A pas de deux between KC Ballet dancer Lamin Pereira and a Pitch Questionnaire

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Lamin Pereira // Photo by Tom Styrkowicz/53TOM LLC

Lamin Pereira pirouetted into the spotlight at the Kansas City Ballet as an award-winning ballet dancer from Rio de Janeiro. He has performed in many countries around the world including Russia and Finland.

Pereira says he never thought having a darker skin tone would stop him from achieving his dreams in dance. The dance industry has not always been a space free of racism as ballet shoes and tights used to only be made in pink due to assumptions of only white people being dancers.

During his time at the KC Ballet, Pereira has had featured roles in Gisele, Alice (In Wonderland), The Four Temperaments, Swan Lake, Wunderland, and more. In his questionnaire, Pereira talks about love, bullying, and COVID-19 closing doors while opening new ones.

Social media handles: Instagram (@laminpereira) / Facebook: Lamin Pereira Dos Santos

Hometown: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Neighborhood currently residing in KC:

I actually just moved back to KC after living in Helsinki, Finland for the past 6 months where I was dancing with The Finnish National Ballet. Now I am back living in downtown Kansas City.

Favorite KC restaurant?

There are many that I love for different reasons but since becoming vegan with my wife I will have to say “True Food” at the Country Club Plaza.

Favorite thing to do in KC?

Performing at Kauffman Center is for sure my favorite thing to do in KC even though it is my job already but on my free time I love going out for brunch on Sunday at Cafe Europa.

Why did you start dancing?

I started dancing because of my sister around the age of nine. My siblings and I were a part of a public school project in the community. After about a year of attending this project, the dance teacher took us to apply for a professional ballet school where we were fortunate enough to get a full scholarship. This was when I was fully introduced to classical ballet and I had no doubt that was what I wanted to do with my life. My main teacher/mentor until the age of 18 was Maria Angelica Fiorani, former dancer of the Teatro Colón in Argentina.

Why did you want to be a part of the KC Ballet?

I will say that the opportunity to join the company came at the right time in my career as I was looking for a company that would be more stable financially and artistically and that would add to my growth as a professional ballet dancer. When I was personally invited to audition I made the trip to KC and I was truly impressed by the KCB facility and its beautiful studios that provided a better work environment. After learning about what the company had to offer in many ways I was sure I needed to take the job and start a new chapter in my life.

What has been your favorite role in a performance and why?

Definitely “Armand Duval” in Lady of the Camellias by Val Caniparoli is one of my favorite roles so far. Not so much because of technical reasons but the acting part that had to be developed to be able to tell the story and also the music by Frederic Chopin is just something that I always loved and appreciated. It has always been a dream to be dancing to Chopin’s composition. I also enjoyed this role because this ballet is not a traditional fairy tale type of ballet. It is more human-related and people are able to connect better and feel some sort of sympathy. I still remember audience members telling me afterward how touching and heartfelt it was and how they could feel the pain and love.

Your wife is also a dancer. What is the key to having a successful partnership with someone in the same career field?

Honesty, Trust, Discipline, and Respect.

Our careers would not be as successful without each other’s help, honesty, trust, discipline, and respect every day in the studios and at home. Learning about each other’s weaknesses and strengths helps us find balance in what we do. Listening to one another is also a helpful way to keep a healthy relationship on and off stage.

Have you done any performances or projects with your wife? If so what is your favorite and why?

My favorite performance alongside my wife was when we performed at the world-renowned Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia at the Prix Benois de La Danse 2019 after the world premiere of Wizard of Oz. Choreographer Septime Webre was nominated for Best Sets, Costumes, Choreography, and Music. What a dream! We have also performed the Grand Pas de Deux of Sugar Plum and The Cavalier from The Nutcracker for the past two years.

How has your past influenced your present?

Growing up in a poor family back in Brazil I always aimed high with my goals in life. I dreamed like no other, I pushed myself to be better to do better so I could have a better life and help my family in any way I could. All the hard work and discipline I put in the past reflects in everything that I am today. I never forget where I come from and the struggles that I took on during my journey to be here today. When I think of my life now and what could have been if I didn’t pursue ballet and stayed back home, it makes me appreciate so much more every second of my present.

What would you tell your younger self?

Do exactly what you did and more.

What are some of your long-term goals?

A long career until at least 40 years of age and surgery-free. That is the biggest long-term goal. After retiring from the stages I would love to continue working in this beautiful art form perhaps as an artistic director. And of course build a family with my wife Lilliana Hagerman.

How has your life as a dancer been affected because of COVID-19?

COVID-19 affected my life as a dancer in many ways both negative and positive. At first, it felt like everything was going to go back to normal in no time, but it actually never did.

Days and weeks were going by and then months until I realized that this pandemic wasn’t as simple as it seemed. For many weeks the frustration of being out of shape, dancing at home, not knowing what was going to be of our future and careers was just taking over my whole self. It was exhausting both physically and mentally.

But on the other hand, I was offered a job at The Finnish National Ballet in Helsinki (Finland) and at the time they had a full season (20-21) scheduled to happen while everything in America was completely canceled.

After a couple of meetings with both directors from both companies, I was able to take a leave of absence from KCB and go join The Finnish National Ballet for the time being. While I was there I was lucky enough to be back in the studios taking classes, rehearsing, and performing without masks for a while.

I was able to be in the World Premiere of Jekyll & Hyde by Val Caniparoli back in October. Which it’s a production KCB is supposed to do in the near future.

As COVID-19 started to get worse in November I was only able to rehearse The Nutcracker and then the government canceled our performances, but I was still fortunate to be working in the studios and eventually be part of the creation of a new production of Swan Lake choreographed by David Mcallister (Former Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director).

The dance industry, particularly ballet dancing, can be challenging for the BIPOC community with essentials like tights and shoes not being idealized for darker skin tones. What challenges have you had to overcome in dance because of your race?

To be honest none. But now I question myself, why? Many people don’t see me as a person of color because I am not “that black” so they say.

So many times I have heard: “You are not black. You are Brazilian.”

We are living in a society that doesn’t really care about knowing where we come from and just ignores what’s right in front of their eyes. But to answer your question: No, I haven’t faced any challenges in a ballet company due to my darker skin color. And to be honest I NEVER thought my darker skin color could stop me from achieving my dreams.

What advice do you have for other BIPOC dancers looking to break into the industry?

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something or be someone because of your skin color, race, ethnicity, sex, and etc. Be the example of hard work, discipline, and respect.

What would you consider your greatest success so far as a dancer?

At the moment I can say my greatest success is to have been able to join a major European ballet company at the age of 30 during a pandemic while every company was on hold around the world. This is something very unique and rare to happen as most companies now are looking for younger dancers. So the fact that I was able to keep a job back in KC and still join another company in Scandinavia was a huge accomplishment.

To me, success doesn’t just mean many likes and followers on Instagram. It’s how we sculpt our career in every aspect from working in the studio, being cast for a big ballet, having choreographers wanting to work with you, ups and downs, engaging with the audience, and etc.

Many things should be considered in order to be successful and how we act during the learning process. Are you open-minded? Are you willing to hear the truth in order to be able to improve? Are you willing to give up your “normal life free time” to spend more time developing your career? But don’t forget that taking a break and just relaxing is also necessary.

A quote I like to think of: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

What do you wish people knew about you and your career?

I wish people knew that besides being so hard on myself and on the ones I truly love, I carry the biggest heart and I am extremely caring for others. There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about others that don’t have or didn’t have the opportunities that I have today. I wish I could help everyone accomplish their life goals.

I come from the poor suburbs of Rio de Janeiro and I started dancing classical ballet back at the age of 10. I was bullied in school for doing ballet but that didn’t put me off track… my dream was much bigger than the bullying. ūüôā

I have an older brother who was also a professional ballet dancer and danced with multiple companies in South America and Charlotte Ballet in the U.S. My younger sister danced as well but not professionally.

I moved to the USA at the age of 18 when I received a full-tuition scholarship from the Youth American Grand Prix Competition in NYC to join the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s School at American Ballet Theatre in New York. Within two months in the school, I received The Northern Trust Award for Excellence as a student of JKO at ABT’s Fall Gala. Big thanks to Franco DeVita and Raymond Lukens for opening the doors for me. I have been living my dream in the U.S. for almost 13 years now.

To keep a long and healthy career my daily routine consists of going to OneLife Fitness to do strength and cardio training (also serves me as therapy- I like to think that way) from 5:45-7:20 a.m. before my ballet class starts at 9:15 a.m., followed by breakfast. Then I head out to work around 8:20 a.m. It is important for me to train at the gym before class because it prepares my body for what is coming next and so on. Keeping a healthy diet is also key to me as I love my body and it’s my instrument of work, so it has to be well taken care of. My wife and I have decided with the influence of my brother, documentaries on Netflix, and a lot of research to become vegan. We are doing great, especially knowing that we are also helping reduce animal cruelty and helping the environment.

I am on my seventh season with KCB and I am proud of the work I have done here.

Any future projects we should know about?

As of now, I will start working with KCB again on virtual performances and hopefully, with the vaccines for COVID-19, we will be able to return to the Kauffman Center stage with a full season ahead with major productions and perform for our Kansas City audiences. So stay tuned by following me on Instagram as I post a lot of things there related to performances and my career.

Categories: Questionnaire