Perspective: Interview with Alyseia Moné Darby, Dancer and Aerialist with UniverSoul Circus

Cover photo of Alyseia Moné Darby by Michael Pilla

Where are you from and where do you currently live?

I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and I currently reside in Atlanta, Georgia.

How and when did you get your start in dance?

My love for dance began at a very early age. I remember dancing around the house A LOT, and when the movie Barbie & The Nutcracker was released in 2001, I watched it on repeat until I memorized the choreography. I eventually started moving the living room furniture around and gathering my family in the living room to watch me perform. Whenever we had guests, I would perform for them as well. 

My mom’s friend, Ora Brown, converted her home garage into a dance studio, and my mom signed me up for tap, ballet, and twirl classes at the age of seven. I loved waking up on Saturday mornings to go to class and play with my friends. Months later, she threw us a recital in her backyard. I ended up not performing because I got stage fright at the last minute. I sat in the front row and cried, but I was happy to still earn my trophy!

What has your dance training and background been like? How did you get to where you are today?
I decided I wanted to get more serious about my dance training when I became a teenager. When I started attending New Orleans Charter Science & Mathematics High School, I joined our after school dance program each year. This is where I met Tiffany French, also known as Mama NZinga. She taught modern dance. She introduced me to Culu Children’s Traditional African Company, directed by Mariama Curry, at the age of fifteen. 

Starting freshman year, I began attending NOCCA | Riverfront’s (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) intensive every summer. Senior year, I was accepted into NOCCA’s half day program, where it became more demanding and rigorous. The conservatory’s genres included ballet, contemporary ballet, modern (Horton, Limon, Graham, Cunningham), improv, jazz, tap & hip-hop. NOCCA is where I was able to truly solidify my foundation as a young artist. 

Post-high school, I went off to Louisiana State University where I studied Theatre & Dance. One month into college, I got my first dance company contract at seventeen  years old with Of Moving Colors, under the artistic direction of Garland Goodwin Wilson. During college, I was also a back-up dancer for New Orleans Pop Singer, Alania, as well as a dance teacher/choreographer at several studios and a competition dance team, a member of LSU’s Dance Ensemble, LSU’s Legacy Hip-Hop Team, LSU’s Physical Theatre Club, and a featured dancer for a few Debbie Allen shows & New Venture Theatre Productions in Baton Rouge, LA. 

Post-undergrad, I moved to Atlanta in January of 2016 and became a member of Element Circus Troupe, founded and directed by Derrin Moore, and Atlanta Dance Connection, founded & directed by Allyne D. Gartrell and managed by Ballet Master, LeVon Campbell.

Fluid Frames TexasAlyseia Moné Darby by Fluid Frames Texas

How and when did you first get started with Aerial performance?
I joined LSU’s Physical Theatre Club in 2011. At first, I lacked upper body strength, which was super frustrating! The art was so intriguing to me, so I just kept attending the club meetings hoping to gain improvement. That same year, I was cast in my first Debbie Allen dance production, “All The Right Moves.” 

I auditioned to be an aerialist for Terry Beeman’s circus piece. I was cast as a dancer, but sadly, I was not chosen to do aerial. That moment of rejection created a fire in me, and I wanted to get better and stronger so I kept persevering! Eventually, our school club turned into an actual college course taught by former Diavolo company member, Nick Erickson.

I know that you now perform with UniverSoul Circus! How did you get involved in this company and how long have you been there? What is the environment like?
In January of 2021, I collaborated on a video project with my aerial partner at the time, Chance Hill. The footage was seen by UniverSoul Circus, and over the summer, they contacted us about performing  a duo act. Chance was unavailable at the time because he had been cast as an aerialist for Harry Potter & The Cursed Child in San Francisco. Luckily, they still wanted to hire me, and I was paired with Fresh The Clown’s member, Maeyion “Boogie” Delapierre. We toured from July to the end of November. 

It took time to adjust to the  environment because it was very different from concert dance and contemporary circus. After about a month of performing under the big top, my nerves simmered down, and I started to enjoy it more and more as the season continued. 

Alyseia Moné Darby by Paul Marcus Photos

What does a typical day in the life of Alyseia look like? 
I’m such a nomad! When I am traveling and training, my schedule can vary a lot. A typical training day will consist of my morning skin care routine, breakfast (either oatmeal or scrambled eggs with spinach), and maybe peppermint tea (my favorite). Sometimes, I meditate before I start my workout. My go to playlist on Apple Music is ‘Afro House Nation.’ I spend up to 45 minutes warming up my body, doing cardio, stretching, aerial conditioning & taking ballet barre. Aerial training lasts 2-3 hours.

My solo routine for the upcoming season with UniverSoul Circus is a combination of flying aerial silks and pointe work. My workout ends with 30-45 mins of aerial conditioning and stretching. When I’m done, I drink a plant-based protein shake and have a snack (could be a banana, granola or a muffin). For late lunch/early dinner, I love to eat breakfast. My favorite thing to cook is rosemary hash browns. The remainder of the day, depending on how I feel, I may go on a random adventure or stay in, relax, and do an epsom salt soak.

On a show day, I start getting ready about 2.5 hours before call time. I do my usual morning routine combined with 1-2 hours of doing show makeup & hair. One hour before curtain, I spend about 30 minutes warming up backstage. I get dressed 15 minutes before it’s time to go on. About 2 minutes before entering the stage, I meditate and ground my energy because it is important for me to perform with a clear heart and clear mind. 

Where do you ultimately hope to take your career as a performer? Do you have any performance goals, dream companies, or other dance aspirations?
I honestly love to take it all one day at a time. I’m extremely grateful for every opportunity I receive. I’m going to continue traveling the world and performing in as many cities as I possibly can. And I plan to continue building my acrobatic and aerial skills to combine with my dancing, so I can create more cool acts. My dream aerial act is hair-hanging.

What are some of your other interests and hobbies outside of dancing?
I love to write, mostly poetry. Fun fact: I self-published my first poetry book in August 2020, “Humbled Beginnings of a Withering Flower.” I love to paint. That’s one of my favorite off-day activities. I also love to ice skate and go on hikes every once in a while.

What is something that not many people know about you? (Can be dance-related or not!)
I’m a huge animal lover! Elephants are my favorite animal, and visiting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand is on my bucket list.

What is one thing you always keep in your dance bag?
I consistently carry my sewing kit!

What is one of your favorite on-stage memories or performances you’ll never forget, and why?
I have SO many amazing on-stage memories!! One performance I reminisce on is debuting as a Principal Dancer for Atlanta Dance Connection in the spring of 2017. I was selected to perform a work titled, “Conversations at the Glass” with Torrance Smith, choreographed by Kevin Jackson, set by Allyne D. Gartrell. We rehearsed it for at least three to four months. 

Torrance and I had cultivated an amazing friendship, chemistry, and work ethic, and we completely left it all on stage opening night. I vividly remember our director, Allyne, immediately running up to me after the show in tears, expressing how proud he was. I will never forget that moment.

Janet Howard
Alyseia Moné Darby by Janet Howard

What do you feel most proud of in your dancing or aerial skills?
I feel most proud that I’ve been able to successfully combine both my dance and aerial worlds. Obtaining both skills has taken my career to places I couldn’t have fathomed years ago. If I solely focus on dance, I will miss aerial and vice versa! If I solely focus on aerial, I miss dance. 


What’s something you’re actively working to improve upon in your performances?
I’ve been working on new aerial tricks with my circus coach and mentor, Veronica Blair. Some of them will be featured in this upcoming season of UniverSoul Circus, and the rest I will continue working on for future performances. I also take pointe privates with Ballet Mistress, Denise McClendon, to continue strengthening my pointe work. Both of my instructors are also helping improve my performance quality, stage presence, femininity, and artistry. 

What is a challenge you've faced as a dancer and how did/do you work to overcome it?
​​I had bunionectomies on both of my feet in the summer of 2018. It was a very tough and scary career decision to make because I was concerned with how I would recover. I was born with my bunions, and for years, I hadn’t experienced any issues. But, I started to feel excruciating pain that year.

I called my mom to explore my options, and she helped me schedule an appointment to see an orthopedic at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans. I was distraught when the doctors couldn’t guarantee I’d be able to successfully return to my career, but I knew something had to be done for the pain regardless of the results. My ultimate goal was being able to do pointe work again.

Post-operation, I was in a wheelchair for at least three months. Not being able to dance and climb on the silks made me feel miserable! After the pins were removed from my toes, I was in physical therapy for a couple of months, and it was extremely tough. I had trouble being barefoot for several months because I had lost so much strength.

By December, I replaced PT with ballet barre in jazz sneakers. I worked my way back into my ballet slippers by mid-January. Gratefully, I returned to performing by the end of February with Atlanta Dance Connection. Later that year, I gained the confidence to start doing pointe work again. Till this day, unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to get back my full range of motion in my toes, but I am so grateful for taking the time to go through the process. It taught me loads of patience, and I also discovered my passion for writing & painting. 


For any dancers interested in pursuing a similar path to you, can you share any words of wisdom about transitioning between dance and circus/aerial performing?
Network. Take class. See shows. Meet people. Learn as much as you can, and don’t take anything for granted! Explore, educate yourself on your interests, and make time for play time. So much discovery can come from simple improvisation. The best way to do it is to do it.

How do you #FeelGoodDanceBetter?
I #FeelGoodDanceBetter by practicing self-love everyday! I do my best to stay consistent with acts of self-care, always listening to my body & its needs.

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