Why I Dance: Samantha Klanac

November 29, 2011




Samantha Klanac has all the freshness and versatility you’d want from a dancer who performs in almost every ballet of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. This tiny, 10-member company is known for its bold contemporary fare that ranges from Tharp to Jorma Elo, from Kylián to Nicolo Fonte. Klanac darts through the repertoire with clarity and precision, but underneath that speedy exterior, there’s a sensuous lyricism that makes her a satisfying dancer to watch.

Klanac grew up in Orchard Park, NY, and trained at the Chautauqua Institution, the American Academy of Ballet, and the School of American Ballet. She attended SUNY Purchase College Conservatory of Dance before joining ASFB in 2002. She recently completed her BA from SUNY Empire State College, and, even more recently, got married.


When I was 5 years old, my parents took me to my first dance class. This new experience engaged my senses as never before. I still can remember the feeling of my feet squished into my new leather ballet shoes as I ran across the floor. I felt determined to match my reflection in the mirror to the teacher’s, and the thrill became even stronger with the thought of a performance (even if it was in my living room). The studio atmosphere gave me an internal joy that I wanted to share with my new friends. As I start my 10th season with ASFB, I realize the reasons why I dance haven’t changed all that much.

The common theme I have found in my career is process. When ASFB offered me a contract at 18, my eyes were opened to the world of contemporary ballet and creating new works. I value the way a choreographer can bring something new out of me. While working with Cayetano Soto on Uneven, he pushed past what I thought were my physical limits to create an emotional piece through aggressive physicality. In his intense rehearsals, I’d been focused on reaching the maximum positions when Cayetano asked me to “be a little bit more like you are at Cache Cache,” a popular Aspen restaurant. I was initially confused, but I soon understood that Cayetano wanted me to engage the parts of my persona that he witnessed in a social setting. Part of his intention was achieved by what I could instinctually bring from my personality into Cayetano’s concept.

During the creation process for Jorma Elo’s Red Sweet, Seth DelGrasso and I were working on a pas de deux with somewhat disjointed and quirky movement, yet Jorma described it as “very romantic.” He asked me to consider the image of a “wedding cake topper”—plastic smiling figures, maybe not as inwardly content as they seem. This was a brilliant way to create a relationship between Seth and me without being literal in the movement. It fascinates me that through these intimate moments in the creative process we’ve devised a secret and the audience will only see the outcome. 

Being onstage is invigorating. I wonder what else in life could possibly create this same adrenaline rush. Although managing the mental battle of nerves before a show can be draining, the beauty of a live performance is that it keeps going, for better or worse. Once I pass from the wings to the stage, I can either overthink the movement or be confident in my ability. I admit, sometimes my nerves get the better of my judgment, and I’m convinced I can even hear the audience talking about me while I’m onstage. 

The shows where I take control of nerves, hold a surprise balance, or share a spontaneous glance with a colleague evoke the exhilaration I crave. When onstage, there are moments I feel as if the world around me has stopped and the piece we are performing is the only thing happening. Other times I feel that each movement I do has a subtle effect on everything near me, and that I am making an impact on the audience. 

When the curtain went up on my story over 20 years ago, my passion began. Although I don’t know when I will take my final bow, I do know that until then, I will strive to put myself back into the mind of that 5-year-old girl who fell so innocently in love long ago.



Photo by Lynn Goldsmith.