Jennifer Lauren is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She trained at The Dance Centre in Tuscaloosa and with Wes Chapman and Roger Van Fleteren at the Alabama Ballet where she danced from 1998-2007. She joined the Miami City Ballet as a member of the Corps in 2007 and was promoted to Soloist in 2011.
Q. How did you become interested in ballet?
My sister first enrolled in ballet class. I watched her and wanted to dance, so my mother enrolled me when I was three. I’ve been dancing ever since. At times I wanted to quit, but my mother always insisted we finish anything we started.
Q. And when did you get serious?
When I was around twelve my ballet teacher in my hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama said it was time for me to further my studies elsewhere. I continued to study with her in Tuscaloosa, while my mother and I also began driving an hour to Birmingham for me to take ballet classes with other teachers that had more to offer me as far as technique. At that time, when I was around twelve, I fell in love with it and from then on I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Q. When you look at ballet companies and check where the dancers were trained, you don’t see many from Alabama. Do you have advice for other dancers who might live in out-of-the-way places?
I was fortunate to have The Alabama Ballet an hour away. Alabama Ballet is a regional company, and the director at the time was Wes Chapman (now director of ABT II) who had just left ABT. He was awarded the position right before I entered the company and it was a big deal. I was really excited to get to work with him.
Today no matter where you live there are so many resources, with the Internet, magazines, YouTube, blogs etc. People are more aware of where they need to be if they want to train with a good ballet school. Dancers that really want to do it find a way, and where to train is always a dilemma. I sought out multiple schools, each with their strengths, to learn certain techniques at one, or performance qualities at another. Over the years I went to numerous ballet schools, not just one. That is one of the difficult things about being from a small town. My parents would not have let me travel to New York to live and study when I was twelve or sixteen. Still, I sometimes think having the experience of attending various ballet schools makes you stronger in certain ways. You do not feel entitled to anything and you know you have to work harder than absolutely everyone to make it happen.
Q. You don’t have much of an accent?
Growing up, my mom and dad always spoke proper English and often corrected me. I also feel I had a wonderful education. When I started at the age of sixteen with the Alabama Ballet, I was surrounded by a diverse group, with dancers ranging from Russia, Israel and many other places from the U.S. The numerous accents enveloped me and I think I lost a good deal of it then. Sometimes I do notice it returns a little after a long visit to, “Bama.”
Q. Do you remember your first professional class and what it was like?
My first professional class was scary. I was sixteen and thrown into a world of adults. You don’t want to offend anybody. You just want to be where you need to be and not get in anyone’s way. I know that’s when I started to learn how to work like a professional ballet dancer.
Q. Was it exciting for you?
Oh yes- I was so happy to be a non-paid apprentice with the Alabama Ballet. That was all I wanted at the time.
Q. What’s the most exciting moment for you when you’re dancing?
It’s the feeling of letting go. Not feeling restricted. It’s a big release of whatever tension I have. I think that’s how I get all my stress out. There are moments when I feel I could fly across the stage. It is hard to explain in words. It’s just a wonderful feeling of being free even though there’s so much technique involved. Once I get to stage, the choreography feels like second nature and I just let go.
Q. Is body memory a big part of it?
With so much training my muscle memory does take over. If I get interrupted, say someone steps into my spot, then I will have to think about what’s happening. I take something different and make something out of it. A ballet is a live show and it’s never the same. The muscle memory is there but you still have to improvise. I love to watch and see how my fellow dancers deal with mishaps onstage. If something doesn’t go exactly as planned, it can turn into something glorious. I love seeing that. I love doing that, too. What you do in class every day and in rehearsal for weeks and months prepares you for the freedom on stage.
Q. Do you have a routine for before a performance?
I take class and make sure to stretch and keep my muscles warm. Sometimes I need to take an anti-inflammatory for aches. A cup of coffee, food and water are imperative. I don’t have any special habits or routines though. It would be too stressful for me to have a special routine. I just try to let go and relax.
Q. Do you have any dance dreams?
Oh yes- I have dreams about the person I spoke to that day or danced next to. Sometimes I dream I’m not ready for a show that’s about to start and my hair is not up or I don’t have my shoes on. Sometimes I just turn forever. That’s a good one. Just like anybody else I dream about what I’m doing. It’s all just random. I go to sleep daydreaming about the choreography I have to learn. Sometimes I wake up singing the music in my head.
Q. Do you ever have an inspiration in a dream like how you are going to perform a specific piece or part of a piece?
That never comes to me in a dream- only when I’m awake. I know we talked about muscle memory. But on top of muscle memory there is also the artistic side. Sometimes I go to sleep envisioning myself dancing every step. I really like to map out what will look good on me and see how I’m going to do it.
Q. Ballet companies and ballet schools often have first casts and second casts for roles and those in the second cast don’t get the attention of the choreographer or the director when you’re rehearsing. As a dancer, how do you deal with that?
There’s always the first cast and the second cast. That happens a lot here. I’ve just been promoted to Soloist, so if I’m learning a Soloist/ Principal role, I’ll be in the back watching the first, second and third casts. You can learn a lot from watching other people. Seeing what you like, what you don’t like. How you’re going to do things differently. I don’t know if you’ve seen the studios here but in the larger studio, it’s actually two studios and we open the middle wall. There is ample room in the back for us to do things full out, and that’s what I do all the time. I don’t care if I feel like I may be 8th cast. I’m going to rehearse and if I get to do it, that’s great, and if I don’t, I’ve worked as hard as I could. If I’m called to the rehearsal, you will see me working.
Q. How do you show your individuality as a dancer?
I try to be genuine and not to force anything. There’s nothing physically about me that stands out like super arched feet or high legs or big jumps. I think sometimes I can do a good pirouette and I have strong musicality, but what’s most important is who you are as a dancer. I try to let go, be myself and make people smile. I think about what the audience is feeling. I do focus on things like how high my leg is. But overall, I want to be genuine. We’re all different because we have different physiques and different personalities. Most importantly, I try to dance from the heart.
Q. Can you tell us some of your Favorite pieces to dance?
I have a lot! In my past I did a lot of classical ballets. I loved dancing Giselle and Juliet. Also Kitri and Aurora. But here at Miami City Ballet I’ve also loved dancing Jerome Robbins’ In the Night and Dances at a Gathering. Balanchine’s Rubies, Who Cares, La Sonnambula. But then there are tons of ballets I’d love to dance as well.
Q. The Miami City Ballet does a lot of classical ballet and a lot of modern ballet. How do you like performing both?
We begin with a basic technique, and to master that feels wonderful to me. To dance the classics and the neo-classical style of Balanchine is so rewarding. I danced Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, which to me is very challenging. There’s so much acting and artistry you can bring to the role of Aurora. That ballet never stops. It’s easy to learn the basic ballet steps but they’re so hard to master. I just performed the role of the Sleepwalker in Balanchine’s La Sonnambula. The physical choreography wasn’t that challenging. It’s how I presented myself as the Sleepwalker, which was so hard to do. In modern choreography, there’s so many different ways of movement. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Twyla Tharp’s Golden Section. I wasn’t in that but it’s a good example of a free form of choreography. There’s much more freedom in the new works to make it your own. New choreographers let it be a little looser. We just performed Paul Taylor’s Promethean Fire, which is a modern group piece. It’s very modern, but also very controlled and specific. It’s similar to ballet but very different. To me even Balanchine’s choreography seems a lot freer than any of the full-length classical ballets.
Q. Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
I have to say Balanchine is pretty much up there. Before when I was with the Alabama Ballet, that was mostly classical, I loved the classics. I still do, but since I’ve been here I’ve danced Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Paul Taylor and I’ve enjoyed all of their choreography. I would like to dance a Ji?í Kylián piece one day. I am looking forward to the possibility of working with Liam Scarlett. He is coming to set a new work on us, so that’s exciting.
Q. Do you have a memorable dance performance?
In December we performed the Nutcracker and I danced the Dewdrop, which I did in Alabama for many years. Talk about muscle memory and being able to let go! It was a blast. I came off stage and could’ve cried with happiness. It was like running as fast as you can without having to think about anything and it just felt so good. But I’ve had a lot of memorable performances. Dancing Giselle and Juliet in Alabama were wonderful performances that I will never forget. I also had a fantastic experience dancing the Sleepwalker in La Sonnambula this year.
Q. Whenever I see Giselle, I always feel sorry for Hilarion. Albrecht is like the original “bad boy.” He seems to get away with a lot.
Hilarion does get the short end of the stick. He doesn’t deserve what he gets in the end. Giselle is young and naïve and she doesn’t know that Albrecht’s a prince. When she meets him he pretends to be who he’s not. Albrecht is new and exciting. Giselle falls instantly in love with him. Hilarion, has been there forever and Giselle just sees him I think more as a brother, or a protector figure. She’s not in love with him, never was, never will be.
Q. How do you gain the attention of the artistic director?
I think he sees all of his dancers individually. I try to work extremely hard. I always work to the max unless I feel that I need to take it easy on my body. Being myself in class and on stage is important. Listening to what the artistic director has to say and really applying his knowledge. I think if you work hard and stay positive, you definitely won’t go unnoticed.
Q. Your husband isn’t involved with ballet. Was that any kind of a conscious decision not to get involved with a dancer?
Not at all. I met him and fell in love with him.
Q. How do you connect to the audience?
People don’t want to see someone who looks uncomfortable or someone with a blank face. If we’re at the Adrienne Arsht Center, it’s a big house, so I’ll look everywhere. I’ll project up high and down low. If it’s at the Naples Philharmonic Center, the audience is in one place so I keep my focus at eye level. Overall, the more genuine I am, the more comfortable people will feel. If I’m dancing a piece that only involves a nice smile, I make sure my smile is real. If it’s a full-length classical ballet, I try to act as natural or human as possible.
Q. Do you have any other major interests?
Everything is geared towards ballet for me and has been for a very long time. But I do like to spend as much time as I can with my family. I always go back home to Alabama as much as I can and I’ll stay as long as I can.
Q. Any books you recommend?
Allegra Kent’s, Once a Dancer. She came and coached us for Balanchine’s La Somnambula and Scotch Symphony. Gelsey Kirkland’s, Dancing on My Grave. Robert Gottlieb has numerous books which I refer to periodically.
Jennifer Lauren has her own website which you can check out here: http://www.jlauren.info/ To return to this website, click on the back arrow in the upper left hand corner of your browser.
You can also check out Jennifer and the other Miami City Ballet dancers on the Miami City Ballet website by clicking here: http://www.miamicityballet.org/dancers.php
To return to this website, click on the back arrow in the upper left hand corner of your browser.