How and when did you get your start in dance?
I started dancing when I was about three years old. My mom was a ballet teacher and production manager, so I was always around dance; I loved it! She even taught my first ever ballet class. The arts are a huge part of my family, and from a very young age, I knew I wanted a career in it.
I know you recently received the Rising Star Award this year at the Universal Ballet Competition, as well as winning second place in the Classical Division and seventh in Contemporary- Congrats! Can you tell us about your favorite memory from a competition?
It’s hard to pick a specific memory, but I always love taking classes from amazing teachers such as Christina Johnson, Desmond Richardson, and Talia Favia. Every teacher is so inspiring. I am so grateful to get to learn and take classes at each competition and to dance alongside so many wonderful dancers, as well.
Do you have any funny or embarrassing stories from the stage or studio?
This year (pre-Covid), we held an in-studio show to help prepare for competition. During our group piece, my friend and I got a little too close, and we ended up slapping each other’s hands and making a loud smacking noise in the middle of the dance! Although no one was hurt, everyone knew. It was embarrassing at first, but we definitely had a good laugh afterward.
How have you been able to keep up your technique over the past few months? What dance-related precautions or adjustments have you had to take due to Covid-19?
At first, I used my basement as a small studio to take classes. I was very fortunate to be able to get a small piece of Marley to dance on, but I didn’t do any jumping because there is concrete under our floors. I also did cross-training to help build my stamina and strength. HITT workouts and pilates were my favorites. I was very lucky to be able to start training back in the studio during the summer with lots of safety precautions.
What is one product in your dance bag that you can’t live without!?
One product I can’t live without is my lacrosse ball. It helps target specific muscles that I want to roll out. If I have had a long day of dancing, it helps relieve soreness from my feet.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received (dance or non-dance), and from who?
The best advice I ever got was from my mom. She always told me to do my research before going into an audition, masterclass, new school, etc. It is always a good idea to learn about the people at the front of the room so you can know who they are, what they teach, and what they are looking for in a dancer.
Layla Mandigo © Vam Productions
What is an element in your technique that you would like to improve the most? What are you most proud of in your dancing?
I definitely would like to improve my upper body. Keeping the energy reaching through my arms and hands has been a weakness of mine. I am most proud of and grateful for my flexible feet. I was very fortunate to be born with naturally bendy feet, but that means I have to put in a lot of extra work to strengthen them to prevent rolling over my box and to keep my ankle stable.
What is something interesting that people might not know about you?
Something most people don’t know is that everyone in my family has done something in the arts. My mom danced and taught ballet, my dad was an opera singer and took a few dance classes in college, and my brother was a competitive contemporary and tap dancer when he was younger. My brother and I actually performed a lyrical duet at our elementary school talent show!
What do you do as a dancer to take #FeelGoodDanceBetter and take care of your body on a daily basis?
To #FeelGoodDanceBetter, I always stretch at the end of the day. Not only is it great to work on flexibility, but I also find that it helps my body recover for the next day and not be as stiff.
Do you think it’s important to have dancewear/shoes that match your individual skin tone?
Yes! Your lines look cleaner, and you look more natural when your leg-wear matches your arm color.
Who inspires you, and why?
The person who inspires me most is Ms. Theresa Ruth Howard. Not only was she an amazing dancer, but she also is the founder of Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet (MoBBallet). The work she has done in and outside of the ballet world is incredible. I aspire to be an advocate for other dancers just like she has been an advocate for me. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and being mentored by Ms. Theresa, and all the amazing advice and information she has given me is something I will cherish forever.
Ms. Howard sounds like an incredibly inspiring woman! How did you two meet, and in what specific ways has she helped you?
I met Ms. Theresa Ruth Howard at the MoBBallet Symposium in 2019. She taught several of the workshops, including 'The History of Blacks in Ballet' and 'Managing Your Social Media'. She also moderated the Town Hall discussions between the professionals and the students. Since then, I have kept in touch with her. She has given me lots of advice and guidance on not just how to choose a good ballet school, but also why to choose a specific program. She has also been an advisor for my parents on how to navigate the ballet world and help me succeed.
What’s something you struggle with as a dancer?
Something I struggle with as a dancer is comparing myself to my peers. It’s so easy to start comparing yourself to the people you are around the most, but I constantly remind myself that as long as I am trying my hardest and focusing on my own personal goals, then that is all that matters.
What’s next for Layla? What are your short term and long term plans or goals? Do you have a dream company you’d love to join someday?
I do have very exciting plans for this year. It is news I have not shared publicly yet, but if you follow me on Instagram, you will find out within the next few months! My long term goal is to one day dance professionally with San Francisco Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, The Royal New Zealand Ballet, or the National Ballet of Canada.