilltop Junior High School and Hilltop High School, graduating with honors.
She began taking ballet lessons at 6 and, at 12, joined the school of the San Diego Ballet Company under the directorship of Dame Sonia Arova and Thor Sutowski of the Russian Ballet.
Every evening she went to ballet class at the San Diego Ballet and by 16 became an apprentice. She also learned to play the piano, guitar and flute.
At 19 she went to New York to study ballet with Melissa Hayden and David Howard and was then accepted into the school of the Pennsylvania Ballet Company for a one-year scholarship.
Back in San Diego, she taught dance in the public school system under Jack Tygett and for the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet. (The Jack Tygett Performing Arts Center at Chula Vista High School is named in Tygett’s honor.)
As a young girl, Gregory said her life revolved around ballet.
“It helped me escape from a chaotic home life and find some inner confidence, because I was extremely fearful and had huge self doubt,” she explained. “I barely had a social life, didn’t participate in sports or outside school activities. That is the life one chooses as a dancer.”
Gregory went on to have a career in dance in a large variety of styles — from modern to jazz, burlesque to SeaWorld Kids shows as a costumed character, from magic shows to working as a backup dancer in a Las Vegas-based female impersonator show.
“That is when I learned the art of impersonation and became a Michael Jackson impersonator,” she explained.
“I have a very unusual life and most people don’t have any idea what it’s like to work in the performing arts. I get asked all the time why I started impersonating “MJ.” That is one reason I developed my show.
“The other equally significant motivation was to share my spiritual journey. As a young Jewish girl I wanted to be treated equally and have the same ceremony for my bas mitsvah that the boys had. I was denied. That led me on my own spiritual quest until I found Wicca, an Earth-based practice that honors the sacred feminine. As an adult, I have dedicated my self to the empowerment of women and the return of The Goddess. The irony is that I am a woman impersonating a man!”
In May 2012 Gregory wrote and produced her show “Woman in the Mirror, a Dancer’s Journey” which won a Bravo San Diego Award for best solo performance. She ran it again in December 2012 and several times in 2013, but did not participate in the inaugural Fringe Festival.
“The show originally ran 90 minutes and I wasn’t ready to trim it down to the 60 minutes allotted for Fringe,” she said.
However, this year Gregory wanted to make her show more accessible for other opportunities, so cutting it down was necessary, she explained.
“I found that the show is still very impactful and works well at one hour,” she said. “Performing for the Fringe Festival gave more people the chance to see the show for a very low ticket price and for me to connect with many other artists, many of whom were international.
“There are Fringe Festivals all over the world! My show is now more simple technically, so it’s easier to travel or offer it to organizations in a seminar setting looking to empower and inspire their communities.
“I am also a Wiccan priestess, speaker and workshop presenter, so my show is a great platform to launch empowerment workshops. That is what I am planning to do next. I may pursue other Fringe Festivals as well. I currently book gigs as a Michael Jackson impersonator and that has been an incredible way to keep performing, since I am in my 50s!”
Gregory said her show inspires people “to let go of their own fears, do the things they didn’t think they could, be brave and take risks.”
“We all have talents and we all have hesitation about fulfilling our dreams,” she explained. “I am here to help others move past those fears and self judgments, because I have been there and I have found the inner courage to move forward.
“As women, I feel we need a divine female role model to empower us and the patriarchal male God does not fulfill that need. I am passionate about The Goddess and Mother Earth, honoring her in ceremony and ritual and bringing balance back to our planet.”
Karina’s Group golf tournament set July 30
Karina’s Group is hitting the links on July 30 at Salt Creek Golf Course in Chula Vista to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
A 9 a.m. putting contest will start the day with the main event kicking off at noon. Golfers will compete for prizes in a number of categories, including Best Team, Worst Team, Longest Drive and the coveted $25,000 Hole-in-One award, among others.
The famous Karina’s Calendar Girls will be on hand at each hole to meet and greet participants. After the event, a dinner and prizes ceremony will take place at Savoie French-Italian Eatery in Otay Ranch Town Center.
Entry fees are $175 per person or $600 for a four-player team. All proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that serves veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness, or wound, co-incident to their military service on or after Sept. 11, 2001. To participate, call (619) 370-4944.