Interview: Dara Holmes
Edited by: 
Kaitlyn Soloway

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I knew when I was three that I wanted to do ballet. My mom had encyclopedias and I would open and look at them all the time.I looked at the B section and ballet was one of the first subjects. I saw a dancer showing the positions of ballet and there was a set from the Nutcracker. From looking at that, I knew I wanted to be a ballet dancer. My mom was a dancer as well and she would teach me the positions. I was born in New Jersey and grew up in North Carolina.

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

Ballet brings discipline. Being in something for so long and being disciplined for so long brings a sense of order to your life.

Q: How has your life helped you get through dance?

My life in general has pushed me to grow up fast. My mother passed away when I was twelve. When you are faced with that kind of death at a young age, the reality of life for a twelve year old changes a lot. It makes a difference in how I view things. This was clear from a young age. Now in the company I see a difference in the way I look at the world. I am the baby of five kids and my oldest sister is old enough to be my mom and my brother is ten years older than me. I am very used to being around older people and I often seek that out. That has caused me to grow up a lot. There are still some childish ways about me. I was talking to one of my mentors yesterday and I was like, “do you ever really grow up from childish ways?” He was like, “nope.” People are always going to deal with their childish ways to cope.

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

Yes, after my mom passed. It helped me to have something to go to instead of being in my head all the time about what could have happened or feeling guilty about it. People say to me, “why are you guilty? It isn't your fault she was killed in a car accident.” In my mind at twelve I thought there was some way I could prevent it. I had to figure out my feelings. I never had official therapy sessions after this incident but I went to people who were skilled at counseling. My dad would have me talk to these people. Ballet helped me, gave me something to pursue and gave me something to keep my mind busy. In ballet there isn't a lot of time to think about other things.

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

Choreography is not my gift, and I have accepted that. Now that I am not dancing my page isn't filled with dance photos. I am preoccupied with other things right now. I guess life lessons have contributed to my artistry. I became a Christian in 2015 and there have been many ups and downs since then. I have had a lot of self discovery and there is more of a willingness now to be vulnerable with how I show myself in dance. I have seen how my grief and anxiety comes through when dealing with different personalities in the ballet world and vice versa. When I first joined the company I experienced a lot of opposition from people such as being catty. It is very tempting to say it was because I am black. But now, I am starting to see that this is not always the issue. People tend to fear the unknown and if they don't get to know people that look like me there tends to be tension. But also I look back and I can’t base it off my skin color. I am just different altogether. I don't do what other people do, I don't find joy in doing what everyone else does, and when people see that and that difference it almost seems like you're not a part of the team. Based on what I decided to do with my life and how I carry myself compared to everyone else. At nineteen I was never willing to kiss people's butts, all I wanted to do was dance. I didn't try to be best friends with anyone. In the ballet world I don't think I have ever had one consistent trustworthy friend throughout my entire career. Outside my ballet studio there was cattiness but not to the extent when I went to a summer program. I was like, “really? Is it that serious?” Apparently, yes! That probably stemmed from me being different. I am quiet but I have a strong personality. I don’t put up with stuff, I was taught how to see it from afar and go the other direction. I grew up around adults and they would point out qualities in others and myself that I should change.

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

People are choreographing left and right pieces that speak on those issues. That is the main way that I see this happening in the dance world. Instead of going to the streets they make it choreography. You can't argue with the work in the moment, you have to take it in then talk about it later. Hopefully there’s time for it to marinate. I feel like in the arts there is only room for one type of mindset, room for certain diverse thoughts and there are others that tend to be pushed out. A lot of people haven't thought into these ideologies, but hear what they hear and go off others' opinions. It is hard in that sense of social justice. A lot of subjects can be explored and thought can be provoked through choreography.

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)

I am stuck inside! It sucks to not be able to go into the studios and work even as an individual. And of course being on stage is the main reason we do this and that is not an option right now. Thinking about going back to work if people are not willing to come and see us, I feel like we can bring more people in by live streaming as opposed to selling expensive tickets. At this point they have laid us off for 3-4 months. There is no point in rehearsing if we can't be on stage. Also a lot of dancers have started to see what we have taken for granted in this career. If you have been in a company for X amount of years and get used to seeing the people and then don't get inspired after a while. There is new inspiration that comes from new dancers but that can get boring. That is where I am. To go back to the point of taking things for granted … we must be able to do what we love despite having to work with other people's egos. The job is not doing what you love for a living for most people. To be able to share your gift and be paid for it is amazing. Also I think we get caught up in the here and now, “what opportunities will I get and why has someone got something over me?” Now it's like we can't even be in the studio and we can’t even dance for a living. So, “is all of the other stuff we worry about on a daily basis really worth it?” I know there will be a heightened sense of gratitude when we get back but I'm worried about how long it will stick. I hope it sticks for a while. I will say the last program we did, thank god, we left the season on that high note because every single person in the company got an opportunity to shine and this doesn’t always happen. Usually when we get to the theater there are often petty fights that go on backstage, but this time everyone was too busy worrying about themselves. People just wanted to do well and have something else to think about. Everyone got a chance to share their gift and it was really nice to have that.

Q: Reactions to the initial cancelation of things?

I thought our tour to Berkeley would be cancelled. We ended up going and then everything was up in the air when we got back. We were starting to work on Don Quixote. We got one week into rehearsals and they shut everything down. We had a meeting at the end of the week and they postponed Don Quixote until July. The next week they decided to close Joffery for a week and then not long after Trump said we should close down until March 30th and then April 7th and then April 30th. I also had a guest thing I was going to do in my hometown on June 5th. I was trying to stay in shape in my apartment. I was hoping Joffrey would stay open so we could go in individually and do our own things. There is not really a pressure to get into shape for anything in the near future. Monday, Wednesday and Friday we do company class with pilates twice a week now, too. My weakest point is my core. I have long arms and legs and if my core isn't used, my long arms and legs will take over, I look so uncoordinated. Since I realized that was my weakest point the more I appreciate pilates these days. We did it today and I was surprised I could get through it all.

Transcription courtesy of