I’ve never felt like a part of the ballet world. I love ballet. I love watching ballet, I love working with ballet dancers, but I’ve never felt welcomed into the ballet world. I never danced for Disney so I never felt like a part of the Orange County ballet scene (but I did dance for Ballet Pacifica). I never enjoyed taking class in Santa Monica (parking was never fun) so none of that scene knew who I was. I came up too late to take with Stanley and the other big LA spot…(did I mention how I need good parking?).
So I’ve had feelings of otherness in my work life and personal life for a long time. The ballet world can do that to you, even if it doesn’t mean to. I’m not a statuesque man so just getting an audition for some companies was a challenge.
There were things along the way that exacerbated feelings of otherness. When I started, I was the only boy in my class. Among the students at my school, there was lots of encouragement. Among the girls in my class (many of whom I was much older than), I was an interloper and they made it known from time to time.
As I started my career as a choreographer those feelings of otherness continued. I was told I wasn’t contemporary enough. I wasn’t this enough, that enough. The company seems to exist in the same void that I did as a dancer. Not Orange County, not LA enough.
All this, on top of being observed through the lens of the otherness of my ethnicity. Presenting as white but never feeling white. Not having the language or the cultural reference points of many that consider themselves authentically Mexican, Mexican-American, or heavens to Betsy, Chicano. Wanting to be Chicano, but never being Chicano enough.
I teach a lot of students of color these days. Most didn’t have the privilege of having the money for classes at a private studio or families that supported their artistic inclinations. Most of the time I’m pretty happy showing them a face that isn’t an explicitly old white lady. I often get the question (especially when I slip in a Spanish phrase or two), “What are you?” What I am is my identity, I’m no longer letting others define what I am and whether I’m enough of anything for them.
Pocho, Chicano, surf bum who can’t surf. I am those things. I am also a ballet artist that is deeply invested in helping people understand the science and art of ballet. I do my best to make all feel welcome and my greatest achievement as an instructor is not the students that I see in professional companies (although that is pretty badass), my favorite achievement as a teacher is the following quote, “Thank you for helping me not hate ballet.” This is on top of the work I’ve done as a choreographer, coach, ballet master and more.