Noelani Pantastico in David Dawson's Empire Noir. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

"Dance Gave My Life Meaning Before I Knew I Needed Meaning in My Life"

Apparently, it all started at a pizza shop in New Hampshire. I was monkeying around, brimming with nervous energy. A stranger approached my mom and said, "You know, you really ought to put her in some dance classes."


I was born on Oahu to a Hawaiian-Filipino father and an Aussie mother. My late father would play the ukulele in his spare time, while I'd imitate whatever form of hula I could grasp at that point. He unknowingly taught me about rhythm and music, and is a big part of why I gravitated towards dance.

We moved every couple years across various states. I did whatever activities my mother could afford, trying out gymnastics or soccer. Being one of six kids, we mostly just had each other and lots of housework. I craved consistency and a place to feel rooted. I developed anxiety, literally pulling my hair out while obsessing over small things, which I suppose helped me feel like I had a sense of control. Looking back now, I see how lost I was.

Pantastico in Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer.

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Then at 11, I started attending the renowned Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Nothing had come close to how dancing made me feel. The late director Marcia Dale Weary gave me structure and positive reinforcement, with goals to be better. She made me see and hear beauty daily, things that I hadn't felt consistently since my Hawaii days. Dance gave my life meaning before I knew I needed meaning in my life.

Dance has always made difficult times more bearable—without question, saving my life. I have several years left before I hang up my shoes, but now I'm finding other ways to contribute to the art form. I formed Seattle Dance Collective with James Moore to create opportunities for artists to come together. I have a bucket list of choreographers I'd like to work with (or work with again), and if my own list doesn't get fulfilled, then at least I can provide these powerful encounters for others.

Pantastico and Seth Orza in George Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

We need art in our lives to survive. It's something primal. I see it when people listen to music or look at paintings. When people are being creative. When people dance. I feel very lucky to give back to an art form that has shaped my existence so beautifully.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

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What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

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Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

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Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

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