Why I Dance: Francisco Graciano

March 7, 2017

Watching Francisco Graciano fly across the stage in Paul Taylor’s
Airs, or embrace his inner vaudevillian in Also Playing, reminds you that energy and personality can turn a good performance into a memorable one. Graciano, 32, joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2006. A native of San Antonio, TX, Graciano received scholarships to Stephens College, The Ailey School, and The Taylor School. He danced with TAKE Dance Company, Connecticut Ballet, and Ben Munisteri Dance Company before finding a home at Taylor 2 in 2004. In the years since, Graciano has added subtlety and wit to his performances. This past year has seen a deepening of expression, noted by several critics at the end of the company’s recent New York City Center season. Behind it, Graciano reveals here, lies a poignant reason. Even in the face of his father’s fatal bicycle accident, dance carried him through and helped reinvigorate his love of life.

Above: Photo by Tom Caravaglia, Courtesy PTDC.

In the weeks following my father’s sudden death I began to question my life and the relevance of my profession. In losing him I also lost a giant chunk of myself. My father was grooming me to be the next storyteller of our family’s rich heritage. Who was going to teach future generations the songs, legends, and history of our Mexican culture? I just couldn’t take seeing my siblings’ children grow up without this opportunity. I returned home for Christmas and decided that I would leave New York in a year to be with my family. This decision was real and I was ready to deal with the consequences. My mind was made up.

The day before I was scheduled to return to New York City, a Facebook friend congratulated me on being included in Dance Magazine’s 2009 “25 to Watch.” Unaware of the accolade, I ran to a bookstore and stood there staring at my picture until I realized something: This honor was a message from my dad encouraging me to continue dancing. Just as he did when he was alive. When I handed the magazine to my sister she noted the dancer on the adjacent page was named Ricardo—our father’s name. Knowing that my father was there to assure me I was contributing to the world in a valuable way gave me the strength and courage I needed to become a better performer.

My memories of him came flooding back. He was always reminding us of our childhood in one of the most neglected and dangerous districts of San Antonio. He told us of friends he still knew from the old neighborhood who expressed their pride that a Mexicano from the south side made it in New York. His reports of how my story inspired them always put me back in a positive state of mind. My outlook was reshaping. I saw this as a new opportunity to inspire people. If I quit now I would be doing a disservice to my family, God, and most of all, my dad.

I dance because I know I’m having a unique effect on the world. Following your bliss is not always the easiest route, but my dad raised me to believe that it was the only way to realize life’s highest rewards. In ancient times people danced as a way to reach a spiritual zenith. There was something about dance that no other human activity could provide. In the trance dances of the San people in southern Africa, the men dance to the clapping and singing of the tribal women. Through a series of intense movements a man may collapse with exhaustion and enter into a trance state. This is where they enter “God’s place,” visit with deceased ancestors, then return to the earth with the power to heal the sick. I feel a sense of pride and fortune knowing I’m a part of something that has been so essential to human enlightenment for eons. In my years of dancing Paul Taylor’s works I often find myself in the ecstasy of peak experiences onstage—when the limits of time have no hold on me.

My father taught that living a life doing what you love should involve an awareness of those whose dreams are beyond their reach. So I also dance for those countless souls who don’t have the luxury of expressing themselves professionally through the purest craft on earth. I dance not just for my friends back home and for my father, but for everyone everywhere.