Artist of the Week: Lia D’Alessandro ’21

12 mins read

Lia D’Alessandro ’21 has been a pillar of the Swarthmore dance community since her first semester. She has been a part of the Rhythm N Motion dance company, Terpsichore: Dance Collective, and active in the dance department. She is a pre-med student double majoring in dance and biology.

How long have you been dancing?

When I was very little, I would watch my sister in dance class from the studio observation window in awe. This resulted in me leaping and twirling in the waiting room. My parents knew they had to enroll me in dance and so I began my first ballet classes at two and a half years old.

How did you get started?

My training did not begin to get serious until I was about eight years old. At this point, I began auditioning for summer dance intensives, which are rigorous dance programs that prepare aspiring dancers for the industry. Students often dance six to eight hours a day Monday through Friday with occasional rehearsals on the weekend. My first time attending such a rigorous program definitely left me exhausted and extremely sore, but I knew this was the art form for me. Nothing gave me the physical and emotional release of dance.

In my early teens, I became a part of the competitive dance circuit which had several pros and cons. I’m actually on the third episode of Dance Moms season one! (Ridiculous, I know — I’m just in the background with my mouth open at how crazy dance parents can be). Competitive dance culture taught me the importance of determination and commitment. I would practice for hours in my home doing my splits, routines, and turns to improve my technique.  I was motivated to become the best I could be. However, being “competitive” was truly at the core of this environment and the family-like community I once had with dance was no more.

I decided to pursue a dance education in the performing arts and this led me to attend more prestigious programs such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet School, and more. This shift from the competitive dance network to the performing arts and professional industry enabled me to develop as an artist. I started to learn so much about dance composition, dance history, and new ways of movement.  Of course, this industry is extremely competitive, but the atmosphere was drastically different and there was more focus upon individual improvement and motivation. These experiences only fueled my love for this art form and helped heal the wounds of my competitive dance experience.

How did your family/early community contribute to your experience with art?

I have been extremely fortunate to have had parents who supported all of my passions growing up. A professional career in dance is exhausting and extremely difficult. There is so much uncertainty because you don’t know whether a choreographer will like you, your style of dance, your appearance, or your personality.  Even the way you dress at your audition can dictate whether you will get the job. Regardless of all of these factors, my parents continued to support me.

When I entered ninth grade I was invited to attend the Joffrey Ballet School Pre Professional program, essentially a highschool for dancers in New York City. I would dance six to eight  hours a day while simultaneously completing my school work online. The program gave dancers incredible connections with professionals in the area. I even went and visited the studios and dormitory with my family. Eventually, I made the call to attend high school in a traditional setting due to my love of science. Regardless, I am extremely grateful and honored to have had so much support along this journey. Having the chance to make this decision on my own has been integral in developing who I am and how to make important decisions as an adult. 

What’s your favorite kind of dance?

My favorite style of dance is contemporary ballet. I received my first taste of this style at the Complexions Contemporary Ballet Summer intensive when I was sixteen years old and I’ve been in love ever since. As a short, athletically built female, I had often been boxed as a modern dancer since I do not fill the ballet figure of being tall and super lean. Contemporary ballet opened a window of opportunity for me to explore ballet and to exhibit my strength and athleticism.  This genre lets women be independent of males in contrast to the historical origin of ballet in which females depend upon men in all partner work. With so many socio-political movements today supporting female empowerment it only seems like the perfect time to challenge the origins of ballet. As an athletic, short, Asian American female, I am so excited to share a new image of what a woman can be in dance.

What dance do you do at Swarthmore? Outside of Swarthmore?

At Swarthmore, I have taken classes in ballet, pointe, modern, and African (the Umfundalai technique). I have also taken several courses in dance studies which has been incredible since my hometown does not offer academic courses in dance. Intertwining my studies in the classroom with the movement I learn in the studio has given so much more meaning and purpose to the works that I am a part of and the works that I create.

Additionally, I am a part of Rhythm N Motion dance company which is a group that aims to showcase underrepresented dance styles, particularly of the African diaspora. I have been a part of the group since fall in my first year and it has been wonderful to have this hip hop outlet along with my training in ballet. Additionally, some of my closest relationships have been made through this group and I am so, so grateful!  

I am also a part of Terpsichore: Dance Collective which is a dance group open to all individuals and supports choreographic exploration and creativity. I have loved watching people develop from beginners to incredibly talented choreographers. It’s truly never too late to become a part of this community.

How has Swarthmore impacted your experience as a dancer/artist? Is there any support you wish you had?

Swarthmore has been my first dance education experience outside of summer intensives in which I’ve felt supported to pursue ballet. My instructors, Professor Olivia Sabee and Chandra Moss-Thorne, have always had my back whether it be to simply chat about life or to plan to build my identity as a dancer. I went to the American Ballet Theater summer intensive this summer with their support! I never imagined I would attend a traditional ballet program! I feel extremely privileged to dance in such an open space that allows me to explore myself as an artist and as an individual. As I mentioned previously, I’ve been exploring the female image in ballet and this subject has been the main focus of my developing senior project. This exploration would not be possible without these two mentors.

What do you do outside of dance? Do you do any other kinds of art?

The arts have always been a best friend of mine. I trained in opera for an extended period of time growing up. I fell in love with the Broadway show Phantom of the Opera at a young age so I started lessons. People often get surprised when I sing since I’m so small!  Fittingly, I also did a lot of theater growing up. I love storytelling and there truly is nothing quite like live theater. I had so much fun and I really think theater gives a person time to self reflect and understand their identity. I’ve also taken lessons in sewing which led to me designing and creating some of my dance costumes when I did competitive dance! That was a really wonderful creative experience.  I have a great love for the visual arts, particularly painting and drawing. At this point in time, I mostly sketch but I find it super therapeutic and stress relieving. Sometimes dancing is like drawing on the floor!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think one of my favorite parts of dance is its relationship with music. I love listening to music with a multitude of rhythms. When I create movement, I try to embody the music and highlight as many rhythms and sounds that I can. I love that dance can showcase this complexity in making some of these invisible sounds “visible” to the general audience. I really love showing people what I hear in the music. After all, what’s the point of it all if we’re not willing to share the beauty of art.

Rachel Lapides

Rachel Lapides is a sophomore from New York City studying English and Psychology. She loves plants and is slowly turning her dorm room into a garden.

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