Dancer Voices

"I Dance Because I Have Wanderlust"

Rogers dancing with Atlanta Ballet in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Roméo et Juliette. Photo by Charlie McCullers, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

If there was life before dance, I don't remember it. My earliest memory is of watching my sister's dance recital and seeing the children in the piece before hers dressed in bumblebee costumes. I knew then I had to start dance lessons so that I, too, could parade around in glorious black and yellow, and wings, oh, the wings! My mom signed me up the next week (there are no easier ways to procure a bumblebee costume, I guess), and here I am almost three decades later.


Growing up, nearly everyone I loved most in the world danced, and that's also true today. Dancers are filled with a vitality and a whimsy that I love being around. The ballet studio is a tough environment, but the friendships forged there last a lifetime. There is a beautiful transcendence that sometimes happens when you share a stage with those you hold dear. Once, when I was on tour with Atlanta Ballet doing Ohad Naharin's Minus 16, there was a moment before we started that iconic chair dance, standing in a semicircle, when I felt the energy of all the other dancers onstage and I knew they felt it too.

"I dance because I have wanderlust,

and not just geographically."

Royal Swedish Ballet dancer Alessa Rogers

I dance because I have wanderlust, and not just geographically. Yes, ballet has allowed me to travel the world, but it has also let me live more than one life. I've been a gypsy and a princess, a fairy and a crazy person, a vampire and a courtesan and a star-crossed lover. Being all of these things in one lifetime—it's more than most people can ask for. And it's not just acting. When we're onstage, we truly do experience those emotions. For those couple hours, we are those people. We feel their love, and their pain.

Ballet has become an identity I'm not willing to shed. True, it's all I've ever tried, but I would live this life again and again.

Now if I could just get that bumblebee costume.

In Memoriam
A flyer showing Alberto Alonso, Fernando Alonso, Benjamin Steinberg and Alicia Alonso. Photo courtesy the author

Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.

My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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Hansuke Yamamoto in Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker at San Francisco Ballet, which features an exciting and respectful Chinese divertissement. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

It's Nutcracker time again: the season of sweet delights and a sparkling good time—if we're able to ignore the sour taste left behind by the outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed in the second act.

In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."

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Dance & Activism
Allegra Bautista in Nevertheless, by ka·nei·see | collective. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.

"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.

With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.

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