Fogo (with Denys Cherevychko) in Vienna State Ballet's new full-length Sylvia, which was created on her. Ashley Taylor, Courtesy Wiener Staatsballett

The Kinesthetic Multilingualism of Nikisha Fogo, Vienna State Ballet First Soloist

Nikisha Fogo dances with a rare kinesthetic multilingualism. The recently promoted Vienna State Ballet first soloist moves adroitly from the purely classical Le Corsaire to George Balanchine's Tarantella to Wayne McGregor's Eden | Eden as if all were her first language. Though her meteoric rise has caught the eye of the ballet world, she dances with the abandon and joy of a woman unaware of how extraordinary she is.


Ashley Taylor, Courtesy Wiener Staatsballett

Company: Vienna State Ballet

Age: 24

Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden

Training: Royal Swedish Ballet School and the Royal Ballet School

Accolades: 2010 first prize at Stora Daldansen Nordic Baltic Ballet Competition in Falun, Sweden, and 2010 first prize at the International Classical Dance Contest in Grasse, France

Ashley Taylor, Courtesy Wiener Staatsballett

The key to her versatility: Fogo's parents opened Sweden's first hip-hop dance school, and she trained in hip hop, tap and jazz before she began studying ballet seriously at 10 at the Royal Swedish Ballet School.

"I'm not just dancing ballet when I'm dancing. I'm just dancing. Period," she says.

Breakout moment: After she performed the principal role in Balanchine's Theme and Variations as a soloist in April 2018, director Manuel Legris chose her to dance the titular role in his new Sylvia.

A curtain call surprise: Legris announced her promotion to first soloist, the company's highest rank, onstage after Sylvia. "I was in shock!" says Fogo. "There are a lot of people who get to dance principal roles but don't get promoted straightaway. Sylvia was my first full-length principal role, so I really didn't expect it."

Ashley Taylor, Courtesy Wiener Staatsballett

The complexity of color: The need for better representation of black ballet dancers is not lost on Fogo, nor is the reality that "colorism" (discrimination based on skin tone) affects women more. "I identify as mixed race/black," says Fogo, who is half Swedish-European and half Jamaican. "It's tricky: I feel really happy that I can represent for the brown ballerinas, but then I look at my skin and I'm the most pale person ever!"

What her director is saying: "Nikisha is a natural talent, with a great sense of musicality," says Legris. "She has impressive technique and a rare presence onstage."

Fogo's philosophy: "I make sure I am having fun! You can always tell if someone is enjoying what they are doing onstage," she says. Having a sense of humor is key. She's even posted a video of herself falling in performance. Laughing, she admits, "I have gotten quite good at saving myself."

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TaraMarie Perri in tree pose at Storm King Art Center. Photo by Sophie Kuller, Courtesy Perri

5 Self-Soothing Exercises You Can Do to Calm Your Anxiety

Physical stillness can be one of the hardest things to master in dance. But stillness in the bigger sense—like when your career and life are on hold—goes against every dancers' natural instincts.

"Dancers are less comfortable with stillness and change than most," says TaraMarie Perri, founder and director of Perri Institute for Mind and Body and Mind Body Dancer. "Through daily discipline, we are trained to move through space and are attracted to forward momentum. Simply put, dancers are far more comfortable when they have a sense of control over the movements and when life is 'in action.' "

To regain that sense of control, and soothe some of the anxiety most of us are feeling right now, it helps to do what we know best: Get back into our bodies. Certain movements and shapes can help ground us, calm our nervous system and bring us into the present.

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