When I need an example of work ethic I look to my friend Asia. Her determination and ambition is balanced gracefully by her calm demeanor and happy outlook. This balance allows for a consistency in her work that can withstand the shakes and setbacks that are inevitable in any career. She's lovely. Enjoy!
Mahallia: How do you prepare yourself for a show? Any special rituals that make you feel calm and ready? Any superstitions?
Asia: To perform at my best, I start preparing for a show the night before. I make sure to get in a good dinner and at least 8 hours of sleep. On show day I like to arrive early before class so that I can work on what my body feels it needs for that day, maybe some extra stretching if I am tight or pilates exercises to help me warm up my muscles properly. Before I go on stage I like to once over my corrections for the role I am about to perform. I find that this keeps me calm and focused. Lastly, I remind myself to relax and just enjoy every moment of my performance!
M: Favorite food?
A: There are too many favorite foods of mine to choose from but I love Asian and Indian cuisines. And having been born in Tampa, I also love Cuban food.
M: Favorite fuel?
A: I find that granola and trail mix provide excellent fuel and keep hunger away during long rehearsal days.
M: Unfortunately, self-criticism seems to be ingrained in most dancers. How do you address feelings of doubt or negativity when they come creeping in?
A: When feelings of doubt or negativity arise I try to remind myself of all the things I have accomplished in my career over the things I have not accomplished just yet. The key to being a professional ballet dancer is to learn that you must take this profession day by day. Not one day in your career will define you. There will be the really good days and there will also be the bad ones, but it’s your integrity throughout each and every day that turns your self-criticism into something constructive.
M: Do you have a role model that you look up too? How have they influenced you on and off stage?
A: Maria Kochetokva. Like Maria, being a short dancer myself at 5’3”, I have always been so inspired by how she is able to move so big on stage. In my opinion, she is technically and artistically flawless.
M: Favorite ballet blooper?
A: One time when I was performing Shades in La Bayadere my veil somehow got wrapped around my face during the coda and I couldn’t see a thing. I was blindly running around in a circle at the front of the stage for a good five seconds until I was able to rip it off!
M: What part of day to day ballerina life do you most enjoy?
A: I love taking company class every morning. I feel that it is the one time in my day where I can fully focus on improving myself and forget about any stresses that are happening in my life outside of the studio. To me, technique class is one of those things that never gets easier, so it always feel like an accomplishment and a great way to start the rest of the day.
M: What brings you joy in the parts of your day that you don't devote to ballet?
A: Spending time with my family and friends. I am very lucky to live only an hour away from my hometown and family!
M: Do you have a go-to remedy for aches and pains?
A: Arnica gel is a life-saver for any injury! However, I am a firm believer that Pilates is key to preventing aches and pains. Strengthening, conditioning, stretching, and being kind to your body is the best medicine!
M: What aspect of your own personal talent are you most grateful for? What parts of ballet do you most enjoy exploring?
A: I am most grateful for not being a nervous person when it comes to performing on stage. I feel that I have never struggled with nerves before a show or during my performance, which has really helped me perform at my best, especially when dancing a role for the first time. I love working on my acting and portraying different types of characters. I am also predominately classically trained, so I find any chance I have to perform contemporary works a great challenge. I love being able to test myself with unfamiliar roles and movements.
M: Have you had a pivotal moment in your career? A moment when you gained fresh understanding, or something just clicked?
A: I joined Houston Ballet II when I was 16 and spent two years dancing with the second company. This is where I really felt the transition from being a ballet student to a professional ballerina. I don’t think all students realize what a career in ballet is really like until they get to this transition phase (second company, trainee program, apprenticeship, etc.) when they are able to experience company life firsthand. Getting to work and perform with the corps de ballet of a company as a student was a huge learning experience that really opened my eyes up to the ballet world on a whole new level. During my time in the second company I was able to perform so many different roles and experiment with different styles of dance and choreography. I realized there was so much more to ballet than just class and classical variations.
M: Any advise you wish you’d been given before joining a professional company? Any advise you still whisper to yourself on a daily basis?
A: The best advise I could give to anyone joining a professional company for the first time would be to stay hungry. Use every opportunity you get to be your absolute best, no matter how big your role may be. Be open minded to changing up your dance style. Take risks, ask questions, and learn from watching the seasoned dancers work and perform. Remember that YOU, and only you, can make yourself into the dancer you have always wanted to be!
Photos 1, 2, and 3 by Oliver Henry Endahl, 4 by Ballet Zaida, 6 by Jaime Lagdemeo, 7 and 8 by Ballet Zaida,