Summer Series: Candid Conversations with the Pros
Get to know Sacramento Ballet Company Artist
Isabella Velasquez grew up training in Orange County at the Maple Conservatory. At 17 she joined The Washington Ballet in DC as a trainee, and continued training at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s graduate program for two years after. Isabella joined Sacramento Ballet in 2014 where she has had the opportunity to perform many lead roles including Kitri in Don Quixote, Act 1, the lead in Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, and Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. Outside of Sacramento, Isabella has danced multiple times with The National Choreographers Initiative and Amy Seiwert’s Imagery as well as danced and choreographed for Capital Dance Project, and Ballet Project OC. When not working Isabella loves to spend time with her two wiener dogs Luigi and Leonardo!
Why did you decide to go away for the later part of your pre-professional training?
“I ended up leaving my senior year of high school because it felt like I had danced larger parts at the studio I was training at already, and that if I was going to try to make it in this field I might as well jump in. I learned A LOT that first year- I had never been around a professional company and now I was taking class every morning with one. There was the etiquette, the hierarchy, the expectations, the speed, the schedule. It really felt like a crash course of what it was like to be a professional. For example I performed in a Twyla Tharp piece, and at the time I was just learning who that was. Those opportunities just aren’t offered at all ballet schools!”
Congratulations on your debut of Odette/Odile! You've been with the company now for 9 seasons. What is it like working your way through the ranks of a company?
“Thank you! Working my way up through the company has been really rewarding. My first season as an apprentice we danced Swan Lake and I was in the corps, so it was crazy returning to the ballet 8 years later as the lead. One thing I did a lot when I wanted to be pushed into leads or certain parts more, was I would go to extra rehearsals and learn parts I was interested in and work on them in the back to take in all the information. It started with that then I would get added as an understudy, and then sometimes a second cast. When you are trying to make it up the ranks of a company, simply showing up will take you far.”
As a professional dancer, summer layoffs can be difficult to navigate. What opportunities have you engaged in during your layoff periods?
“Summer layoffs are definitely different as a professional then as a student. Usually by the time it gets to summer layoff you’re ready for a break mentally and physically, so try to really take a break.
When it comes to booking summer work I’ve noticed that a lot of it is networking. It might take a summer or two to get the ball rolling, but reach out to any contacts you have who are doing work over the summer and see if they need dancers. The more you’re able to cast your web the more opportunities will start to roll in. We all know how small the dance world is!”
EMAIL EXCLUSIVE: At The Ballet Scout, we want dancers of all backgrounds to pursue their dreams regardless of their age, level or physical ability. What is a piece of advice you would go back and give yourself when you first started auditioning (whether it be for companies, schools, or summer intensives)?
“A piece of advice I’d give myself if I was auditioning all over again is confidence is key, and timing is everything. People like to watch dancers who love to dance, are confident, and have a presence to them. You really do have to stand out in the crowd, but not necessarily with what we get tied up on like legs, feet, etc., but by presenting yourself and your dancing to the fullest.
Second is timing is everything- your dancing ability is usually only about 30% of what goes into making the decision of whether or not you get the job or school or intensive. There are so many other factors such as contract availability, only looking for apprentices, seasoned dancers, shorter dancers, who knows. It can be difficult, but you cannot take it personally- if you do not fit there, you do no want to be somewhere you are not appreciated. What ever is meant to happen will happen!"