Interview: Virginia Lensi
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Q: What has been your pre professional and professional artist journey, and some challenges you have faced?

I started dancing when I was three years old. My mom put me in a dance studio because I couldn't stop dancing around the house. At eight years old, I stopped dancing to try different things — I did gymnastics and ice skating, which I was bad at. At 11 years old, I decided suddenly being a dancer is what I wanted to do. I'm from Milan. When I was 12, I got into [La Scala Theatre Ballet School]. I started my journey there and I stayed there until the sixth year of the courses, and then I did a summer intensive at American Ballet Theatre, ABT, in 2015. I received a scholarship to do the JKO School [Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School], and then was moved to the studio company and then an apprentice contract and then got into the corps three years ago. 

Q: What have been some challenges?

When I was in school, a challenge was having to build technique and finding who I was as a dancer. The teachers in Italy are harsher than in the U.S., and one of the challenges was staying mentally strong enough. Being a ballet dancer can be a challenge more mentally than physically sometimes. Just trying to find who I was as a dancer really was a challenge. When I came to the JKO School, I started to find a new approach to dance, about the love of dance and not always being perfect. I figured out that I didn't have to be perfect but be the best I could be for myself, instead of always comparing myself to other people. When I joined ABT company, adjusting to company life was very hard. In school, everyone guides you, and in the company you have to figure out your own schedule and learn a different way of dancing. In school, you do more solos and are more seen in school than you are in the corps de ballet. Trying to motivate myself each day was a big challenge; being in the corps, you have to stay in line and do things the same way. 

Q: What are some other things that you are interested in other than dance?

In addition to dance, I volunteer with Candlelighters, an organization that works with kids who have cancer and makes events for them. Then I started taking some free online courses on Coursera in leadership, women's rights, and organizational behaviors, and getting more connected with the United Nations — so my goal for my project is to connect throughout the world so everyone has access to the arts. It just started in September and is a really big process… The arts are a huge thing in connecting people, and that is what I want to do with human rights as well. How can people with disabilities access the arts in a way that is helpful for them? I also create videos on a YouTube channel where I explain different ballets to kids. A lot of the work I do is with kids because I believe they can bring the change in the future. 

Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist and a person?

The love of dance. I do what I do because I love it 100 percent, and other dancers inspire me as well. You can find inspiration anywhere. You have to take every person that comes your way as inspiration and someone you can learn from, instead of as competition. In dancing, it is hard to get to the mental state of seeing everyone as inspiration instead of competition… especially when you are young, it's easy to get upset from not getting a role, or the teacher saying something negative, or the grade you got wasn't the best — so many different things that stop you from dancing. But the fact I love it so much — that, for me, has held me throughout my journey.

Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how? and/or Have you used your art form to make a difference?

Yes, I do believe that it is a platform where social justice can be seen and heard, because I feel like every human can relate to dancing… Everyone who comes and sees a show, they are coming to watch a show to feel something… You can show it through dance — dance is a stronger message than just using a voice. 

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

The COVID-19 has definitely affected who I am as a dancer. Dancing is what I do 24/7, and it's hard to live without dance. You need space to dance, and a theater and an audience. It is something where even if you do it in your apartment, it's not the same as being on stage. It definitely affects the arts a lot. Because we perform all the time, it is hard to stay in shape and we do class everyday. It also puts a different perspective into my life. I didn't have time to see or focus on other things I enjoyed before this. If I look at it from a different perspective, I know that now I can focus on seeing who I am apart from dancing. I still do barre everyday, but it gives you more time to yourself. It is hard because we don't know what is going to happen. Our season was cancelled and because theaters are so huge for gathering, we don't know when they will be open again.

We did ‘Love and Rage.’ which was a new ballet, in the beginning of March. After that, we came back that Monday and we rehearsed for four days. That Friday, March 13, everything stopped. We were supposed to go to Chicago the next week, then Abu Dhabi, Detroit — and the touring season was cancelled. Every day we have company classes given by Carlos Lopez, who is our ballet master — we use Zoom, and everyday at 12:00pm we take a ballet class. We just do some barre and then abs, because you can't really do jumps… I also do my pilates exercises when I have time. I also got a stationary bike. I am currently by myself in my apartment in New York City. We are on standby right now — we don't know when we will begin again. I know there are other companies who have announced a proposed start time, but our company is on standby. It is so hard for international people. My whole family is in Italy, and it is very hard to deal with the fact that we are by ourselves in a different city and we don't know when we will be able to go home. All the flights are cancelled to Italy. 

My mom was telling me about the virus a long time ago. They stopped everything in Italy halfway through February, and my mom said, “This is going to be bad, NYC will be very bad,” and she told me to wear a mask and gloves, as the U.S. is not taking this seriously. The U.S. stopped everything when we were in the middle of it. My parents were so worried about me — they told me not to go to work. 

Class definitely connects the company, and the ballet master opens Zoom thirty minutes before class so we can all talk before class. I have been FaceTiming with all my friends from the company and we do FaceTime calls with three or four people. We also make up cute videos for ourselves, just doing little things and using ballet music but not to post on social media. We are planning on having dinners together over FaceTime as well. We are all still connected. You are by yourself but I don’t feel lonely because I am able to talk to everybody and have that same connection that doesn't go away even in this time. 

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?

I think there are many social changes, because we can all connect more at the same time because no one is doing much. Some events I couldn't participate in because I was working so much, so now I can participate in them. There is not much physical connection, but you can still have a connection. I talk to my family more than ever before. My two big brothers I didn't talk to much because of the time difference in Italy — I was only able to talk to people at night. Now I can actually talk to my family and build more relationships. I feel like it's not the best situation but it’s not the worst, because I can still connect and I see people connecting even more. Like I see classes online that people can connect from everywhere. It gives more visibility to dancers that you previously didn't have the chance to see or connect with.

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 hope for funding for dance. We are surviving on donors, and when things like this happen it affects everyone and it's hard to find the right fundraising to keep the company alive. I hope the government will do something about the arts. Since the arts are going more online now, it is more accessible to more people, and I hope the arts will stay accessible to more people — not just the more economically well-off people… We can't live without the arts, and I hope that the people that dont know about the importance of art will hopefully learn more about why the arts are so beautiful and important with the new online exposure of the arts.

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