Q: How did you begin your performing arts journey? How did you become inspired to pursue it as a career?
Jared: I grew up dancing in my parents’ dance studio in Florida. I didn't see dance as a career option, I just kind of did it because I was there. It was my second home. I got to my senior year of high school and I had no idea what I wanted to do, and then I thought maybe I could get a dance scholarship to help pay for college. I wasn't completely in love with dance at that point. I went to college for dance, I got a BFA from Jacksonville University in Florida, and it was there that I fell in love with dance and the emotional side that comes into play, besides just the movement itself. After four years of college I was like, I need to figure out what to do. I need a job. I auditioned for Ballet Hispanico and I got it, and I've been there ever since I graduated. I moved straight to NYC. This is the end of my third season with them.
Simone: When I was little, my parents took me to dance class. I got up and started dancing, and I’ve been doing it ever since. We moved for dance quite a bit. I was homeschooled in middle school so I could dance during the day. I went to Fordham University for dance. and saw Ballet Hispanico while we were on a school field trip. and I fell in love with the dancing. It was so moving and I said “I want to do that someday”. I auditioned my junior year of college and they told me that I got the job and I was like, “Oh shoot. I need to figure out a place to live.” I moved to NYC and just finished my first season with them, and it's been amazing.
Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?
Jared: Dance has taught me that, if you want to get good at something, it doesn't come quickly. You have to put in the work and effort and consistency, over years. I got to see it with my parents having their own studio. The kids loved dance, and the kids wanted to get better always, but didn’t necessarily want to take the steps to get there—to do the triple pirouette. Certain things take time, and you have to develop certain skills. There is a process in order to get into the next level or tier. Just work, and time, and dedication. Sometimes you want things quickly, but in dance you learn it doesn't come quickly. You see results after years of training. I have been able to apply that to my life.
Simone: Dance has definitely taught me to be stronger mentally; to work through challenges you face with your body like injuries, or the way you look— it is really hard to not compare yourself to others. I’ve learned to appreciate what I do have and to not beat myself up so much. Do be like, “Wow I can do this with my body and it's really beautiful.” It has been a challenge, and a long process of learning to love my body and how it moves. I feel like it allows me to feel more. Everything is so much deeper. I feel so in-tune with... I don't know how to say it... Just, when you are performing and you connect and you're somewhere else, and then sharing that with others, is unreal. I miss performing now, oh my gosh!
Q: How can dance be a platform for social justice issues?
Simone: I think dance can be entertaining and impactful. People can be more receptive when they are watching something instead of hearing speeches. On the news, you can't necessarily relate, but when you can dance or see a piece on social justice issues, you relate to it because you see it being acted out or performed.
Jared: We have had Asian and Philipino choreographers. The struggles that other communities face are similar to that of hispanic communities, and that connects us. At the end of the day we are all humans. We all feel the same things, we all have families, and although they may not be the same traditions, through dance, we can show our cultures. Like Simone said, audiences can feel that. If they see a piece where there is a family on stage, and they are enjoying time with each other, that can connect with the viewer. And I think that helps connect the space between cultures.
Simone: There is a piece we do called Con Brazos Abiertos and the choreographer, Michelle Manzanales, is a Mexican-American woman who created a piece about how she had struggled in a society where she felt not Mexican enough or American enough, but having to be both. There is this one solo to the Radiohead song ‘Creep’, and it’s saying “I don't belong here”, and she is trying to find who she is and that is so powerful. No matter what race, or who you are, it’s important to try to find your identity, even with people telling you what you “should” be. Stay true to yourself. That was the piece that made me love this company. Seeing humanity on stage.
Q: Can you talk about company life? What does it mean to have the name “Hispanico” in the title?
Jared: A lot of times, you hear the name Ballet Hispanico, but we are not classical performers. We are classically trained, but our work is a wide range of movement: Some more folkloric, others more classical, but it’s not like seeing American Ballet Theater. I think that, a lot of times when we're on tour, we rehearse Monday-Friday. We tour all the time, so most of the time we are not even in NYC because we are across the world touring. We love to perform. Having the name ‘Hispanico’ in the title is just bigger than being Hispanic. We are able to connect with all minorities. Even the people in the company—not everyone is hispanic. There are Asian, Italian, other minorities. That is part of what we are about—that we are not just Hispanic dancers. Not everyone speaks Spanish. But, we definitely want to give that voice a platform where it might not be given otherwise, whether it’s to choreographers, dancers, or kids at school we teach a class to. When we are on tour, we try to impact the communities through schools and community events for all ages, too.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist and the communities you are in? (community, financially, initial reactions, company shift, online class, emotions, initial cancellation reaction etc.)
Simone: Clearly we are out of work. We stopped rehearsals, and that was very hard because we had some upcoming shows at the Joyce. We are just trying to figure it out, because we can't perform right now and there isn't that much to do. I know there are a lot of online classes but taking class in your bedroom is not the most ideal thing. It's hard to not be able to dance fully. That is one of our ways of expressing our feelings—to just move. And as dancers, we can’t not move. Everything is very up in the air right now. This is the longest I have ever gone without dancing in my whole twenty-one years of living. I have been dancing since I was four. Five months is a long time to not dance, and it's so hard trying to find who you are without the dancing part. That is a struggle even now, thinking of future things, like “what do you do when you can't perform”? Performing is all I know. It's so hard when it's your job and passion.
Q: What were your Initial reactions to the mass cancellations due to COVID-19?
Simone: We were in California performing and we had a week before our next show. Then that got cancelled, and then we were just in the process of learning a full length ballet in two days. We had to get it going, and then the week we finished putting it together, they said we can't rehearse anymore. I remember I was crying. We were working so hard, and we had so many shows coming up at the Joyce.
Jared: We were working for months. We had a two week long season and it was cancelled. We learned pieces for months, and spending weeks in the studio is a lot of time. I guess, at first, you don't realize all that isn’t going to happen. But as things get worse and you see others getting cancelled, and then Broadway shuts down, you realize it will happen to you, too. Our company manager and director came in and told us we would be off for... who knows how long at that time.
Simone: They still paid us for a bit and took care of us.
Jared: Our company has done a great job of taking care of us. Some companies just got laid off, no payment or anything.
Simone: The company is amazing, they still reach out.
Jared: We just had a Zoom meeting with our director who said, if anyone needs anything, tell them. For dancers who are from other countries, they are not able to collect unemployment easily, or be with their families. Now more than ever, we need to be that family. We always say in the company “we are family”, and I think now more than ever is when we can show that. And we are showing that.
Simone: We do online company class.
Jared: We’re doing this thing called ‘Be Unidos’ on social media every week. Every day we have a phrase we post, or a class for all ages. The company also has a school with 1000 students that come throughout the year, so we are doing this campaign called ‘Be Unidos’ where on Mondays, we have motivational monday, where a staff or company member gives a word of encouragement. Sometimes ballet or yoga is taught. Throughout the week, everyday, there is something. Later tonight actually, they are showing one of the pieces from our repertory on Facebook. So through this, we are still trying to impact the community the best way that we can.
Q: What is a message you would like to say to health workers on the front lines if you could?
Simone: Thank you. I know it must be so hard to see all the pain and sickness that we don't see. It's scary for you to be so close to that, and for your families that you go home to. I know you put yourself at risk to help others. It's so brave and amazing. I see even retired doctors are going in to help.
Jared: Or some people move to areas where help is needed like, doctors moving to NYC to help. There is so much we don't see that we know you have to go through, and I can't imagine seeing the numbers.
Simone: The strength you have mentally to be able to get through the days is incredible.
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.)
Jared: As we notice, many struggle more than others financially, and make the arts available at no cost. Obviously not everything all the time, but I think the arts need to be more openly shared with those who can't afford to come to a show or go to a concert. On Youtube, the musicians are doing free concerts online now. I want to see the arts open to the idea of more free concerts or performances for communities. We do that in the company often when we are on tour, whether at schools or at community centers, and their parents may not have the money to bring them to the show. We also give away tickets. During festivals, we did one outside in Colorado, and people sat on the lawn and watched our shows.