One of the reasons why I love New York City is not just because of the quantity of people, artists, and hot dog carts here but because of the quality.
Except maybe the hot dogs. They are always bad.
New York City is home to some of the finest dance companies, choreographers and schools from across the globe. Just check this list from College Magazine, listing the top 10 dance schools in the US. I went to 2 of them! Through the graduate Dance Education program at NYU Steinhardt, I met a fellow student who would become my friend, collaborator, and artistic inspiration.
Danielle Schwartz- better known as Dasha- was a standout in our ballet pedagogy classes at American Ballet Theatre, a beautiful performer in our many concerts, and choreographed a stunning contemporary ballet piece for our 2017 Choreography Concert. Dasha is dancing as a soloist in my work for which I received a Steinhardt Research and Creative Project Grant upon graduation. We’ll be performing in May.
I was thrilled to ask her a few questions about her life before coming to NYU and what she plans to do next.
1. Tell me about your training/ experience before coming to NYU
Before finding myself moving to NYC, to pursue a Masters in Dance Education from NYU I had spent my life training to be and as a professional ballet dancer. I started my professional training at Canadas National Ballet School at the age of 10. This school is an international elite training program accepting only 20 students per grade from all over the world. Most students lived at the school at the residence but I was fortunate enough to live at home since I grew up and lived in Toronto.
The schedule was rigorous, from 8:15 am to 6:30 pm, 6 days a week we had academics and ballet classes in one facility. Each year we had to re-audition for the following grade, which meant not only were we competing with our classmates for our spot at the school but with dancers auditioning for our place on their international audition tour. By the time I reached grade 12, the final year, I was amongst only 5 others whom had been a part of my original class starting in grade 6.
While my time at Canadas National Ballet school was obviously challenging physically, emotionally and mentally, I loved every minute of it. And at the age of 17, I moved to Europe to become a ballerina and make ballet my life. I had gotten accepted to Dutch National Ballet Academy in Amsterdam, and that is where I spent the next two years continuing my training, rehearsing and performing.
I decided to move back to Canada after my time there and spent a year in Montreal and a year at Alberta Ballet company in Calgary. That is where I applied and got accepted to NYU and is what brought me to New York City.
2. Tell me About dance as a life pursuit- teachers who encouraged you, the moments you realized that this is what you wanted to do, memories of music or performance
At first I was drawn to the challenging and competitive nature of ballet. It is by no means easy, and is an art form where perfection is unattainable. While this led to a lot of frustration it was really the driving force for me to continue working at it and improve. Overtime that drive turned into passion, I wasn’t just working to accomplish a task, impress my teacher or supersede my classmates, I was working for myself because I loved it.
That shift came to me as an epiphany when I was around 14. I got moved to a higher level with all the most talented dancers in the grade (of which I was at the bottom) and remember thinking to myself that I could really do this as a career. This was Mrs. Timashova’s class. This would be the first year of four that I would have with her as a teacher and a mentor. She was incredible and if I were to pick one teacher whom I owe my dance career to, it is her. She believed in me and pushed me much further than I knew I was capable of.
3.tell me about challenges- in early years, in health, in injuries, in opportunities, in support, here in ny, in the dance world at large
There are several challenges that accompany ballet training, whether it be not being able to get a step, or not being cast for a role you really wanted, and having to dance on blistered toes etc. But those were temporary challenges that with practice and persistence Id be able to overcome.
The struggle I faced continually and still do to this day, is body image. I felt the “ideal ballet body” was unachievable for me, and that no matter how hard I worked for it, it was out of my control. I know many dancers feel this way, but it was absolutely amplified by the setting of my training, staring into mirrors everyday in tight fitted uniforms next to dancers whom in my eyes had the most perfect physique. It is hard not to compare oneself, especially at a time of puberty at times what your bodies did and looked like really was out of your control. I felt the pressure from my teachers to constantly lose weight but when you dance all day and don’t eat much it seemed like an impossible task.
4. Tell me why New York is a good fit for you/ support and opportunities you’ve had here
I have always wanted to live in New York City. To me this place is what dreams are made of and I didn’t care how I did it, I just knew that I needed to live here. New York City is incredibly inspiring, the work created here and the artists who perform here are the best in the world. It is an absolute privilege and luxury to be among such talent. New York City is a good fit for me because the rhythm of the city is so motivating. The hustle and bustle of everyone rushing to work really drives me to work harder and strive for more.
5. why is dance still your life pursuit, what are goals you have as an artist, what makes challenges you faced or continue to face worth the effort.
I believe my journey as a dancer is just about to begin, I am finally at a place where I feel really in tune with my body and my movement. I have so much that I want to create, express and share in this art form. I think the struggles I have faced and challenges overcome have completely shaped who I am as a dancer and as a person. The determination, persistence and work ethic I have learned over the years, I apply to everything I do. Drawing from the world and people around me as a source of inspiration for my work I use in my teaching, choreography and dancing.
As an artist I aim to continue to grow, continue to find new ways to express myself and to continue to create more work in accessible and innovative ways, sparking the love of dance in communities who don’t have the access of privilege of it in their daily lives.
More Bodies Never Lie Interviews:
- Esther Mignoni- from Underdog to American Ballet Theatre Mentor
- Chisa Yamaguichi– Adrenaline Junkie (Diavolo)
- Adrienne Howard– Rockette to Broadway
- Xin Lili– Artistic Director of the Shanghai Ballet
- Ingrid Silva- Dance Theatre of Harlem
*I also turned amazing photos of her into dancer candles/ Dandles.
Pillar size available in the art shop. Email Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org for orders of the Dasha Dandle or special order one of your favorite dancer, teacher, student.
A lot of talented people flock to New York like the huge quantities of pigeons crowding the parks. It is becoming increasingly difficult for these talented people to obtain Visas to extend their time here in the United States. They help make the city the multicultural, magical place that it is.
And unlike all of those dirty pigeons, I want them here. Especially artists as incredible as Dasha. Let’s all wish her well for her Visa application.