Hometown: San Juan, PR
Favorite Brands: PointePeople, Gaynor Minden, Zarely Wear, and Yumiko
Dream Roles: Kitri from Don Quixote and Lilac Fairy from Sleeping Beauty
How did you get into ballet in the first place?
I got into ballet when I was about two and a half. My Mom was working in one of the classical ballet companies in Puerto Rico. I would always sit and watch classes and rehearsals, and I fell in love with the ease and grace that the ballet dancers always had. So one day when my Mom was stuck in the office, I snuck away and walked into an advanced technique class and just sat and watched. When my Mom finally found me she was mortified and tried to take me out of the class but the teacher said that it was fine and let me stay. After that my Mom enrolled me in baby ballet classes and I have stuck with ballet ever since.
Take us through a day in the life of Naomi:
On a normal day, I wake up at 7AM to get ready for 8:30AM CrossFit training that all of us from the company take before class. Then I change and have an hour and a half of technique class followed by a 15 minute break. Then at 11:30 we start rehearsals for whatever upcoming production we have. We tend to finish around 2:30PM. Since I am an apprentice with the company if the school ever has any upcoming productions I have to stay and rehearse with the school. I end up taking another two hour technique class from 4-6PM and then we have a two hour rehearsal from 6-8PM. By the time I’m done with my long day I’m too tired to even take my pointe shoes off.
What is it like being a ballet dancer in Puerto Rico?
I feel that being a ballet dancer in Puerto Rico is just the same as being a ballet dancer anywhere else; with the exception that we can go to beautiful beaches whenever we want to year round. We all have our fair share of ballet drama and our good and bad days. One thing I can say that I feel is different in Puerto Rico is that no matter what company you go to; whether it’s ballet, modern, or contemporary, you will always be welcomed with open arms, love, and support from the people around you.
Was there any damage to your studios during this past hurricane season?
We are still without power or water, but surprisingly our studios didn’t suffer a lot of damage. We were all surprised because where the studios are at it tends to flood very easily. There was a huge tree that fell in our parking lot, and there was some water inside the reception area but luckily none went into the studios. Unfortunately, several different studios weren’t as lucky as us. A lot of places are suffering major floor damages and sunk or blown away roofs.
Tell us about the company you dance for. What roles will you be dancing this season?
The ballet company I dance for is called CODA21 which stands for Compañía de Danza del siglo 21. We are a classical and contemporary company, so we do a lot of mixed reportoire. In one of our last performances we did a suite of the 2nd Act of Le Sylphide and in the next act of the show we did several modern and contemporary pieces choreographed for the company.
Unfortunately, due to Hurricane Maria our Fall season has been canceled since we can not rehearse and the theaters in Puerto Rico suffered major damages beyond repair. We are scheduled to hopefully start the Spring season back up again in January if we can get the power up and running.
What keeps you motivated every day?
The main thing that keeps me motivated to keep dancing every single day are my people. I want to become a symbol and a role model for future Puerto Rican ballet dancers so that they know to never underestimate themselves. Puerto Rico is full of such amazing talent and people don’t know about it. I think since we are such a small island people rarely look at us or expect amazing things to come from us. I want to put Puerto Rico on the map! I want people to be able to see Puerto Rico and see all the potential that is coming out of the island. For my home to be known to the world not only as a pretty vacation spot you can go to, but as a place that has just as much potential for greatness like any other country.
What's your favorite source of healthy energy?
I would have to say pitted dates with almond butter! It’s my all time favorite snack to eat between classes and rehearsals. Not only is it full of fiber and healthy fats but it gives me the energy I need to keep going for long rehearsals.
What is something you struggle with as a dancer?
Something I really struggle with as a dancer is I’m really self-conscious of how I look aesthetic wise, ESPECIALLY my feet. I wasn’t born with amazing arches, or Iana Salenko feet. I’m flat footed so I’ve had learn to work with what I have. For me it’s a big struggle because you always see these amazing girls all over social media and in world-renowned ballet companies with amazing feet, and mentally it tears me down. Just knowing that I will never be able to look like that or be able to achieve those beautiful clean lines makes me doubt myself and it affects my dancing. I always have to pull myself out of the black hole mentality and take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Not everybody’s perfect! Everybody is unique in their own way and you have to learn to be yourself and embrace what you have and learn how to work with what you don’t.
Who has been your most influential teacher?
I would have to say that my most influential teacher has been my coach Lara Berrios. She has been with me through thick and thin. She has not only supported and helped me physically but emotionally as well. I can come to her with whatever problem I have and she always gives me great advice. She is like family to me and I wouldn’t be the dancer I am today without her.
Do you have any pointe shoe rituals or pre-performance rituals?
I actually do have a couple of pointe shoe rituals. In the dressing room, we usually put on Latin music to pump ourselves up for the show. Once I’m ready I sit down in a corner and put rosin on my heels so my pointe shoes don’t slip off. Then I repeat once I have them on and apply hairspray to the areas where I put rosin. If I don’t have to do any quick changes I sew my ribbons and apply hairspray on top just in case; I have a terrible phobia of my pointe shoe ribbon coming out onstage. The theaters in Puerto Rico are intensely cold backstage so once I have my pointe shoes on I like to blow-dry my feet. I know it sounds weird and silly but it warms my feet back up again so they don’t feel like ice blocks right before the show.
What would we find you doing in your free time?
Usually in my free time if I’m not relaxing with my friends or sewing pointe shoes I’m usually reading a book.
What summer intensives have you attended?
I have attended several summer intensives over the past couple of years. From Dance Theatre of Harlem to Sarasota Cuban Ballet School. The most recent one being MODAS Dance summer intensive in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a four week dance program of contemporary and modern dance. As a classically trained ballet dancer I tend to avoid contemporary and modern as much as I can just because it’s something my body isn’t use to, but with companies all over the world having a mixed repertoire I realize you have to be fully prepared and completely versatile. Thanks to this summer intensive, I learned a lot and was able to grow as a dancer mentally. Overall, I had a wonderful experience and I would recommend this summer intensive to anyone who really wants to work on their contemporary and modern.
What's something not many people know about you?
Something that not many people know about me is that I love surfboarding. Whenever I have the free time and I can drag my friends along I love to go to the beach and surf. It really helps your balance as a ballet dancer.
Any words of inspiration for aspiring young artists?
Never doubt yourself and work hard! If you work hard and give your 110% you can achieve ANYTHING you put your mind to.
Want to keep up with Naomi? Follow her on Instagram: @nao_ballerina_15