Team Zarely: When did you start learning ballet?
Noelani Pantastico: I started "creative movement" when I was around six years old and that did have the beginnings of ballet training. In those early childhood years I moved quite a bit so I didn't really nail anything down when it came to a hobby. When I moved to Pennsylvania at the age of 11 I was introduced to the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet school. This is also where the fellow Zarely member Vanessa Zahorian did her base training.
Team Zarely: Did you decide to become a ballerina by yourself or was it your parents' decision?
Noelani Pantastico: It was never decided, actually. The stars happened to align and suddenly at 16 I received a contract to dance with Pacific Northwest Ballet. Finally after this I became aware this would be my career. That being said, it wasn't an easy experience to get to that point. It was not easy for my family to take me to training. I was one of six kids and the only one who danced. My body also wasn't the ideal ballerina body... especially when I hit my teens. When I look back at my life and how it all happened, I consider myself very lucky. I truly feel that my main purpose in this life is to bring art and love through dance to many people. I've been blessed to do what I have done.
Team Zarely: In your opinion what is the hardest part of being a principal dancer?
Noelani Pantastico: I would have to say the pressure to be better than yourself everyday. The pressure to maintain a level of standard that can't be touched. We have the responsibility of being a role model to others. Along with that you are alone. It's really up to you to become the ideal artist for the organization that you work for and for yourself. Once you are at the top you have to keep pushing to go higher. It doesn't just stop once you've arrived. We put this pressure on ourselves, but there is a global unspoken expectation on what a Principal Ballerina should be too.
Team Zarely: And when aspiring young dancers ask for your advice what do you recommend them?
Noelani Pantastico: Live this life in dance with gratitude and love. It goes by so quickly, so don't waste time being hasty or negative. That can snowball to a bad place all too easily. You'll get further faster with love. Also, find the place that's right for you. A lot of times that I see unhappy dancers they just don't realize that they are in the wrong place. Part of growing is recognizing if the environment you're in is nurturing. A rose can't bloom in a desert, but a cactus can. So make sure that you're in the right place.
Team Zarely: What is your biggest dream now, Noelani? It might be ballet related or not.
Noelani Pantastico: I don't night dream very often. Occasionally I'll have a random anxiety ballet dream where my I'm looking for my costume and the curtain is going up haha.... I do daydream though, quite a bit. My mind is often filled with ideas of dance or future projects. It's getting thief to actually happen that's difficult!
Photos by Marc Von Borstel, Angela Sterling and Alice Blangero