For the June Edition of Eye on Culture, the Juilliard Office of International Advisement interviewed third year BFA dancer, Lúa Mayenco Cardenal. Read on to learn more about Lúa’s experiences in Madrid, her workshop “Beyond Words”, and her involvement as an Orientation Leader and in Campus Activity Board.
Do you remember your first time dancing, or experiencing dance?
I don’t have a very clear memory of my first time dancing. Growing up in a family of actors, I feel I’ve been playing around the stage since I was able to escape my crib. However, I do have a few memories of my first year at my first dance academy. I started taking dance classes when I was six years old and for some reason I took them very seriously from day one. Of course, I clearly remember my first dance performance. The academy rented a small theater for a day and we spent hours rehearsing and placing the dances on stage before the performance. What I remember the most is the wonderful chaos backstage. Our teachers kept putting our buns up, checking that we didn’t make an unrepairable mess with our make-up, while we started caring less and less about the actual dances and more about the funny costumes and running around trying to find the theater’s secrets. I also remember that my family came to see me and that I felt incredibly relieved when they told me they hated the only dance I wasn’t part of. It wasn’t so much because I wanted to be the star of the show or anything like that, it was simply because I really, really wanted to be in that piece and wear those dotted green dresses.
Can you compare your dance training in Madrid to your training here at Juilliard? Are there any highlights from these different experiences?
The last ten years of my dance training in Madrid took place at the Professional Conservatory of Dance Carmen Amaya (www.conservatoriodanza.com/). Once I entered the professional program I chose the classical dance division, where I studied to become a well-trained ballerina. If I had to choose one word to describe those years it would be HARD. I would dance from 9a.m. to 3p.m. and go to school from 4p.m. to 9:30 at night. I struggled a lot with my body because I didn’t have the ideal lines for a classic ballerina. My knees and feet weren’t curved enough and my turn out was almost non-existent. Even if my teachers sometimes doubted I could make a living as a ballet dancer, they didn’t have any other option than believing in me. My endless passion and hard work showed them I was willing to keep going despite all kinds of obstacles. That way, they gave me more and more opportunities to work and I spent my days getting what others were given naturally. By the time I got into Juilliard I knew that the greatest obstacle was already overcome: I already saw myself as a dancer and nothing would ever change that. The past two years at Juilliard have helped me find my voice as an artist. Juilliard has been opening my eyes to new ways of understanding dance since I crossed its doors. The training I receive here is not only about perfecting my technique and obtaining the tools to step into the dance world; it is about exploring the universe I’m already a part of and finding the way to navigate it. These two experiences are very different, but they couldn’t have happened without each other. I just see it as a progression, as part of my natural evolution.
When you first arrived at the Juilliard school, how was your transition to US culture? What differences between Spanish and US cultures have you noticed?
At the beginning, everything was so fast that I didn’t even have time to ask myself what I was feeling. Trying to understand what people were saying around me was already too big of a task, so I didn’t start analyzing the cultural differences until a few months after my arrival. It was a tricky and confusing process, especially because I was the only European in my class and the first Spanish dancer in the history of the dance division. We were only three international dancers in the class of 2020 and the other two were from Canada, so they had English as their first language. Finding the confidence to speak
up in a culture where people are encouraged to fully develop their personal opinions from a very young age was very difficult. For the first time in the dance studio they were asking to hear my thoughts. I felt behind for almost the entire first year, but I truly learnt how to listen, and what a wonderful skill. I really missed the warmth of Spanish culture. I still miss throwing kisses all over the place and being able to hug a stranger after talking for a few minutes. Oh, I almost forgot: I had a very hard time getting used to American food. The Mediterranean diet and the time dedicated to each meal is still essential to me, and all of a sudden, those long conversations at the dining table were all gone. I truly believe all these intricate changes were essential, not to study at Juilliard, but to question my own culture and the one I was stepping into. I found adaptability, openness and comfort in all the challenges and new adventures Juilliard and the US were offering me. I would recommend 100% to throw yourself into the unknown and see the wonders of uncertainty. It’s the only way to understand the beauty of vulnerability.
Where is a place you miss most from home?
Madrid is full of magical corners. A friend from Juilliard just left after spending a couple of days in my city and it was impossible for me to condense its beauty in just two days. More than a place, what I miss the most is being able to sit outside with a bunch of friends or with my family, late at night, while we are having something to drink, until everything has been discussed at least twice. I miss the peace offered by the summer darkness of Spain and the relief of seeing the sun go down. The craziness of New York makes me miss the peace of human stillness. This is something that also Spain only has during the summer, but the memory of this feeling keeps me sane when nothing else can.
Is there an activity that you suggest folks do while in Spain?
If someone comes to Spain, they need to embrace the Spanish schedule (including the siesta time during weekends and holidays) to fully understand the country and its people. Spain has a little bit of everything, [that’s the] reason why there aren’t a lot of activities, dishes, traditions etc. that apply to all regions. If I had to suggest something, it would be visiting at least two very different cities and celebrate their diversity. Food, no matter where you go, is always tasty, different and of very good quality; they should definitely take advantage of that. Aside from this, I find fascinating the history that radiates from every single city, small town and village. The intricate past of this country makes it surprising and unique. Finally, I would like to highlight the openness of its citizens. If you come to Spain, make friends.
Is there a performance that has had a profound effect on you, or your current work?
I would be unfair if I had to point to a single performance. Since I came to Juilliard I’ve been shocked by all the possibilities offered by the contemporary dance world. Yes, I’ve seen big companies like NDT(www.ndt.nl/en/home.html), Batsheva(batsheva.co.il/en/home), CND (www.cnd.fr/fr/), Alvin Alley (www.alvinailey.org/) and others that have fascinated me with their quality of dance, imagination, and power. Yes, I’ve seen the work of unbelievable choreographers like Hofesh Shcheter, Crystal Pite, Roy Assaf or Pina Bausch that made me feel like I still was a baby dancer. However, the way these performances influenced me was letting me know that I only had to keep moving forward with availability. I want to try all, collaborate, choreograph, get lost and “fail”; just because risk is the only way to keep art alive. All these shows are reminders of how, no matter what you do, you are evolving, growing and improving.
You have recent experience as a choreographer. Can you share what you enjoy most about this, or what you think is the most challenging?
I always knew that I wanted to choreograph. I’m addicted to challenges and there is no greater one than sharing your thoughts with a hungry audience. I love it because it
allows you to see your desires, concerns and joys materialized in devoted bodies. With choreography, I’m able to create art from an empty space and people who I love and respect. I give life to an ephemeral and magical scene that will always be performed in an unrepeatable way. Also, it’s another way to participate in the dance world. Dancing frees your body and soul, but choreography liberates your mind. Both things are essential to me and Juilliard gave me the option to dedicate my time to both. About the most challenging side of choreography, I would say it’s staying confident. Setting your own movement in other people, designing a particular aesthetic, directing a rehearsal. All those things require self-trust, which is not always easy to find. You are opening yourself to those who work with you and to your audience, exposing your most vulnerable self. I think this is something choreographers will never learn how to handle completely. If they don’t doubt, then, they are not challenging themselves enough. They are sticking to what they know works. As they used to say, “A house that doesn’t change is a dead house”.
As an orientation leader, can you give our incoming Juilliard students some words of wisdom? What should they do to prepare for their experience?’
During my first week at Juilliard, they asked me to write an “expectations letter”. What was I expecting from the school? I answered I had no expectations. I wanted to let the future surprise me. Therefore, dear incoming students, don’t prepare for this experience. No matter how hard you try to visualize it, it will be different than you thought, and disappointment is a very painful feeling. My “words of wisdom” would be: stay open, embrace the days you feel homesick and lost, give yourself time to find friends, you don’t have to know who you are and “what you do”, let yourself get bored and, when you are stressed, remind yourself that everything happens at its own time. Dedication, passion and hard work will always be compensated, probably in ways you could have never imagined. There is nothing to prove. At the end of the day, the hardest judge is oneself; treat yourself well. Please, don’t be afraid of asking for help. You would be surprised of how many people are waiting to help you. Prioritize. “Yes” and “no” are both valid options. Finally, have fun and enjoy Juilliard. You can spend many years in NY, but not that many at this school full of talent.
You are currently a member of CAB, or Campus Activities Board. How do you suggest new Juilliard students, or returning students get more involved on campus? What are some accomplishments in this role that you are particularly proud of?
There is not an accurate recipe to get involved. Every student finds their own way into the Juilliard Community, starting with what comes naturally to them. However, what I believe is always useful and fulfilling, is to open yourself to new connections. The best resource at Juilliard is its students. Talented artists from all around the world meet in the city of New York just for a few years of their lives; we better enjoy their company. Through that desire of expanding my knowledge through others, I found my way into CAB. The Campus Activity Board gives me an excuse to get closer to those who are sharing a time of growth and discovery with me. After one year in such an amazing team, I look back and I feel proud of all those events that gave our friends an opportunity to simply laugh in company of their loved ones or their future loved ones. Furthermore, feeling the support and trust of the community is a motivation to keep challenging my personal limits. I feel proud of the new ideas I introduced into the CAB team through unusual events like the “Juilliard Assassin Game” or the “Capture the Penguin” for the Juilliard Spirit Day. I feel grateful for all the amazing experiences this school has offered me; getting involved is only a way to give back part of that joy. If you want to actively be a part of this community, keep sharing what inspires you in whatever way you feel comfortable with.
You are founder and director of a movement workshop called, “Beyond Words”. Can you tell us a little more about this program, and what motivated you to create this workshop?
After my first year at Juilliard I realized I had been focusing on my personal growth for far too long. I felt the need to share my knowledge and the tools that had helped me change all aspects of my life. I wanted to bring the power of dance to those who had never been exposed to the liberation of physical movement, and that way, the idea of “Beyond Words” first came to my mind. After a year of brainstorming and careful planning, I decided to create a one-week summer workshop for Spanish kids between the ages of 10 and 12. I wanted them to start considering physicality as part of their personality, including movement in their daily vocabulary and expanding their possibilities to express themselves. It was the first time I tried to create a program from scratch and I can’t deny it took a lot of time and effort; nevertheless, we made it happen. In two weeks from now, me and my Andalusian partner Margarita López, are meeting a delightful group of twelve kids in one of the public schools of Madrid. For five days we’ll dive into the movement universe, playing with the basics of dance and helping them to find comfort and support on their bodies. I can’t wait to see the magic happen.
Now that you’ve been in NYC for a bit, and have been involved in the community, can you share what you like most about NYC or the Juilliard community?
As I mentioned before, what I love the most about the Juilliard community is its students. I’ve been able to discover a whole new universe through the ideas and experiences of those around me. All of a sudden, I discovered the power of combining inspirations, projects, talent and resources. I feel supported and encouraged by all my friends and teachers. They taught me how to fly, accepting the fall as part of the adventure; I don’t know, I simply love collaborating and being part of a greater piece of art.
About NYC, it could be described as a continuous exchange of information. There is always something going on, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse if you are the kind of person who hates missing out. As Frank Sinatra used to say, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere”. Well, that’s exactly how I feel. I love how the city pushes you to always keep moving and improving, even if sometimes it takes you to exhaustion. New York is one of the few cities able to gather the best minds in a few blocks. I would have never, EVER, guessed that at the age of 18 I would be living in the city that never sleeps and discovering myself in its unique mess.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would like to thank the Office of International Advisement for this opportunity to share my experience at Juilliard. Because of my financial situation, I would have never believed I was going to complete two entire school years at this school. Feeling the support of this institution gives me the strength to keep fighting for my dreams. Thank you for everything.