Interview: Dana Pajarillaga
Edited by: 
Alexis Rosenstrauch

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I was born in DC and moved to the Philippines when I was younger. I lived with my grandparents for a little bit and started dancing because of my grandmother, she was a dancer. It was maybe when I was three years old at a small studio in a small town in the Philippines. My grandmother took me to a highschool Swan Lake show and I said I wanted to do that, I want to be like you, so she put me in ballet.

When I was younger I didn't like to communicate. It was hard.  I was always being told what to do and I felt dance was a place to speak without words. Things are hard to say and it is often easier for me to move or dance and have it come from my body instead of my mouth. I’ve always loved to dance, like just in my room by myself, so when I heard dance could be a career, I knew that was what I wanted to do. There are so many other things I could be doing.  I could be sitting at a desk job or studying for a “better paying job,” but there’s something about dance that kept me. It's so visceral, you can't lie with your body.

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

The most important is community and communication. We are in a room with other people everyday for so long. I am still learning how to communicate needs to other people, which also applies to everyday life, my personal relationships, and also how to collaborate within a group to learn or create with others. When I was younger I was kind of afraid to have a voice or have my voice be heard or communicate what I wanted. I think that started to become easier when I started to dance and has only grown the longer I’ve been in it. You have to communicate in the studio or no one will know what you want and need or what you think is ok. I am still working on it.

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

Yes. In my everyday life if I feel sad or whatever, I dance and feel better. I remember when I was at Jacob's Pillow, my grandmother died and I couldn't go to the Philippines. I had to stay. It was tough at first, but then I realized she would be proud of me and I could overcome this with the community I was in and dance in the middle of the forest. I also have anxiety, some of it comes from my career, but a lot of it comes from other things in life, and that usually gets better when I have dance to go to. I know dance will always be there and it always makes me feel better.

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

I have been going to the climbing gym a lot. This past year, I have really loved going climbing and I have started doing a lot of yoga too. I feel like climbing and yoga kind of go together. You have to take your time and figure out how to move your body to achieve bigger things. I think that has seeped its way into my artistry. Also the club culture in Berlin has inspired the artistry I bring into the studio. When I am out, I feel a lot of pleasure and I bring that into the studio and find more elevated pleasure in dance.

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

In high school I was part of science/math, super competitive high school. I would spend hours in school and out of school studying and then I would have to go to dance. Then I would have to stay up late to do homework. Balancing that was the hardest thing for me in high school. In college it was figuring out who I am. I went to Juilliard for college. You are thrown into school in New York City with so many new people. Getting used to that was hard in the beginning, the new schedule and having to adjust to all that. There are so many things that could pull you in another direction. You can focus on so many things and it was hard to manage in the beginning, of course, it is such a whirlwind the first year. What helped me in college was having my class, 24 students together, for all four years. I think that’s what definitely got me through. In my professional career, I feel that it has been hard to figure out which way I want to go. I was in Montreal for two years and loved it, but I wanted to be in Europe and New York or Canada. I had to figure out how to get a visa, where to live. I didn't speak German or French, so that’s been difficult, just adjusting to new situations, or like finding new situations for myself too, like if I wanted to leave a company, how many auditions will I have to do before the next job? It is hard to get control of all the ups and downs, but you get used to it.

Q: How can dance be a platform for social justice issues?

I think it is an amazing platform. Everything is happening all the time. If one person can look at a piece of art or something on stage and make them change the way they feel about something, maybe that thing can spark something in that person and it can prompt them to say or do something or go out and protest for climate change or anything. To go into the streets, to hold a sign. Right now, I am working with Sasha Waltz and we talk a lot about this and how we can bring that into the studio and how we make a piece where people see what we are talking about. We were talking about the fires in Australia and how it relates to what is happening now, how it makes us feel, how we can bring our experiences into the studio. How do we bring our full selves into the studio or decide to go to the climate march in Berlin and talk about it? I feel like if the conversation can happen in the studio, people will see that from the audience and maybe think about not using a plastic straw. Also I wouldn't say dance is the most diverse and I am performing for Germans and the audience and the company are not that diverse, although the company is probably more diverse than the audience. I am a Philipino American in Germany performing for Germans who probably have never seen someone that looks like me. Maybe them seeing that will change something, like just me being present as a woman of color in this space on stage. I feel like a lot more people are included in the arts than the people who can afford going to the theater. I feel like just being exposed to different people and different kinds of work and different kinds of thinking can make other people think about how they are in the world.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

It is so strange. One week we had work starting on a Wednesday and the company said “oh we will keep working even though the theaters are closing,” but on Saturday, we were told not to go to work anymore. I am still getting paid and I feel privileged for that. It is hard for me to not do anything. Not having a schedule is really hard. A month later I feel like I have a bit more of a schedule. I will wake up and do yoga or a barre or sometimes I do nothing. I started living with my partner two months ago so I’m getting to know what that is like. We have been together for three and a half years and never lived in the same city. We are learning more about one another and how we are in a home which is nice. I got more plants. It is honestly hard to see all the things on Instagram of people working out always. In the beginning it also felt like there was so much pressure to dance in your home and post about it or post your workout everyday. But after a while, I feel like I got off my phone more and tried to figure out what I really wanted to do which was rest. I really wanted to rest. I just wanted to rest and do yoga and talk to my partner and watch movies, because we never have time to do that. I am in the studio six days a week, I come home, make dinner, and go to bed because I’m exhausted. There is never time during the year to rest. The company also sent us a Marley floor so we can have a home studio. We have Zoom meetings with the company for about an hour and a half with our ballet master. I do miss seeing my friends and coworkers. I really feed off of others and enjoy socializing.

Q: What does it look like in Berlin right now?

It is definitely more empty in the streets. The government is taking it seriously. We are not supposed to be outside unless you are with only one other person or with the people in your household, so I can be out with my partner and my roommate. Before you had to bring your ID when you left the house. You can't be outside unless you are going to the doctors or exercising or going to the grocery. In my neighborhood there is a market every Thursday and Saturday and people try to distance themselves in line but others don’t listen. A lot of people are wearing masks and making them and selling them in the markets. The other week it was, it was a Saturday, the more popular market on my street had a gang of policemen standing there that were not socially distanced and that kind of made people spread out because of their presence in the street. My neighborhood is calm and has been getting calmer I would say. It is hard watching outside my window, like “ah don't walk so close.” A lot of people are running in the parks as it gets a nice out.

Q: What do you do with the company during this time?

Every week they send us an update for the next week. Every Thursday they say what will happen next. Now they have been sending us ballet and contemporary classes from our ballet masters and contemporary teachers. They also do gyrokinesis classes and cardio classes from our fitness department and send us a bunch of resources, such as dealing with diet and mental health. They send stacks of emails on life coaching. They sent us the two meter by one meter dance floor which is so nice. They sent us how to protect ourselves from germs and really sent us so many resources, like an article or audio file on understanding motivation. The health department in our company sends us a lot of things like for mental health and symptoms of anxiety and how to cope with the pandemic, goal setting, and developing a routine. They are so on it. I am not sure if we are required to take company class… I don't think so, but it is available for us everyday. There are about ninety people in the company and every day about thirty people take class.

Q: What is a message you would like to say to health workers on the front lines if you could?

My mom is an emergency room nurse who works everyday. My dad is also still working; he takes blood from patients. So they are in it. They call me with the masks and shields on their face and head gear with their hair covered. I would say thank you, hang in there, and we all support you.

Q: How do you feel about your parents working in healthcare right now?

I am super worried. My mom and dad are working in DC. I don’t know if my dad is joking, but the other day he said “if I die, I love you” and I was like “dad, why would you say that!?’” My mom also sent me a photo of a Filipino nurse who died of COVID-19 and said something like “pray for me.” It’s hard, I'm all the way in Germany and I don't know if I can or should go back because then I expose them to something or they expose me to something and there are a lot of things to manage and think about. So many thoughts in my head like what is the right thing for me to do. Where are the things I can do to help? I don't even know. It worries me for sure.

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?

People are wanting to connect more, but the only way to connect is through this, through video calls. There is a want and a visceral desire to connect with people right now, but you can’t and  it is so hard. I feel like everything will change a little bit and there will have to be a new normal and I'm not sure what that is or what that will mean. I taught a little floor work class for an organization that my brother runs and it was strange because I couldn't see who I was teaching. It was telling me who joined, but I couldn't see the faces. It is so hard to take a ballet class with no space and to be motivated to do it. It is hard to motivate myself. I think we are all taking a step back and seeing it in front of us and from there we go further to see what we can do. I don't know what is right… I don't know, am I supposed to take class everyday? I am taking a step back from my phone because it is hard for me to connect through that or when I run into my friend grocery shopping, I'm so upset I can't hug them.

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.)

More diversity, funding, and access to the arts and somehow market the arts to reach everyone. To really have the whole world see the arts and appreciate the arts more. Also female/male equality and balance in the arts. Having more women up there in the artistic direction levels and as leaders in the field. Definitely less gendering or having less expectation on gender.

Transcription courtesy of