Interview: Alicia Holloway
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Q: How did you begin dancing?

I was adopted through a psychic. My adopted mom—I hate when people say, “Is she your real mom?” because she IS my real mom, she’s the one that raised me —was going to a psychic in West Virginia. My mom was from Germany. She is a white, blonde-hair, blue-eyed lady and my dad is a big black guy, so I literally look JUST like my mom and dad, which is crazy. The psychic was predicting her future and said, “Go to this address and you will find the baby you’ll want to adopt.” At the address was this meeting where about sixty people were talking about their issues. My birth mother raised her hand and said, “I am married to a white man and have three biological white children. I slept with a black man, I am pregnant, and I don’t want an abortion. I want to give the baby up for adoption.” My mom and dad looked at each other and thought, “There’s our baby.” Right after the meeting, they met my birth mom and got the adoption process going. My birth father, who was very distant, met my parents to sign papers. Then he checked out. When I was born, my mom was in the delivery room. My birth mother told her whole family that the baby had died in birth, but her husband and best friend knew the truth. I always knew I was adopted. My parents used “The Jungle Book” to explain to me how I was adopted. It never bothered me, especially because I look like my mom and dad. When I got older, I started having questions. When I reached 12 years old, I would say, “I wonder if my biological mom remembers me.” I knew when I was 18 that I wanted to find her. I didn’t know any details of my story until I was 18. I met my biological mom and she is super sweet. A week ago, I met my biological dad. I have six biological siblings and I am my biological father’s first kid. I searched his name on Google. I happened to find his Facebook and we connected. We have been talking on the phone and I am supposed to meet his kids on Zoom soon. I have an older cousin seven years older than me. When I was a kid, my parents would take me to her dance recitals. When I was one to three years old, I would run up and down the aisles the whole recital because when I heard music, I couldn’t stop dancing. The owner of the studio came up to my parents and said they should enroll me in dance class. I started by taking movement class and then eventually jazz, ballet, tap, acro—any type of dance you can think of. I hated ballet. I was the kid who did all these styles, but I would call my dad on the studio landline and say, “I don’t feel well for ballet, but I'll be fine for jazz.” I did “The Nutcracker,” growing up. At ten I auditioned for “Clara” and got a part. It was at another dance studio. At that studio they said I had to take one ballet class a week to be in “The Nutcracker.” I hated it. Then, we took a trip to see the Pittsburg version of the ballet and I fell in love. It was my first time seeing a professional company. The difference between ballet and other forms of dance is that ballet is the foundation. You can’t be a jazz dancer without having the fundamentals of ballet. Ballet is so textbook-oriented and so specific, so you can never be perfect. I am a perfectionist, but with ballet I know I will never be perfect. Expanding my knowledge of ballet and striving to be better everyday drives me. 

Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?

Dance has taught me many things. I think the three things that stand out are discipline, respect and hard work. Ballet is one of the oldest forms of dance. From a young age, you are taught that you can’t stand with your hands on your hips or your arms crossed. You have to always stand up straight. There’s no chewing gum, no talking, no sitting down—all these little rules I didn’t understand why I had to follow. But as an adult, it has taught me a sense of discipline. I try to be respectful to my peers and teachers. I have applied that to my everyday life; respecting everyone, especially my elders. Dance has also taught me that hard work pays off. To get better extensions, you have to work really hard. To get a higher jump, you have to work on your strength. There are so many areas of dance where you have to work really hard. What you put in is what you get out. Through every aspect of life, I know if I work hard, it will pay off in the end. 

Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life?

I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was six years old and I wasn’t comfortable speaking about it until six months ago. I was having panic attacks all the time. When I was in 2nd grade, I would get anxious about having to make a presentation in front of the class. I would stumble over words. With dance, I express myself with my body, without having to talk. Throughout high school I turned to dance. Recently, I was having a bad day so I put on music and started to dance and choreograph, trying to make something beautiful. When I am dancing, I forget I’m anxious. That is why I love being a professional dancer. I work nine to five with a one-hour break. When I’m dancing, I don’t think about anything else. I don't think about anything outside of the studio; I don't think about school, or family, or what I will eat for dinner.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance that help influence your artistry?

I was very tunnel-visioned when I was in high school. I only focused on ballet. I wasn’t inspired by anything else besides dance. With the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH), I am contracted 32 weeks of the year. The rest of the time, I teach and do other gigs. I love to travel. It’s one of my favorite things to do, exploring other cultures and people. I think it’s something so beautiful and unique. It broadens my horizons, even when it comes to dancing. I love to read and write. I love to play golf, which is super random. Golfing reminds me of ballet because it is so specific, so nitty-gritty. I love striving for perfection. I grew up playing tennis with my dad. I love meeting new people. That inspires me because you meet people from all different walks of life. It gives you a new perspective on everything. 

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre-professional and professional career?

I moved away from home at 13 to attend UNCSA. I then went to the School of American Ballet. Going from a small studio, where you do all these solos and big roles, to a big school where you’re a little fish in a big pond was hard for me at first. I realized that I was not going to have all these opportunities to be the star. Again, that highlights the idea that you have to work hard and that hard work does pay off. In my professional career, we travel a lot with DTH. We are on tour for 16 weeks. That can get tiresome, especially when we are moving around three cities a week. We run into situations where we have hard floors. That’s hard on the body. Traveling is tiring too. And when you are tired, you are more susceptible to injury. Since I was 18, I’ve been dealing with a stress fracture in my shin. At first I didn’t know how to manage it because I went from dancing three hours a day to eight hours a day. I didn’t know how to care for my shin. My physical therapist and I have figured out that jumping and doing certain ballets irritates my shin. or traveling a lot and dancing on hard stages. Learning how to deal with injuries has been the biggest trial I have faced in my professional career.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist? (community, financially, initial reactions, company shift, online class, emotions, initial cancellation reaction)

It’s really affected me. We were supposed to be in Detroit doing three shows. We finished our morning show Thursday and there was a company meeting. Our executive director said that they cancelled our shows and that we would go back to NYC that night. The company lost a lot of money. We were also supposed to premiere a brand-new ballet called “Higher Ground” by Robert Garland, with music by Stevie Wonder. Stevie is from Michigan and everyone was so excited. After Detroit we were supposed to have 2 weeks off. Now we don’t know when we will go back to work. It was supposed to be March 30th, but now we don’t know when it will happen. I was supposed to be working this week and last to prepare for our city center season. Our gala was supposed to be a week from today and that was postponed to September 9th. I had just sent the ticket info to my friends. COVID-19 has really affected my job. You just can’t have a rehearsal via Zoom. It has taken quite the toll on everyone. Additionally, DTH is a touring company. We make money traveling. When there is a travel ban, that makes the job very difficult. All we can do is have a positive outlook on everything. The company tries to do a daily barre together. 

Reaction to the initial cancellation:
The night before I was with my friends and we were at a bar. We were playing the board game “Life.” I look up and my friends are like, “Look at the TV,” and it said the NBA season was suspended and March Madness was done. I thought, “Wow, if the NBA is suspending the season, we may be cancelled as well.” But we were like, “I don’t know...” We had an early school show the next day. A half-hour before, our stage manager said that there were supposed to be 4000 kids but there will only be 2000 kids because so many schools pulled out. Afterwards, they said we would have a company meeting. Our executive director told us our stuff was cancelled. I was shocked, but I had already seen the NBA was cancelled. I would have been more shocked if I hadn’t seen that on TV. I think the company as a whole expected it. But at the same time, it’s crazy because nothing like this has ever happened before. 

What the company is doing now:
We had our first company class yesterday. It was with a former company member, Lorraine Graves. She’s in her 60’s now and has worked with us many times. We have also been having Netflix parties as a company. We watched Center Stage together online. We have Zoom meetings once a week for updates. We had a meeting today to build our social media platform. We are making dance TikToks as a company. We’re staying active and providing free live classes online. We want to stay active with our followers. Our fans are so important to us. The way we usually give back is through performing, but right now we can’t do that. I think in this weird crazy time this is our way to give back to our fans and show them love and support.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

It has stopped me in my tracks, but moreso, it has taught me how many other parts of dance can just be taken away. Injuries and things can happen and you have to take a break, but this has to do with someone else's body stopping your body from moving because they were ill, or the government saying you're not an essential business, so you have to shut down. For me this is essential. Every day it is essential that I find a way to keep in touch with myself and my spirit, so that has been king of staggering. The way I can express myself, even with the people I talk to so freely and openly that aren’t dancers, is not really there, and I just feel like I can’t show up in conversations sometimes… I am nervous for the future, even the day we can go back to dance. Even when they have found a vaccine and people can go back to work, dance is so much about rolling around together and being in each other’s faces, breathing, and touching each other –– and there will be so much of a stigma about touch. I think that is a trigger and trauma I will personally have to work through. That makes me less excited to get back into the studio with others — I’m not happy to admit that, but that is a real fear and something I will have to face (but I can't wait to have to face that problem, because that means we will be in the clear from this). It has just kind of all been taken and stripped away. I am so grateful for dance keeping me in decent shape most of the time, and I am thankful my body has been training to fight and have the willpower to get through anything, whether they are injuries, viruses, etc. I am more confident in my strength and that is awesome; I'm glad I can hold onto that. Some people don't have that and that can put them in more danger than I am in. 

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic? Do you think the pandemic will make us a more socially conscious society?

Oh my god, I am mad it took so long for dance to become more accessible. People are just donating and giving their time and their knowledge when they could have been doing this before. But, better late than never… I think it is really unfortunate, however, that we have had all these platforms and up until now, it has mostly been about showing your best self instead of sharing your best self. I am happy to see a lot of different generations coming together. You have people like Glenn, our artistic director, who had never come on Instagram Live until this moment, and now his class is available for everyone. Even for my family, they have seen shows but not class [in the past], and they get it a little bit more now. It is nice to see people admit, “This is hard, and I know you are having a hard time too, but this is what I want to do for you, how I want to make space for you, and all I ask is that you show up and that will be enough.” Who knows if anyone is doing the class or actually doing the moves? I have just watched before. I think all the online classes and pieces being shared are helping level the playing field a little bit. Now someone who can't major in something in the arts because their family doesn't believe it's a real job can take these classes and watch these videos on line. Now the kid who didn't show up to ballet because they didn't have the right clothes or apparel and were nervous — now they can take their class at home and feel more comfortable. I hope we hold onto the way we can now accept people and just share that hour-long time slot. Times were hard before this, and we needed this generosity before this, and now that we have gone through it, I hope the understanding and appreciation for just showing up is there. 

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

I imagine the performing arts to be united. Nobody walking this earth has ever lived through something like this. I think what artists are doing—going on Instagram Live, offering class and other things—is bringing us more together. I think we’ve been so supportive of one another and I think that we will continue to all come together, that we’ll all get through this together. I’m never going to take seeing a show for granted. Never again. If I have the opportunity to see a Broadway show or ballet I will go. We are being kept out of the theater - I think we all have this feeling. We want to continue the love and support once this ends. I think it will be beautiful.

Transcription courtesy of