Boys Can Do It Too: Interview with Danny Perez and Chris Miller

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        Danny Perez (left), Christopher Miller (right)

These guys can probably jump higher than your favorite basketball player and they can lift you over their head. They’re not afraid to tell you they’re ballet dancers.

Danny and Chris are full-time students at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. They take technique classes every day (on top of their academic classes), and they perform with the Dance Theatre of Santa Fe.

“There are days when we dance more than we sleep,” says Chris. “When we’re rehearsing for a show, it’s like – wake up, dance, eat, dance, sleep, repeat. It’s hard work, but it’s so rewarding.”

They were both recently accepted to the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance program at Florida State University.

So, what do you guys do with dance?

CM: I’ve done a lot of freelance work with companies in Tampa and Gainesville, and I’m always performing with DTSF [Dance Theatre of Sante Fe]. What I’d really like is to become an equity performer, or to have a contract with a company. Right now I’m working on finishing my degree at SF and then moving to Tallahassee to attend FSU.

DP: I have one more semester with Santa Fe before I start working on my BFA. Eventually, I want to do the same thing: company or equity performer. Really, it doesn’t matter to me where I am or who I’m with as long as I get to keep dancing.

How is ballet different for men vs. women?

DP: Men are like a commodity in ballet because there aren’t a lot of us. Teachers usually want to take advantage of the fact that we can partner so we sometimes wind up doing more than the girls.

CM: Our training is also a little different. There are some steps that are traditionally done only by women and some that are done only by men. Men are expected to jump higher, and we definitely need more upper-body strength because we need to be able to lift. Sometimes we get to take special men’s classes just to focus on those areas.

What about the stigma of ballet being for girls?

DP: Honestly, when kids used to tease me for doing ballet, it motivated me. I used it as ammunition to work harder and get stronger. If you’ve ever taken a ballet class then you know it’s not for wimps. Every single class, guys and girls are walking out drenched in sweat, and you’re sore pretty much all the time. It only looks so easy because we work so hard to make it that way.

CM: And think about it, you’re catching and lifting beautiful women over your head. Name something more manly than that.

What is it like being the minority in your field?

CM: It’s awesome. Strong male dancers are always in demand and there’s always an opportunity to partner someone. I love when there are a lot of guys in my class, though. You can make more interesting choreography when there is a big group of guys and girls.

DP: I think more is expected of us because we’re so few. We have to be able to do what girls can do and we also have to be ready for anything. When someone is depending on you to lift them, they’re trusting you with their career. It’s a lot of focus.

What made you decide to make dance your career and not just a hobby?

CM: For me it was when I got to Santa Fe and saw all the different kinds of opportunities that are out there for dancers. I’ve always loved dancing and I knew I wanted to keep doing it as an adult, but I didn’t really become set on finding a career until I met my teachers at SF.

DP: I’ve just always loved it, I don’t know what flipped the switch. I feel good when I’m doing it and I learn about life from dance. I have a tattoo of this quote my brother made me, and it describes how I feel perfectly: “Dancing is the most exciting form of art. The stage is your canvas, your body is your brush, and your heart is your color.”

Do you have any advice for guys who want to start ballet?

DP: Do it! Just find that thing that motivates you and use it to make yourself better. Focus on what you like about dancing and why you do it instead of what people might think of you. Then when you’re doing awesome ballet stuff that most guys can’t do, you know your passion is what got you there. And hey, girls love that drive.

CM: I say definitely try it if you think you’d enjoy it. I started when I was 10, an age where it was so uncool to be a ballet dancer, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. How I felt when I was dancing made me not care about anything outside the studio. Don’t get intimidated by what people might think and you might find something you really like.

Interview with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Dancer Michaela King!

Michaela King(1)This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michaela King, corps de ballet member with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre! At just nineteen years old, Michaela joined the company in 2014 and performed in Swan Lake, Don Quixote, La Bayadere, and George Balanchine’s Serenade. Michaela is thrilled to begin her second year with PBT next month, and she looks forward to the upcoming performances!

Adult Ballerina Project: Tell me about your dance history!  What made you want to become a professional ballerina?

Michaela King: I was five years old when I first started dancing. My mom enrolled me in classes because she thought it would be a fun creative outlet. She never thought in a million years I would fall in love with it! I took ballet, tap, jazz, and I participated in commercial dance competitions. When I was ten years old, I switched to a studio where the main focus was ballet. I realized that if I wanted to continue to dance and make a career, this is what I needed to do. That’s when I began to discover my real passion not only for dance, but specifically ballet.

A year later, I went on pointe and began to train intensely six days a week. Every summer, I went away from home to train at ballet schools around the country. After graduating from high school, I moved to be a student in the Graduate Program at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. I received my first company contract with PBT at the end of my two years of training there! It was a dream come true. This is what I had been working for my whole life. It is exciting to say that I get to do what I love every day.

ABP: What are your most memorable experiences throughout your career?

Michaela: Last season, I got to be the first shade out on the ramp for La Bayadere. That ballet is so special to me because it’s the first professional ballet I saw. I was 11 years old when I got to watch American Ballet Theatre perform it. It’s crazy to think that years later I got to be one of those girls going down the ramp doing 38 arabesques!

By far, my most memorable moment was being called into PBT director Terrence S. Orr’s office at the end of my second year as a student with the school. He sat me down, we chatted, and he offered me a contract! I couldn’t believe it, it’s a moment I will always remember and treasure.

ABP: Have you experienced any challenges during your dance career?

Michaela: Last year, I sustained multiple injuries to the bones in my feet and I was out for six months and in recovery for another three months. It was by far the hardest and most trying time I’ve had to go through as a dancer, but it made me a stronger person and I learned so much about myself.  I feel like I am more aware of my body and how to take care of it, and more mature as a person. When life throws me curve balls at me I have the confidence now that I can get through anything because it’s just temporary!

ABP: What is your focus for the upcoming season?

Michaela: Ultimately I want to have a long career and be the best possible dancer I can be. It will be my second year in the company so right now my goal is to make the most of every role and opportunity I’m given and put 100 percent into it. I want to prove myself and show my versatility as a dancer. I’m hoping to get cast in some roles out of my comfort zone so that I can push myself and grow in new ways. Ideally, it would be a dream to dance a lead pas de deux on stage.

ABP: What advice would you give to ballet students?

Michaela:

“You may be the ripest, juiciest peach, but there will always be someone who hates peaches.” Stay true to yourself and do not worry or compare yourself to other people. I think that’s what helped me to develop into my own as a dancer technically and artistically. Every dancer is unique in their own way and has their own path. Embrace it!

Image via Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

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