Meet Gabriella Alleyne, 18, from New York City. She has been dancing at the Dance Theatre of Harlem since she was 10 years old. And this fall she will be going to be a dance major at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I began dancing at Church in the liturgical dance ministry. My mom was in the dance ministry while she was pregnant with me. So naturally, when I was little, I was put into the children's dance ministry, Tots for Jesus. My mom saw that I loved to dance so she put me in the Alvin Ailey School and InnerVisions Theater Arts Center. The first ballet summer intensive I did was when I was 9 at Chautauqua. When I was 10 I attended the Dance Theatre of Harlem summer intensive. From that summer intensive, I got asked to stay for the year-round program on a full merit scholarship. Over the years at Dance Theatre of Harlem, I have been able to be a part of many performance opportunities that have made me into the performer I am today. I performed at the Apollo Theatre, City Center for the Dance Theatre of Harlem company opening night, Lincoln Center Summer Stage, Disney Street Games, at Cipriani's for the Dance Theatre of Harlem Gala, and more. All of these opportunities have allowed me to grow as a dancer and fall in love with the neoclassical style of ballet.
The ballet summer intensives I have gone to over the years have all helped me grow tremendously as a dancer. I have attended the Washington School of Ballet, Miami City Ballet, the Dallas Conservatory, and the Ballet West summer intensives. I have taken away so much from each program I have attended.
We're always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we've spoken with enough people to know that it's not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I wouldn't say things have been easy. Ballet is a beautiful art form, but it is also very challenging and taxing on one's body. I feel like ballet can never be mastered because there is always something you can improve on. There were times it was difficult for me to keep being motivated because ballet takes a lot of mental and physical energy from yourself, and at the end of the day, it is up to you to push yourself to be better.
Ballet is perceived as a predominantly white art form. The Ballet world is getting better when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Often during summer intensive auditions and summer intensive programs, I was one of the only or few black students attending. I would walk into auditions where I was the only brown girl in the room. This did take a toll on me because I rarely saw anyone that looked like me. I was fortunate enough to attend DTH during the school year where for once I was not the minority, nor was I called out for the way my body was shaped. But this goes to show the amount of work that needs to be done in the ballet and dance world.
What personal limitations if any did you go through in your young career?
I think that the personal limitations I went through were more mental than physical. I dealt with having a negative view of my body from a young age, and that had a very negative effect on how I viewed myself and my self-confidence. Every time I looked in the mirror especially during ballet class I would just tear myself apart and hate the way I looked. Now looking back at myself, I see that there was nothing wrong with my body. But the body standards portrayed in the media and the ballet world had a negative effect on me. Currently, I am on a journey of loving myself and loving my body. But it is a work in progress and a journey I am still working on.
Has anybody ever tried to limit you on what you could do? If so how did you fight it?
I've had comments that were meant to discourage me, but I used those comments as fuel to prove them wrong and to continue my journey. I try to surround myself with people that will encourage me and believe in my dreams. I also do the same for others. I also enjoy reading about the lives of successful people to learn how they handled limitations that were placed on them.
How do you conquer negative talk?
I have people in my life that continuously build me up. I am encouraged by those who came before me, and I use their struggles to allow me to dismiss the negative talk and not have it hinder my goals. I also listen to music and have my go-to quotes that I read that help me as well.
What is your favorite quote?
"My heart is at ease, knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me and that what misses me was never meant for me." - Imam ash-Shafi'i
So, what's next? Any big plans?
I won't be able to go on campus for college in the fall because of COVID-19, so I will be taking my classes online. Hopefully, I will be able to go on campus in January. I am going to continue my ballet training and work on my technique and artistry. I also have a ballet blog, youtube channel, and started a digital magazine that I have been working on.