Q: How did you begin dancing?
I grew up in Los Angeles and after my dancing career came to end, I came back here. I taught at a performing arts high school and created a seniors’ dance masters program to get them into college.
My mom was a dancer and I was always, as a young child, into all forms of dance, especially ballet. She waited until she found a good teacher, Meredith Baylis — she was the director of the Joffrey Ballet School in NYC. She took me when I was 7 to start ballet, and from there I committed my whole life to being a dancer. Then, when I was tenth grade, I went to the arts high school of Los Angeles — LACHSA — and that exposed me to modern, and different styles. And then I really found my passion for, I guess, more neoclassical contemporary work, and that's how I really started.
Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?
I think all dancers have some level of compulsion, OCD — a relentless pursuit of work and perfection. I will tell you a big part of my journey, when I danced in Italy I was in rehearsal, and a boy came to jump on me, which was choreographed, and in one second I fully tore my ACL and subsequently tore my entire meniscus. I had to have a full reconstructive surgery on my right leg. I was relentless about rehab and coming back and therefore I came back after this injury happened. Dance teaches you to always push yourself to expect the very best out of yourself, and even when it’s your best you continue to push even further. There is a common through line of being meticulous in all dancers. It taught me tenacity for sure.
Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life?
I can speak to it now — I'm realizing as you ask. I think that right now, in this moment of time, my only sane place is going into the studio to do barre. Yes, when I had, like, emotional hardships or a love story or family stuff, dance brings you to a better place, but right now, it is the only place that gives me any sense of sanity and normalcy.
Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside or inside of dance that influence and inspire your artistry?
I do love to cook, I’m an amateur chef. I bring that creative sense. I approach it like I approach putting together a class — I just throw a bunch of things in and see how things form… And I think for me, educating young artists is really now my passion — bringing all the experiences I have had and learned, and bringing it to the up and coming generation of young dancers. It’s outside of dance, but along the dance lines. I’m not the dancer anymore, I’m now taking it to an education platform.
Q: How did your mentorship program start?
This goes back to the knee injury. When I tore my ACL, I had to come back to the U.S., and my dad who is a doctor said, “You are not having the surgery in Italy.” In Italy, the people told me I was imaging the injury. I had a full reconstructive surgery in the U.S., but I couldn't dance prior to that, maybe four months before, my teacher passed away, so all her students needed the teacher. So I would teach her students in a chair without really moving. At that time, I was working with a young Peruvian girl who wanted to audition for the Juilliard School. I told her at 22 I’d mentor her — I had no idea what I was doing. She is the first Peruvian American accepted to Juilliard. I slowly started taking on students and mentoring them. I had a knack for guiding people and students to a better place, much better than I did myself. When I taught at Orange County High School of the Arts, I wanted to create a mentorship program for seniors to help with college. It’s not the same to apply academically for college — it's different for dance. I got to bring the best out of them and know where they will fit in. So through that is where my passion lives. I brought that to Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, I was doing that for both schools. With Francisco Gella Dance Works, I now do this internationally. I mentor students all over the country and even in Costa Rica. I feel there is a huge void when you go talk and sit down with a college counselor and they don’t know how to prepare you for dance admissions. Dance admissions looks at different things. You have to be balls to the wall in the live audition, and all the components that go into it - the solo, resume, and bio. I have an instinct and a passion for that. That is part of my full-time job, to prepare seniors for college admittance. It is so crazy, because the college mentors can kind of mentor theater, maybe, or visual arts, but definitely not dance. No one is giving them the information of the dance schools — not everyone gets into NYU and Julliard, and what else is out there? Now also I'm a huge advocate of not going to an $80,000 school. My whole job as an advisor is to create a list for students that range from not so fancy schools to the fancy schools. You have to create options because the kids coming out of schools that owe $400,000 in loans — that will be a real problem as a dancer. Creating financial options is a huge part of my preparation for a dancer. You can make the best experience at a shitty school, and you can make a great school a shitty experience. It's what you make at the school.
Q: What have been some challenges in your pre professional and professional career?
The challenges for me are the same for every artist. I was a member of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal before I left and auditioned for upwards of 35 to 40 companies in Europe without one acceptance. That is a hardship when you keep auditioning and auditioning and you don't get anything back. I kept going. The ACL injury was a major hardship, because a lot of people don't recover back into professional dancing. I did recover, and I was a founding member of BODYTRAFFIC, which was amazing. In every dance situation, there’s always politics and unfairness, and it’s very, very hard. You have to have so much belief in yourself. You keep pushing forward, no matter what happens.
Q: How can dance be a platform for social justice issues?
I mean, if you look around all the dance companies and you see the variety of people and ethnicities. Especially in Europe, just diversifying a company, then you pull in the social justice aspect with that. Even bringing in the choreographers, everything is about diversifying the company, every aspect. And in that way, you pull in and can talk about the social justice issues.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as an educator?
I teach at a fancy academic prep school in L.A. For much to their credit, we went virtual before anyone else did. Our last day of school was March 11th. On March 12th, we had a full faculty meeting. On March 13th, a full virtual test of classes. When we did it, I was like, “This is not necessary.” And we did it first, and then everything exploded. The teaching aspect is completely different — it is a million times harder to teach virtually than in person. I feel practiced at it because I have been doing it for over a month. I told Francisco Gella Dance Works we need to go virtual, and then a few days later they said yes, and he launched it and had over 800 users each time on our free YouTube classes. Francisco, Yusha[-Marie Soranzo], and myself are the main people under that umbrella.
Q: How have the students been reacting and feeling about virtual classes?
I teach on two different platforms. With academic prep school, I see them on Zoom. With Francisco, we don’t see anyone, because so many people are on. I don’t have any connection with them. I will say, for my students I see on video it's rough. I find once I get them moving, everything improves — the emotional, mental way of being improves, but to get them up and going is like pulling teeth at times. The second week, when it set in, you’d see so many blank stares and blank faces from the students… I think my kids and students are emotionally stunted. Sitting behind a screen and trying to understand what is going on in the world around them, they become emotionally distant. I think moving forward, this will be a huge issue when we come back to being together in life.
Q: What is a message you would like to say to health workers on the front lines if you could?
I would say, “You are absolutely the greatest people I have ever seen at this moment.” I would say shame on the U.S. for not having the proper gear for you, that you put your life on the line without proper masks, gloves, etc. Just like dancers, I see healthcare workers not stopping — they do not stop until the job is done; they pickup on move on forward. It is probably the bravest thing I have ever seen.
Q: What does your daily routine look like?
I wake up very early — I have two young children. I always have my espresso. I watch the news in hopes that something is found, like a vaccine. Every morning so far it hasn’t been found, but one morning it will. Immediately I get things ready in the house, I get myself ready. Then almost everyday, like Monday through Friday and Sunday, I go into the studio. I give myself a barre first and then I start teaching, then I come home. I clean, I cook, I do people's homework. I am a teacher, mom, maid, chef, and gardener, and the jobs do not end. At the end of the day, I have a bit of wine and take a hot shower and read the news again and hope something has been developed and then go to sleep. My daughter, who is eight, is in French immersion school, so I hired a French tutor. But my daughters are also in ballet school, so we teach French, English, and walk her through the day. My preschooler, I buy things on Amazon for her like sand and art projects, and let her out in the backyard. They are dealing with not having the ballet school. We do long bike rides and walks. There is Cosmic Kids Yoga from this woman in Australia. In the afternoon, they get TV and treats. I don't think they understand what happened. They were plunked from their life and never taken back. Each day we try to have compassion for that.
Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen the dance world making during the pandemic?
I don't know if I'm that impressed with what's happening, because every company laid off dancers, but I felt if you want to move forward you have to rethink the model. It's not about what we used to do — whatever we used to do doesn't exist anymore. I am impressed with Marquee TV and similar things, they now have full-length works. That is really great they made it more accessible to audiences out of necessity. Other than that, I don't know if I can say I'm impressed with the dance world right now.
Q: Do you think the pandemic will make us a more socially conscious society?
I get a sense that right now we literally do not sit down to talk for even five minutes because we don't have five minutes. If I'm not cleaning, cooking, or preparing for class right now, I am paying no attention because I'm so overwhelmed and busy as a mom and teacher. I think when we come out of this, when we are in public, we will be more present. I don't think we are present right now because we are so worried about what is coming next, and working at home gives a greater sense that your work is never done. My husband works from the bedroom until like 2 a.m. Everyone is so eager to keep their jobs — it’s not stop and start, it’s like an all day thing. I hope we're more present in the situations in the future after this, when we're really in 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.)
I don't even know if I can go that far because all I want is for it to come back. I don't know how the performing arts survives this. If you have no audiences, you have no money. I simply hope the performing arts survives this period. No institutions have a plan to survive for six months to a year without ticket sales. I hope that you don't always need to buy the most popular work that costs so much. I hope people rethink how much it costs to make works and bring people in on a lesser scale and open up doors for people who are less prominent, like women. We still see the same white men running the show. Maybe there will not be such astronomical fees for such high up choreographers that they will have to look elsewhere.