Summer Series: Candid Conversations with the Pros
Get to know Cincinnati Ballet Artist
Jhaelin McQuay began dancing at the age of 11 at the Marina Del Rey Magnet School for the Performing Arts. He soon expanded his dance training at the Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy, where he found a love and appreciation for numerous styles, including hip hop, modern, tap, flamenco, contemporary, ballroom, and African. In his teens, McQuay spent his summers on scholarship at The Rock School, Bolshoi Ballet, Ballet West, and San Francisco Ballet. He performed with Ballet West’s Academy for three years before joining Cincinnati Ballet II in the 2019-2020 season. He has danced for the Oscars and has appeared on stage with Mariah Carey, Chris Brown, Raven Symone, and Debbie Allen. He has also performed works choreographed by George Balanchine, Fredrick Aston, Bruce Marks, Jennifer Archibald, Martha Graham, Lester Horton, Dwight Roden, Val Caniparoli Desmond Richardson, William Christiansen, Ohad Naharin and etc. In early 2021 McQuay’s choreography placed top five in the YAGP finals. McQuay is now in the corps de ballet with Cincinnati Ballet.
You made history a few weeks ago. Tell us more!
"Yes, I made history with a woman named Lenai Wilkerson, in a Jennifer Archibald piece called “Sit”. Lenai just joined the company this past season and is the first African American woman Cincinnati Ballet has had in over 25 years. This being said, in our last show of the season she and I got paired together for a duet, making us the first African-American couple to hit the Cincinnati Ballet stage in over 25 years! It was such a surreal experience to know I made history and also kind of crazy that it has been that long since anyone in Cincinnati has seen that (if at all). Not to sound repetitive, but it felt like such a crucial moment and I’m glad that I got to be and am a representative for that next black artist."
You’re ISSA certified. What does that entail and what benefits has that brought to your dancing?
"Funny story about my ISSA certification is that I got it during the pandemic when I was really bored and looking for different outlets to keep me in shape while making money. All it is, is a personal trainer certification. It’s come in handy in many ways, but I feel it’s has been most beneficial in expanding my knowledge about good health; what I’m putting in my body, how to correctly train my body to gain muscle, and how to give people the right information while working out so they don’t injure themselves. I feel like it’s been really helpful to my dance colleagues just because the majority of dancers look for ways to work out without looking too bulky, but do not know the correct way to go about it."
What are some highlights of your career?
“Some highlights from my career thus far would definitely have to be getting the opportunity to dance in such a vast variety of reps. I remember one of my first highlights with Cincinnati Ballet was being able to dance as a stepsister in Victoria Morgan’s Cinderella. I was only an apprentice at the time and with so many talented artists around me I felt so lucky that my artistic staff trusted me with such a big role. My next highlight would have to be, being cast in Alejandro Cerrudo’s Extremely Close. This was the first time I was chosen to be in the first cast with a soloist role in a professional company! Performing Extremely Close opened up so many more opportunities for me in the Ballet, so it’s a moment I will never forget. My last highlight will definitely have to be, going on my first tour with a professional company to California. California is my hometown, and I got to perform for my family- some of which have never seen me dance! It just felt like a full circle moment and I will definitely hold it dear to my heart.“
EMAIL EXCLUSIVE: From a tireless work ethic to being a “Joy Generator” you bring an energy that makes people want to work with you. How do you show that in your auditions or to a choreographer casting a piece? How can someone auditioning show their personality? Any other audition advice you may have?
“In my experience, my biggest piece of advice would be to believe in yourself. It’s so easy to get in your head when you’re auditioning, but you have to take a moment and realize you’re in the room for a reason. You’ll always be surrounded by incredible artist while auditioning but it’s about what you can bring to the table, so you can’t hold back. Any moment could be your moment if you make it! Another thing I do is wear a cute outfit because if I look good, I feel better while I’m dancing. Lastly, I would say showcase your artistry, and whatever that means to you. Your own personalize artistry is always something that will make you stand out from others."