Leilana Majri, 16, from Los Angeles, has been dancing since she was six years old. This is her second year in the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute. She studies ballet with Jenifer Ringer, Kelly Ann Sloan, and Seth Belliston, and modern with Tamsin Carlson.
This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
You’re preparing for the Winter Dance Concert this Saturday. What has that process been like?
All Level Five dancers in modern and ballet are performing, so since I’m doing both this year it’s been really great for me to dabble in a bunch of different kinds of dances. I’m doing two variations, we’re doing the friends dance from Coppelia, and then we’re doing a rep piece in modern called Cheap Imitations by Rudy Perez along with Tamsin Carlson’s original dance.
We’re performing a piece that Tamsin created in her rep class that’s set to instrumental cello music composed by Jacques Offenbach that I really like. It’s sort of slower than some of the dances that I’ve done before, and I really like the movement qualities. She has these sort of quirky movements that I find interesting. In ballet, I like the friends dance from Coppelia. There’s a great dynamic and energy when all of us are dancing at the same time. It’s just a very entertaining, fun, and happy dance. Kelly Ann [Sloan] has been very good at drilling it for us so we do it really well, so I’m excited for that.
Preparation has involved a lot of hard work and a lot of repetition. We’ve been rehearsing a lot to make everything look good, especially the staging and coordination of fitting all the students on the Zipper stage. But it’s also just fun to coordinate with your friends. In Tamsin’s piece, we got to create our duets and add our own choreography into it.
Have you done any choreography before this?
I have. I’m interested in being a choreographer, so I’ve done choreography by making my own solos for competitions and group pieces. I really want to choreograph for things that I care about, like activism, helping the earth, and veganism. Just recently, I have created a piece about the power of nature. I think choreography is a great outlet for those issues and that people are responsive to it. I also just enjoy exploring different kinds of movement with people in my classes. I think it’s really interesting.
How did you start dancing?
I started taking jazz classes when I was six, until I discovered that I really loved ballet. After doing ballet for a while, I started taking more modern classes and I realized how much I love modern and contemporary ballet. Later on, I met Tamsin at an open class in LA and she told me, “Oh, I teach modern classes at Colburn; you should try a class there.” So I took her up on that offer.
I’ve gotten to meet and work with all these really interesting teachers and choreographers since coming here, which helps me branch out into different styles. My process of growing as a dancer has involved experimenting in many different dance styles, so I’m very happy this year at Colburn to be able to do modern and ballet, two things that I really love and have grown into. All my teachers this year are very supportive and helpful!
I think for modern and contemporary dance, learning a Balanchine style is beneficial for me. It’s a freer, more fun, faster, and upbeat style than what I have previously studied. Going into modern class from ballet is easier because you can flow into it. The styles balance each other out. It’s helpful to be able to do both modern and ballet here because they go hand in hand with each other. I can take things that I learned in my modern class and apply them to my ballet class, and vice versa.
What is it like studying with so many different teachers at once?
I definitely get a big variety, especially in ballet. Ballet is a set curriculum or style, but each teacher has their own way of giving corrections, and different things that they focus on in class. You get something different out of each class, which is better than simply having the same person every week. They always have something new to bring to the table that you haven’t thought of before. I think it’s good to get all their input and think, ‘Kelly Ann said this,’ even though you’re in Jenifer’s class. It builds you up to be a better dancer because you have all of the different ideas and corrections in your head.
Why do you love dance?
Dance is such a great way to express yourself, for whatever you’re feeling or whatever issues you want to put out to the world. I think it gets a different reaction out of the audience than visual art or singing because it’s really powerful to see dancers’ bodies and the connection between the music and the movements.
What are some of your hobbies outside dance?
Animal rights, activism, and veganism, like I mentioned before. I’m also sort of a history buff, so I love reading history books. Reading in general is something I wish I had more time for but it’s hard because I am always dancing or doing schoolwork! I’ve been working so hard on academics as well as dance, so I hope I can find a school that I can double major in anthropology or history and dance. I also enjoy writing, hiking, and being around nature and animals.