Interview: Jeryl Palana
Edited by: 
Alicia Samson

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts. I started dancing when I was three and my mom put me in dance class. I started with ballet, jazz, and tap. At the end of high school I started hip hop and modern, that is where all my friends were. I went to a public school. Everyone was figuring out where they wanted to go for college and I didnt know what I wanted to do, but I loved dancing. I went to Dean College for dance and that's when I started taking it seriously as a career.

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

Dance teaches me patience, how to communicate, and awareness of myself and others. I think that because dance is my career in terms of teaching and performing, it is my main source of communication with people. I am surrounded by other artists and people interested in dance. If I am not careful, it can keep me away from those who are not artists and dancers.

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

Yes. Dance has been the ultimate outlet, especially through choreographing. Whether it is for a stage or an open class. I have done personal self indulging works, but they’re not that selfish. I have choreographed about my life and people can relate to that. I have choreographed social justice pieces as well. I think all of these works help me process. It also gives me something to look back at. Once I am over the hump, I can look back and say, “okay, that is how I was feeling at the time,” acknowledge what happened, and move on.

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

Nature, traveling, cooking. That is always a hard question because as a dancer, all we do is dance. They all help inspire. Just living life helps inspire dance.

Teaching. I have been teaching for almost 10 years. I started by subbing for friends and then I began my own classes. After being with the same school for many years, I fell in love with helping students grow up. I have been teaching all over, wherever I can.

I love choreography because you get to play. It is so open that I could choreograph an urban choreography piece or mix contemporary with tap. It is a blank canvas.

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

The main challenge has been anticipating what my career will look like. I obviously grew up and went to college, and all I knew was to graduate and get hired. That is harder than you can imagine. I didn't expect to fall in love with teaching. It is about having a vision of what you think will happen and letting that morph and accepting that is exactly how it should be.

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

I think that it is awesome because even people who don't know anything about dance can watch a social justice piece and feel it or be moved by it. It is definitely a tool. I think it is a powerful tool that can be used to help people feel other perspectives. You hear people talk but unless you experience it, you can't relate. Through social justice pieces and art, people have another way of being able to feel something.

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

It sounds strange. I am fortunate I live with my mom. I am not struggling terribly right now. I don't have to pay for gas to go anywhere or on-the-go meals. I have had a lot of time to slow down and dance for myself instead of focusing on the money, my jobs, and the next project. I am teaching online now so I can still connect with my students. The slowing down has helped me face internal things I had not acknowledged before. I have also been able to explore dance more. I have been able to train online with people in New York City, Belgium, Los Angeles. Being physically in a class is so different but I have been able to benefit from all of this online teaching as well. For me, I love being in person and human contact.

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?

My students and I play rose and thorn. We say one bad and one good thing about the week. The majority of them say they love spending more time with family. It is nice to see young people acknowledge that. For me, it's the same thing. I see my mom more than I usually do.

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.)

In my ideal world, I would like to have funding - a lot more funding - and acknowledgment of artists. Artists should be acknowledged as just as essential as everything else. People don't realize how much art is around them and how important it is. We don't get money and things have shut down. I would also like for more access for those who want to study and be involved in the arts but can't afford it. I have done anti-drug programs where dance really helps kids and it would be great to have more funding for that. I also wouldn’t mind incorporating online classes with real live class. The international training is really cool, and I’d like to do that more often.

Q: What would you say to the healthcare workers on the front lines if you could send a message to them?

Thank you. My mom is a nurse practitioner who has luckily not had to go into work. Thank you for your selflessness. You are more than appreciated. I don't think there is a way to express how much you are appreciated. I hope our actions as a society by staying in, listening, and being educated will help the efforts as best we can.

Transcription courtesy of