From Huntington Beach to Alvin Ailey
Dance is a Revelation for Danica Paulos
All those years being driven by her grandmother back and forth on the 405 from her Huntington Beach home to dance practice in Santa Monica were worth it for Danica Paulos. She’ll be among the principal dancers when Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater comes to Costa Mesa for six performances this month, plus a free Arts Plaza performance, “Revelations Celebration,” aimed at introducing audiences to some of the most iconic choreography from the company’s famed founder.
In 2010 Paulos left Huntington Beach High School in her senior year because her talent merited entrance to New York’s Professional Performing Arts School, where she graduated with honors, and then trained on scholarship at The Ailey School. When she was selected to join the company last year, Dance Magazine named her one of the dance world’s “25 to Watch,” calling out her “rare blend of attack and willowy elegance.” But what’s this California girl really like? We get to know this homegrown talent:
Coast: Like ballet dancers, do modern dancers tell each other “merde” before stepping on stage because of the old superstition that wishing each other luck is bad?
Danica Paulos: We do! We also say “toi toi.” It’s bad luck to say “Good luck” and even worse luck to say “Thank you.”
Coast: What made you want to be a dancer?
DP: It was an innate love. Honestly, my grandma took me to see a “Nutcracker” at a local dance studio in OC when I was 5. During the intermission, the story goes, I was running up and down the aisle just dancing like a crazy little kid. She says that’s when she realized something was going on with me and dance. Even other people in the audience were saying, “You need to get her into dance classes!” Grandma has been my support, my motivation, the one to push me, at times even force me to go to dance, because she saw my potential and the fact that I really did want this. My mother struggles with addiction and other issues, so Grandma and my grandpa, Sandra and Terry Paulos, raised me. She will be at every single show in Costa Mesa! She knows everyone in the company by name.
Coast: Fill in the blank: For a California girl, living in NYC is:
DP: Oh, my god … horrifically cold all the time. It is so crazy. Something I can’t stand is that I can never see the sun. It’s covered up by all the skyscrapers, and then when it is out in the afternoons, I am in rehearsal. And oh, my goodness, never being near the beach! Where I grew up is literally five minutes from the beach. I could smell the ocean from my room. True, in New York there is the Atlantic and the Hudson River, but not being close to a body of water that I can actually swim in is not the same.
It is a complete lifestyle change, but I do know that, even though it was so difficult, this is where I have to be to achieve what I want. Still, if I could do what I do in California, I would be so happy.
Coast: Few dancers in Alvin Ailey II – made of younger dancers – graduate to the company. What does dancing in such a famous company as Alvin Ailey mean to you?
DP: My grandpa likes to say, “You are in the big leagues, the Olympics of dance.” It is a lot of pressure. We have a lot to carry with the legacy of Alvin Ailey, the reason why he started the company; it is his blood memories. But when we get on that stage we know we truly inspire people. It is about showing the audience their potential of what they can be, because we are dancers, yes, but we are just human bodies. Dance, movement, connection, is universal, an art that everyone can relate to. You can go to a museum and might not get a painting, but if you see a human body moving it is a little more relatable somehow. It is hard, but it is truly rewarding. That is what helps me get through everything. It may sound like a cliché but it really is a dream come true.
Coast: What are some things you are looking forward to doing when you’re home? Surely it can’t be all work!
DP: I am definitely going to be at Fiesta Grill and Chronic Tacos to get my taco on! I’m going to take a bunch of dancers to the beach and give them the whole California experience. My roommate and I are going to stay at my house in Huntington Beach, and my grandparents will let me drive their car so we can go around and do stuff – look at cute surfers! – and, oh my gosh, my friends are all coming to the show! I think they’ll be 60 people at one show on Saturday. To be performing 15 minutes from where I was born is incredible.
Coast: OK, well, merde to you!
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs April 3-10 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa :: scfta.org