Inspiring Latina of the Week: Ballet Dancer Jenna Graves

Jenna Graves, is a professional dancer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who always dreamed of performing on stage. Jenna just finished dancing for the world-renowned dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 2013 season at The Ailey Citigroup Theater (March 13 - 24). This is her second season with Ailey II. Being Puerto Rican, she is the only Latina dancer in the company of 12 dancers. Ms. Graves received a scholarship to train at The Ailey School, and has also competed in a variety of dance competitions including: the Youth America Grand Prix, Tanzolymp, and Barcelona International Dance Competition. Jenna was also recently featured as the lead dancer in MTV U’s The Backstory- a web project combatting human trafficking. Jenna is living proof that with hard work, dreams do come true! 

What inspired you to become a dancer?  

As a child I was very shy and timid. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than just myself. After my first ballet class, I realized I could express myself in a way I never thought was possible. Dance allowed me to be confident. The ability to connect with people and inspire them through my body's movement inspired me to become a dancer. 

What fulfills you the most about your work?

Giving back to the community and being able to inspire young dancers to really go out and achieve their dreams is my favorite part about my work.   We often perform for school aged children and give master classes and I love the one on one contact I have with young people all over the world.  I hope they see something in me that inspires them to reach for their highest highs.

Tell me about The Backstory campaign and what the Ailey II is doing to educate people on sex trafficking?

The Backstory campaign is a series of web videos that shed light on the tragic lives of victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The campaign promotes awareness and seeks to prevent the occurrence of sexual and labor abuse within our culture at large. Through dance Ailey II lent a strong voice towards this movement. I was very honored to join the march against these ongoing tragedies.

You are the only Latino dancer in the company of 12 dancers, how does that make you feel to be a part of the company? 

Being the only Latina in the company has truly been an honor and a privilege. I am able to bring a different spice and zest to the varied choreographer's ballets, which further enhances Ailey II's legacy of cultural diversity. I'm humbled by the hard work and dedication my co-dancers have and it only encourages me to be myself and work harder every day.

Why do you believe that dancing and involvement in the arts is important for the Latino community?

Dancing and involvement in the arts is important in the Latino community because it is a great outlet for expression as well as communication. Not only do you build character within the arts, but you have the opportunity to meet amazing people all over the world who broaden your views on life. 

What advice do you have for other Latinas who want to get into dancing professionally?

I would say that the best advice would be to truly be yourself, work hard, and to never give up on what you love. Artistic Directors really pay attention to dancers who stand out and have confidence. Go into an audition prepared and ready to show what you love to do. Leave all your insecurities at the door and just have fun! 

What gives you the most pride about being Latina?

Being Latina has allowed me to add to the legacy and history of my culture. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity and to inspire other Latinos to reach for their goals. I feel it's my duty to give back. There were so many Latinos who have paved the way for me and to think that now, I could open doors for other Latinos gives me the greatest pride and satisfaction.

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