Nancy narrates her first experience being a professional dancer. She then shares her journey to creating LA Dance Moves, what it took to heal from her love-hate relationship with ballet, and how she applies this to her teaching techniques with her dance students at L.A Dance Moves. Nancy also shares from her multi-faceted skill set and past experiences of how she ensures dancers’ wellness. She speaks on the importance of individual and corporate growth through collaboration with fellow companies and creatives.
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Guest Conversation with Nancy Ferraro-Paradis
Who is Nancy?
She is currently the artistic director of the LA Dance Moves, a very unique dance, music, art, and media company. Nancy Paradis began her career on the East Coast performing with the Washington Ballet, Richmond Ballet, and Louisville Ballet. As a principal and soloist, she’s danced roles ranging from classical, neoclassical, and modern ballets. In L.A Nancy performed and choreographed in a commercial world including NBC Must-See TV, A&E Promo, Fox Fit TV, the Hollywood Bowl, and MTV Movie Awards. She choreographed and performed as a Madonna impersonator in a Month-Long China Tour. She also worked in the fitness market and appeared in over 60 episodes of The Method Show on Fox TV, a Pilates, Yoga, and dance-based fitness show. She appeared in power core yoga videos and crunch fitness and she was a guest speaker on Fox 11 News titled Posture.
You can also see her dancing in the current Netflix promo, We Watched It All 2020. She also is an adjunct professor at UC Irvine, Loyola Marymount University, and currently Moorpark College, where she prepares dancers for a commercial career in the performing arts. She’s an instructor, choreographer, and co-producer of concerts. She also mentors young artists by collaborating with the music, theater and film departments. She’s returning to her home company, Richmond Ballet in 2022 to choreograph a new work world premiere on the company that gave her so many opportunities as an inspiring dancer and artist.
My beautiful experience as a dancer
I grew up in Virginia and the first opportunity to really dive into a professional situation was Washington Ballet, in Washington, DC, and at that time with iconic Mary Day. So I was accepted as a trainee and this was monumental because, until this moment, I did not have the typical training, you would need to be a ballerina meaning daily. We lived an hour and a half away from a good studio. So I had a class once a week. That’s insane. So this was huge in my life and finally getting daily classes, training with the company, I was an understudy. The director at that time, Janek Schergen, and resident choreographer Choo-San Goh, unfortunately, has left this world but brilliant. Mary Day was a strange woman, but she had her story. So it was phenomenal and overwhelming at the same time, but at the same time, it was positive. We were on a mission. But honestly, that was such a blur of just trying to play catch up, in my technique, that’s what I was focused on.
The teachers were very good, very positive. One teacher was a little “enh” and I think maybe I’m an empath because I felt him. I stayed away from him. He didn’t like me; I didn’t like him. Even at 15. I just wanted everyone to know, I noticed this ballet master. I thought he was a little off. But I didn’t have enough skills then to really understand and just listen to my intuition. But things were changing at Washington Ballet and I auditioned for Richmond Ballet in Virginia.
It was the first year of the company I was accepted and I was in a trainee position and in 4 years, you can say it was just a moment in time. But this director is still there today, Stoner Winslett. We had amazing experiences of bringing all different types of choreographers, not only types, but types of movement. Ballet, classical ballet, Neo, Jose Limon, Luigi style jazz, really off the wall choreography and really beautiful choreography. So we were exposed to so much and in those 4 years, I went from a trainee to a principal. I honestly feel from being groomed, from seeing my gifts from, putting me in the right roles so I would have wins and not be defeated and knowing my strengths. When someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself, what else can you ask for? And that was my experience. So, can’t really go wrong with that.
I work like a dog, honestly, nothing came easy to me and it was just nice to have that be seen and rewarded. At the same time, Virginia was my home, I wanted to keep seeing, keep expanding, so I decided to leave or to at least audition and I would go to New York and audition and just see where I fit elsewhere in the world and I wound up at Louisville Ballet in Kentucky. I also wanted to leave the South, I went to Louisville, but, lovely company at that time, but very traditional in what they offered. Like, this was your place, and you’re the core and again, maybe you get a little solo, but you’re in the core. So even that can be perceived as not a positive experience, where it’s just the way they’re set up. They’re not being mean, this is your job, and that’s your job. But I found that not to work for me and wound up leaving and that’s how I came to LA. But I think perception maybe also a lot to do with it. Because when that casting sheet goes up, it still bites if you don’t get the role you want. And how do you have that insight to go, well, I’m not strong enough yet for that or those skills are out of my range at 17 or 18? Do you really have these common cognitive skills to self-talk?
What healing looked like for me
I think it was when I came to Los Angeles and abandoned ballet. I actually had a love-hate relationship with ballet, it wasn’t easy for me. Is it really easy for anybody? But, just my turnout. I had overdeveloped my legs earlier in my career, so trying to undo that. Trying to lift and lengthen. The partnering was challenging for me. So I made it work, but I felt like I had to always do the extra mile, and that’s fine. But when I got to L.A, it was a huge freedom and I abandoned ballet and I was a commercial jazz dancer. I remember wearing a little top and my tummy was showing and jazz shoes. This went on for about 2 years and ballet, it’s in here. So I began healing by having gratitude for this incredible training and life and focus I’ve had for so long and it brought me to places I would have never gone before, touring with companies. I think it was a very slow process, but that realization that I would book jobs in L.A, but they were ballerina jobs. For example a commercial and they wanted a ballerina and a tutu. Even the MTV Movie Awards, which was a big deal for me. Golden, painted in pointe shoes.
So it’s like; Nancy, you can’t get away from this, this is in you, it’s your life. So that’s just one avenue of having gratitude. But the other is something bigger. I think when we’re so young and impressionable, that’s all we think about. But as we get a little bit older; like I met my husband here in LA, within the first year, I moved here. Having someone in your life, having family, having other interests and also someone saying I see you for you, not that you’re this dancer or you have this title. You are great the way you are. It was a slow process, because honestly, since 6 years old, we’re trying to prove ourselves. Like, really like we audition for roles for the Nutcracker at young ages. So that’s kind of deep and this man is still my husband today, he’s in the house on his own podcast. Having people see you for who you are and your gifts, that’s huge. I meet dancers today, in my company that are similar like that. They have this balanced life where they’ve got all this other stuff going on, too. I’m thinking that’s really healthy and really good.
How I get the best out of my dancers
This is a two-fold. One is in the educational system. When I started teaching at universities and colleges, I just loved the fact that these students placed themselves in this class. It was just a win-win and every time I would take an assignment, I was thinking, well, what am I going to learn? I’ll give, but what am I going to learn from this assignment? So I started really having them do a lot of writing assignments throughout the semester. Even though it was a ballet class or a dance class or dance for concert, a lot of critical thinking and what do you think? What are your creative processes? I was blown away through the years of what they would write and deeply admire. You can have a beginning dancer in front of you and then they write this, they’re an engineer, and then they write this amazing paper of their cognitive process of the class or the assignment. So that really opened my eyes to hey, people may not look like everything’s connected, but they are in their brain and it really was humbling and maybe I’ve become a better teacher.
So just inviting my students to use their brains and there’s no really no wrong answer, but what do you think? When I flip over into if I’m rehearsing within the educational system, or with my own company; now, this has been a long time evolving, it doesn’t just happen overnight. But I have my vision, where I want to go. But then we create this give and take as well, where, I will tell the overarching story without overwhelming them and then it unfolds in layers. I really love to see what they bring to the table and also embracing their body and their own gifts. If I have a certain way in mind, we’re like, oh, let’s go with that, your body wants to go that way, let’s do that. What do you think about what comes after that move? So now there’s this give and take, that seems very subtle to them. But it seems like they so appreciate the fact that they get to have a voice, they get to be part of the creation process.
The journey to LA Dance Moves
Both my husband and I both are dancers still, but way back over 22 years ago, we created LA dance moves and it actually was like party, entertainment. We would have like 4 dancers, we’d show up for parties, which were big or conventions or corporate events. Then we teamed with this group called Action players, which actually did light stunt work, stunt driving, weapon work, so you could have stunt and dancers. We were really on a roll and started really making headway but then we decided to have our family and that kind of world of haphazard being on a set for 15 hours ended. But then I picked up LA Dance Moves in a whole different way and a whole different reason and that was in 2015. My father passed back in 2009 and he was a huge inspiration to me. He was a musician, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger. He was in the Marine Corps and he was the conductor in the Marine Corps Band, and he would arrange a lot of music and the band would play it.
So as a little girl, I remember hearing his music, it was a very big band and fun and upbeat. When I went home for his funeral, my mom had a conductor score of his and she gave it to me. She said, Nancy if anybody, you can do something with this. So it took me five years. But at my college; I teach at Moorpark College, the professor of the Wind Ensemble, loved the idea. He wanted to recreate this music, put it on live musicians, have dancers on the stage and it came together. I also had Marines there with Toys for Tots, it was during the holidays and we had an honorary concert for my dad. What had happened was, I forgot how much I loved this process. I played flute in middle school and high school. I wasn’t good, but I played for a couple of summers. My dad after he retired from the Marine Corps, he had a community band and I played and he was my conductor for a couple of summers. I just forgot how much I loved that process of musicians coming together and all of a sudden there’s a sound.
So something kind of hit me that I wanted to get back to that kind of work, own a composer or arranger and create dance seemingly in a different way that just really honored that whole process of making music. So I started doing my own works in 2015 just inviting pre-professional dancers. I was working with people, students, and just a couple of weeks a year, and always on video or film or digital media, even then, before COVID hit. The number of dancers I have now flows. To choose from, that I’ve worked with right now probably around 15. But my projects, I stay smaller so that I can work with them individually and not be so overwhelmed with all these dancers. I feel like I lose what it is I’m working toward with too many dancers. It’s kind of a mission, there’s like three different things going on with L.A Dance Moves. But this is just sort of been coming up serendipitously. I think we talked about this and I don’t know if it’s more of a pass through company where dancers work with me maybe for a few projects and then go back out. I don’t really see me hanging on to the same group because once you’re healed or begun healing, you want to have your wings and maybe go try other places. That tends to be what’s happening. A few will stay and a few pass through and I just welcome whatever way that that dancer needs. It’s kind of cool.
My journey to wellness
That’s a huge one and there’s a couple of different layers here. One is honoring your body and just because you can roll out of bed and jump into class, doesn’t mean you should. I think dancers have become smarter through the years and we have TheraBands and form rollers and tools and flexibands. So, they’re getting the message that you need to condition your body and take care of it more. So, let’s just say just for the record that dancers are getting a little bit more smart in that avenue but as far as nutrition and body image which has always been an issue and a problem. I’m sure it occurs in gymnastics and skating but I think especially here in America we just to start, don’t know how to eat. We’re bombarded with crap and out of just not having that knowledge we try this and we try that or we don’t eat. I knew a ballerina that made a tiger bar this big last all day, she drank coffee and vodka at night and that was her diet.
I was a little later in my 20s, I dabbled with problems with eating, bad habits, not knowing. In this conversation I’m seeing how healing meeting my husband was. He was a bodybuilder, also had diabetes. Both his parents were borderline diabetics so they did not eat sugar, they were also French-Canadian, they just don’t have that sugar in their body and that was a wakeup call for me craving these carbs and sugars and I started redefining how I ate and eating real food as opposed to just quick. So, almost like we need these nutrition seminars and now with everything on YouTube, Instagram, you’d think we’d be the smartest people in the world with everything available to us. That’s one.
The second is, still if you’d go to Instagram right now, it’s overwhelming with the images of way too thin. This gorgeous technique and fitting legs specifically in the ballet world. You could easily have 10 pounds on you and you would look phenomenal. Now we have these images more than ever. It used to be just dance magazines, you’d get a magazine and you would flip through. Now it’s 24/7. When we talk about social media, there’s good parts and this is the part that I feel is dangerous.
So, my own wellness journey begun with understanding how to eat, appreciating my body; my body started changing, I was more bulky and heavier when I was younger and I’ve leaned out more now learning how to eat. Unfortunately, it was a longer process but I do know when I met my husband again, I didn’t want to bring those self-distractive habits into this relationship and it ended right then as far as any eating disorder or problems and begun to learn. I don’t know if that’s helpful but sometimes things just become a habit and a cycle and we need something to shock us out of it and sometimes that’s what injuries are or illness, it shocks us into “I have to do things differently”. Maybe we could not wait until that happens.
What I would do differently if given the chance
I do have a regret and I do share this with my dancers that the things that didn’t come easy to me or I found myself struggling with my weight, I wish I would have asked for help. I was in awe of our ballet mistress from Richmond Ballet, Lesley Peck and she was a beautiful Balanchine dancer and just a lovely person. I know she would have received me well. You put people on a pedestal and think they’re never going to help me. You don’t want to be difficult or be that pain or that problem person. What is that about? That’s something I struggled with all my life, not just in dance. I wish I would have asked for help, I wish I would have said I don’t know how to do something. As far as weight or eating, there’s a shame to it and we feel like we’re supposed to figure everything out but as a young dancer, I would have done that. I think I would have embraced my fellow dancers more and asked for help from them. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this dramatic thing.
One of the things I love about my students, if I give them an assignment, you see them all work together in groups and look how beautiful that is, community and teamwork and I was afraid of that. Afraid of being a bother to somebody and I look back and people resonate with that. I think we do. I think there’s a reason why we’re drawn to the dance world in the first place. I think a lot of us are introverts and that’s our way of coming to life and expressing that it’s something we have all to ourselves that we can do. A lot of introverts get pulled into the artistic world and then there’s a cost as well. My answer to this is just, embracing those around me, my teammates, my colleagues, even those I looked up to, respectfully ask for help, that would have been huge.
That’s the most wonderful gift you can give yourself. If you can’t commit to that, this one session can make a huge change in your life but it’s a huge gift you give yourself. Something that’s really empowering is to know the most famous coaches out there have coaches to make them great.
L.A Dance Moves’ 2022 Vision
In August I did the concert of my dreams, took 7 years in the making, where I actually did a live filming. The whole concept of ballet dance was that we collaborate with composers right there in the moment, real time, whatever it is they bring, whether it’s music that they can duplicate. In this situation this composer only did improvisation and that unfolded after the project had already started, so I had to pivot and wondered how I was going to do this. That was a big reason why I needed my dancers to have the freedom because they had to respond a hundred percent in real time during the filming because they were going to hear this music for the first time. They may have heard a different version of it or we practiced with different types of music but when the composer sat at the piano, that was the first time they heard it. So, they had to morph and adjust.
This live filming is going to be a film, it’s being edited now to release early 2022. I think before I really try to worry about anything else, I want this to be as successful as possible. I want this to go far and wide. Not only because of the company and I want you to see the dance. It’s because I want you to experience and feel what it is that we’re about which is to feel the heart, to be inspired, to be motivated. To be inspired to go into your own circuit of people in your community and go do great things. Or go do things that you don’t think you can do. That’s really what the messages are.
I feel like I’ll just focus on this right now. Funding is challenging right now and it’s my next topic that I’m looking forward to tackling. I haven’t figured it out yet and there’s not quite a grant that fits me yet but I am coming out of my shell more as far as sending out emails and inviting people to be part of the email chain and letting them know what we’ve got going on if they’d like to help or not. No attachment. People are busy and they have their own lives but if you’d like to be helpful, this is what I have. So that’s a big part of 2022. We have been invited to perform live in June in an outdoor venue that I think is going to be a set thing. I don’t think people have any problems with COVID for that. Then submitting to film festivals to try and to continue getting what we do out there into the world and keep attracting people who see us and maybe would like to help.
The benefit of virtual lectures
I have so many topics I’m so passionate about that I would love to be a guest at facilities, on Zoom or within the 2 hour radius I’ll travel but of course Zoom would be easier. There are so many topics from working printing mail productions with film, editing, to mindset in the dance world to elements of theatre, everything it takes to put on a production. There’s a couple of courses I created that I have really seen change the artist within the course within a few hours. It’s very exciting so I feel like I have a topic that may fit whatever your needs are at your facility so I’m available for those kinds of guest-lecture spots.
That is the working harder not smarter mentality which one hour less of rehearsal to do let’s say this injury prevention course with your dancers, how powerful is that and a nutrition course? It seems so forward thinking yet these avenues like sports are so there, and that’s something I sneak into all my classes. All my semesters will do a nutrition course and dedicate a whole class and be blown away by what they have learned; a try to do mindset, little tips. It’s almost like you have to sneak it in and that’s not right. I hope this trickles a different thought for someone who owns a company and wants to run it differently on how that can happen. This really doesn’t take that much more money or resources. It’s just the time, because you’re telling those dancers and artists in the company, you are worth it, I believe in you, I want the best for you.
Collaboration as letting go of one’s ego
This feeling or sense of collaborating truly is an art. I’m seeing those who will do it and those who will not and they will literally go, No. I do a few things pretty well but I can bring someone in that’s going to impact your life and mine by collaborating. I think with platforms, people are getting it; if we collaborate, we’re going to share our audiences and it’s a win-win. Dance companies tend to be my baby and I’ve been working on this for 20 years and everything it takes to run it; I get it and I’m not even there yet. But I think in a weird way, it’s about asking for help. You do something really great, could you help me? But we have problems asking or admitting.
I speak about the artistic process a lot in that, I can have a company, you can have a company but no one can duplicate your gifts and we really embrace what our gifts are, a lot of us don’t even know what they are. We’re just going to do it. But if we embrace our gifts, sure you can come over here because there is no way that you can do what I do because I do what I do and I’m going to really love what you do. It takes trust in yourself more so than trust in someone else to find this way to collaborate and help each other and I would really love to see you have this platform be successful so that we can get you out there speaking far and wide to the art world. through always learning and through healing and through trusting yourself we can make things better not just duplicate what you learned from this other person. Let’s keep going.
Where to find me
In Woodland Hills, California. It’s easiest to start at ladancemoves.com, the website which I did during the pandemic. It’s just an easy way to put it all there. So, all the social medias are there. You can email me; firstname.lastname@example.org. All the current, past and upcoming events are listed there and once we get through the new year, there will be information on the film at the website.
What I would tell my 16-year-old self
Trust your gifts.
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