E: How did your journey with dance begin?
PW: I began studying dance at the age of 5, starting with jazz, tap and hip-hop at my local YMCA in my hometown of Westport, CT. Ballet did not catch my interest until I saw my sister perform the role of Clara in the Nutcracker at our local ballet studio. I was mesmerised by the beautiful costumes, music, and sets. My mom enrolled me in ballet class after she saw how entranced I was after watching my older sister dance on her toes. I've been in love with ballet ever since.
E: Did you always know you wanted to dance professionally, or do you remember a specific moment when you realised you wanted this as a career?
When I was about 13 was when I started to understand what this art form meant for me, and think about whether I wanted to pursue it as a career. I attended multiple summer intensives at ABT, but it wasn't until I had the opportunity to be a super for the main company's performances at the MET opera that I knew. Just being backstage and watching the company dancers rehearse and perform made me realise that I wanted to pursue ballet as a professional career. I remember watching Paloma Herrera perform the role of Kitri from backstage, and I knew at that moment that I wanted to become someone like that one day. I wanted to bring that same joy she and the other dancers gave me at that moment, and one day give it to every audience member to inspire them.
E: Having danced with ABT since you were 10 years old, it must feel like your home by now. What are your favorite things about the ABT company?
PW: I am very blessed to have been able to grow up being a part of such a legendary company as ABT. I rehearse each day in the same studios where my journey through ABT began 10 years ago (at the young dancer summer workshop). ABT has become my home, and the people are my family. What I love about this company is the amount of hard work the dancers put into each rehearsal, not only to better themselves as artists, but to work towards being the best they can be on stage. It is so inspiring to see how this company comes alive on stage to give every single audience member a worthwhile and magical experience. What I also love about ABT is how every dancer is welcomed into the family. We all get each other’s humour, and even when we are all exhausted from long days, we always have the best time with each other on stage and off. Our careers' in ballet are short, but the friendships that we form during it will last a lifetime.
E: What’s something you always look forward to?
PW: I always look forward to our eight week performance season at the MET Opera House, from May-July. It is our longest performance period here in NYC, and it is nice to call the Met our home. It’s amazing to know that people come from all over, not just NYC, but also around the country to see us perform. Even though touring is one of the great things about being in ABT, being in New York gives me an opportunity to really be a normal person outside of the studio. It is where my life is, and I am still able to be on stage doing what I love.
E: Who inspires you artistically?
PW: Every single dancer who works hard, is kind and humble despite their position in the ballet world, is someone that should inspire all. There will always be competition, but those who stay true to themselves and learn off of others to better themselves as dancers and artists, instead of letting jealousy get the better of them. Knowing that a dancer is kind and humble, you can sense a special quality from them on stage. ABT Principal dancers Julie Kent and Xiomara Reyes portrayed just that. Both were extremely welcoming to me when I joined the company at such a young age. Xiomara and her husband (also a company teacher) took me under their wings. They pushed me to work hard and be better than myself rather than to try and be better than other dancers around me. Watching Julie and Xiomara fully immerse themselves into a character inspired me to work towards becoming a better actress and to work on getting stronger, so that one day I can inspire younger dancers like they do for me.
E: What’s a quote or saying you try to live by?
PW: This is a quote that my parents always mentioned to me when I was younger, and I always remind myself - “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.”
E: What’s something people may be surprised to know about you?
PW: I can play the guitar, and I love to sketch. Both of these things allow me to rest my mind after a long day of rehearsals!
E: What’s one of your favorite meals to cook during your down time?
PW: My mom is a great cook, and she taught me all of her recipes. I love to cook herb roasted chicken. I’ve been really into zucchini noodles, mixing it with my mom’s pesto recipe.
E: And lastly, do you have any words of advice to anyone aspiring to a career in dance?
PW: Never lose sight of who you are as a dancer, and try not to compare yourself to others. Every single dancer is unique and different from the other. You have to understand that other people may be better at certain things than you, but know that you have your own strengths and qualities that they might not have. Every dancer is critical of themselves, but don't be so hard on yourself so that it lowers your confidence. Instead of letting the self-criticism consume you, find ways to improve those areas you feel you are struggling with. Don’t let disappointment affect your performance or dedication. Brush it off, keep working hard and stay positive. And remind yourself of how lucky you are to be doing what you love each day, and let that motivate you to push yourself to do your best. You never know what opportunities will come in the future!
Interview by Elly Ford.