Valériane Louisy Ballerina Artist Visionary-From Paris to New York

Posted By: Eric Smith In: Dance On: Thursday, May 23, 2019

Valériane shares inspirations from her experience as a ballerina-in pursuit of what she loves and was born to be.

Where is home for you?

I was born and raised in Paris, but my family-both of my parents are from Marseille.

Most recently you were performing in the UK?

Yes, as part of Let's Dance (International Frontiers) Serendipity Festival and it was about black dance. It was the 10th anniversary of this event. It's a platform for black dancers and speakers to come together for about two weeks to show their work, talk about different political subjects and how they are engaging in their own way through the arts.

What was your experience engaging as part of this festival?

Well, it was really extremely nice. You got to also see other performances to see how others engage in different ways. Even more interesting it was not only through dance. People have a lot of different ways of expressing their ideas through art to engage society and sometimes their bodies are ways used to translate their words.

This was really inspiring for me because I'm always looking for new ways to express myself.  My own movement is also something I want to deepen-and seeing all of those expressions gave me a lot of information. For example, the author Brenda Dixon Gottschild of "The Black Dancing Body" spoke on being black, and how black art, in general, should claim its environment and this was a really nice conversation.

So when you are performing-is it more than just following a choreographed routine? Can you talk about the different forms of expression and what that means for you?

So for me, and this is why I decided to join this company, this is a company that tells stories through movement. Not only just moving, but also expressing deeper subjects through the movements. And this is why it is so important for me.  Dancing is not just a way to move my body to stay in shape or do beautiful movements.  That is really not my goal, my goal is to tell stories.

Whenever I am in the creative process with a choreography, whether it is my own or someone else's-I always need to understand the story. When you see art in general it is not just one story; everyone can make their own story, out of what they see or feel-and this is what really matters to me-to relate and create my own story so that people will understand and feel it in their own way.

Is it for our interpretation your movements? How would we pick up on the story you wish to tell with dance?

Well, I create differently.  It's always coming from what I feel in the movement, or the idea I want to develop from the music.  And if there is no music-what the silence makes me feel.  Every time I dance it's a different feeling.  Every minute is a different moment and every emotion depends on what I feel at that moment.  It's also always interesting because even when working on an idea I had before-it's going to be from a different perspective based on the time it's occurring.  It's the same with choreography for me.

Whenever a choreographer gives me a movement, for example like when working with Ronald K. Brown(EVIDENCE), there was this one choreography where we were slaves trying to escape from plantations.  And there was a big statement at the beginning where I was the one that got whipped-so my back was facing the audience and the other dancers were acting like they were hitting my back.  This was a piece that was really deep and important to me, and every time I have to perform it this triggers a lot of things, emotions, and feelings.  So there is a lot of personal work, still being able to do the dance and the movements while wanting to sit and cry because it makes me feel so much.  This is a memory I like to share because it reminds me of why I like to do what I do.

One time after this performance there was a 4yr old who approached me with her mother, who explained that her daughter was crying during the performance thinking that someone actually hurt me.  This let me know the daughter understood the story and kids are a really great audience.  The simplest things can be understood the way they are or in a totally different way.  How it is understood is personal.

Even for me-I've performed this choreography four times and in three of those I cried.  It's in the preparation outside of the rehearsal space where we ask ourselves, for each movement-what it means.  And this is especially how the choreography works-every single movement has a meaning.  Every single word is there for a reason and it creates these movements like a sentence, like a phrase to translate emotions.

When you started dancing at age 4, at that time did you know this would be your profession?

Really, I actually didn't want to be a dancer. At first, I just wanted to be a teacher because I really loved to share and I didn't know then, how as a dancer I could share as much as a teacher.  It was only when I got to the age of 16 that I realized how as a dancer-I needed this to be able to teach others how to get there without having personally experienced it myself.  So I told myself to do deeper personal work to be a better guide for others.  And so later in my career, I want to be an art therapist to use my dance techniques to help people.


When you first started in your development did you feel there was a certain responsibility to being a dancer?

Absolutely not at the beginning, it's only becoming more so lately.  When I was growing up I used to do music, dance, and a lot of different activities.  It was only when I got to a conservatory at age 11 that I realized that my color mattered.  How others viewed my body, ability, and how I was put into the works-where I would be put in comparison to the majority of the others in the space who were white.  Growing up, I was usually one of the only black people doing ballet, and for me it didn't matter, I was just dancing and it was not a factor that bothered're white I'm black...ok, let's get back to dance-that was all that mattered.

Only when I started wanting to audition for more professional schools that I started facing the reality of my identity  I was often told because of 'your' body type-you should do contemporary because your body type is not fitting the ballet expectations.  And I was like, ok, I'll do what I want to do until I can't do it anymore.  It was more important for me in ballet, to understand in a technical way and also have more knowledge of my body.

At age 17 I started auditioning for a lot of places in Europe and at some pre-professional schools, they would tell me my body is too much of this or not enough of that.  Behind it, when I asked other students in the school-they would say they already recruited a black, one black dancer-so why don't you try next year.  And it was confusing. Why should it be just one? And why is it even a quota? This really got me confused. Even with one of my teachers at the Conservatory in Paris who was really honest, I would tell her places I wanted to audition and she would be like no, they're taking blond people there; they are not even going to look at you-so don't even bother going there. So that's when I started realizing the difference.

Because I was associated with black people who are famous in America-it was suggested that I go to the Alvin Ailey School because there are more people like you.  And I was like, what does it mean there are more people like me? Is it because they like love to dance? Because for me that was the only association that mattered.

Then after high school, I was supposed to go to a contemporary school in the south of France, and instead did a summer intensive program with the Alvin Ailey School and really loved the movement, loved the energy, it was something I had never done.

My teachers back then suggested that I keep in consideration my color because other people are doing it, and also to acknowledge, your color is your strength, not your weakness-but be aware of this.

You mentioned resistance to your body type, was it you were not skinny enough?

No, I wasn't skinny enough.  There's a certain shape of the foot that you have to have.  I was too muscular.  It was a lot of those factors that came into perspective. But for me, the only thing that should have mattered is how much you've trained, how much you wanted it, and how much you loved to dance.  For me it's more than just body type, it's how you can make somebody feel when you dance.  Do they stay stuck on how your body looks or the story and emotions you are sharing? Is it the emotions you are sharing that they will remember or is it your body type? After that experience, is when I decided America would be better a opportunity for me.

Growing up did you have friends who wanted to pursue ballet, but were not confident enough to pursue it?

I had a lot of them. Every time actually, that I had to go with what I wanted to do it was always weird and hard in a way.  Like what matters for me when I dance is the environment I'm in because I feed off everybody.  So when there were people who had the passion for it, but just don't have the financial stability to pursue it or either the will or they were scared it was always a little pinch in the heart. But also it helped me because I told myself it was also for them I'm going to do it.

What is the difference for you between New York and Paris creatively?

It's freer to create in New York. There are so many opportunities there, so many different spaces. And there are a lot of communities well organized. In Europe and in France, it's harder to just walk somewhere and see a group of dancers and go work with them.  When you are in New York, people will have their arms open to you for you to step in and dance for them. This is a big difference, a big cultural difference.  There is a larger community in New York, and even though one could feel the difference from the cultural aspect this is not something that stops them from inviting me and for me to feel invited.

It is my fourth year in New York, and in those years going back and forth I have seen the growth in France.  When I see some of my friends, they are finding a lot more opportunities than a few years ago.  So, I feel like France is evolving and Europe also but at a different pace. Just because in New York, it is such an eclectic city so there's every kind of dancer and every kind of artist.  There is so much more freedom of expression there are more established venues to do it or they just create their own venues-which is why I am so inspired.

When you say create your own venues-what do you mean?

Well, your own safe space. For example, three weeks ago a woman I met at the club that I did not know anything about, sent me an invitation to a movements class that she created.  She invited the DJ, she invited artists, singers, and painters who were there to decorate the space. So there was this moment when arriving in the space, it felt like it was in New York but not in New York and the time stopped and you had to experience something that's bigger than everybody, and created by just one person who had an idea. This is what I experience a lot in New York. People just pop up with ideas and open their space to everybody.

For example, I had another friend who is doing voguing. It was raining a lot and this friend was supposed to be training with this legendary dancer. He invited all of us to come instead-even though I'm not a voguing dancer-I don't especially have the will, I just wanted to discover something new and I was welcomed in the space. I did the same with Capoeira-I just popped up in a class-tried it and was welcomed in the space. That is why I love it so much, every community that is created in New York is open to everybody.

Do you find your training in ballet allows you to engage in other styles?

I feel like it does.  At first, I thought it was constraining because I felt that I had an image of how a movement should be.  And it was only when I started doing so many different techniques that it was a bit confusing because of only focusing on one technique for so long. 

I thought that in order to understand a different technique I would have to do it for years and years which is still accurate.  But the fact that I was moving from one technique to another technique when I was in school gave me little introductions to things that I love and also showed me what I disliked.  But mostly, how well my mind switches fast to what my body is going to do, this is a strength to have my ballet training.

Valériane LOUIS Innovator

Is it accurate to say that ballet is at the highest level of dance technique execution?

I feel like ballet is something being promoted differently.  It is being promoted exclusively.  It's part of society, so whenever someone asks the question-it's are you a dancer or are you a ballet dancer?  Even though there are other things-so many dance styles that people are not aware of, so many different techniques, everybody always refers to ballet. And this is also what I used to do, before my discovery.

Ballet does have a lot of discipline.  It was created out of shapes and images. So in order to learn ballet-you can't just watch videos to see how people place their body-what shape it's supposed to be. Each position has it's own specific name.

There are so many other styles that are not like this. There are so many other styles that you can just watch videos to figure out. There were many times when I felt stuck-where I could not express myself in ballet just because the movement was too pretty-in my opinion and I did not want to dance pretty.

It's like when there's a position and you hold the position and are either super happy or you are sad.   That can be the repertoire of ballet.  And with this, I can be stuck in my emotions knowing there is a lot more. With these other styles, I know there are a lot more techniques that are not just accessible through ballet.

People who freestyle and improvise-they are practicing their craft outside of these restrictions for them to be able to do the moves they are going to do.  It's just that ballet is more qualified with perfecting structured moves.

Does music impact ballet vis-a-vis classical, jazz etc...?

In the world that I grew up in, yes. It was mostly super classical. You might have something super fancy when it is a little jazzy.  Even though you can do ballet and it be set against different genres of music,  the dance will be in complete opposite of the music in movement  I believe, and like times when the music is going with the movement, but also sometimes confronting it. That being said, ballet is often times paired with classical or then sometimes with jazz.

It is interesting to see how ballet can actually fit with a lot of music. It is just people don't see it like this and are so stuck with how it should be.

Could for example you see a choreographed ballet performance set against a house music DJ?

I'm sure it could, but generally, the ballet community would say no, no, no.  When I once represented work like this to one of my teachers when I was in Paris at the Conservatoire Régional de Paris, she was like no, you absolutely don't look like a ballerina.   And I was like, that was not the goal.  Who wants to just be a ballerina when you can be an artist?  It's not only about the style you are investing in, it's about how you use it.

Whenever I teach ballet-I don't always use classical music. It can create a ceiling to the environment. The music is also really important. It's really important to set the goal-how you are going to move to that music. The movement can be just a movement and can be meaningless-but the music is gives it texture and more meaning to it.

When you are dancing in ballet, is it important for you to have heard the music before to know each particular break or note inflection to perform in sync?

Often times I love to choose music that has a lot of textures, and different nuances that's what I love to do.  Not only to dance in the rhythm but in between, to make it interesting. The music gives it a lot of meaning, so not only should you use the main beat but also use what is in between.

Do you find there are venues where you feel more joy and emotion performing?

It does depend. Many times it's the people that I dance with that are helping me get my mind where I need to get it.  Or it can be what the theme of the evening is about or the type of people that are coming into the space itself-all of that can make it exciting.

In one of my performances in June of last year-the audience was near the water and it was where I could actually see the water and I was like...oh, nature that's different! Typically, whenever you dance in a theater you can barely see the audience, so having something that is bigger than everything also helps inspires me so much.

Are there any goals or projects you'd like to be working on in the future?

Well, I definitely want to keep on experiencing life-move with what I feel. See what life brings me, where I'm supposed to go.  I'm really open to the future. I'd like to stay in the United States to feel that energy. Then I'd also like to travel-experience and discover to help contribute to the person I want to become.

And last, is there anywhere you would like to travel?

The next trip travel destination I thought of was India because I want to study Indian dance. Then to Brazil for Capoeira. Then randomly to Egypt.