Daisy Jacobson was interviewed by Mathilde Menusier.
Daisy grew up in Manhattan Beach, CA where she trained at South Bay Ballet from age 6 to 18. She earned her BFA in Dance from The Juilliard School in 2017 and joined LA Dance Project soon after. Daisy is currently in her third season with LADP and has performed in new works/repertoire by Benjamin Millepied, Justin Peck, Shannon Gillen, Kyle Abraham, Ohad Naharin, Gianna Reisen, Zack Winokur & Emily Mast, Bella Lewitzky, Martha Graham, Madeline Hollander, and Charm La’Donna. In 2019, Dance Magazine named her dancer “on the rise”.
In 2013, Daisy was named a Youth America Grand Prix Finalist, National YoungArts
Winner, and Presidential Scholar in the Arts. She has attended programs with Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Nederlands Dans Theater, Batsheva, ChuThis, ArtsUmbrella, and Springboard Danse Montreal. While attending Juilliard, Daisy performed new works by Takehiro Ueyama, Loni Landon, Zvi Gotheiner, Matthew Neenan, and Benjamin Millepied. She performed leading roles in masterworks such as Merce Cunningham’s BiPed, Jiri Kylian’s Symphony of Psalms, and Nacho Duato’s Por Vos Muero.
Would you like to talk about your personal background – where you grew up, your first encounter with dance and whether it has been a struggle for you to be able to access dance classes or even music?
I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California—a beach city just outside of Los Angeles. My mother is French and my father is American. My twin sister, Camille and I started dance movement classes at 4 years old. Ever since I can remember I’ve been dancing! I was extremely fortunate in this way and I thank my mother for introducing us to dance at such a young age. At six years old, I began formal ballet training and I was hooked. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. All I could think about was becoming a professional dancer. I was also lucky to have each ballet class accompanied by pianists. I had the luxury of listening to live music each day instead of a recording.
What did this art form mean to you as a child? Or brought to you?As a child, dancing brought me pure joy. I looked forward to going to ballet class every day. I loved working hard on the small details and I also loved the way I was able to express myself. I was a shy little girl and I was often extremely anxious at school. But after school, the ballet studio was a place where I could let go and allow my imagination to lead. It was also a place where I could socialize with friends outside of school who shared my passion and love for dance. Ballet class was and will always be therapeutic for me.
What did you like so much about dancing that you decided to dedicate your life to it?I love performing. I love communicating with an audience and sharing a story. I love getting the chance to become something or someone I’m not. In dancing I escape reality and what an exhilarating thing to do.
What is your first performance memory? Or your best memory from being onstage?I don’t know that I can choose my best memory of being on stage or even my first memory… I have so many!
I do remember that when I was 9 years old I was “Little Clara” in the Nutcracker. I was sitting on a rocking horse and the curtain was about to go up! I remember being slightly nervous in the blackness behind the curtain and telling myself, “you’ve got this Daisy!… you can do it!” The curtain went up and after that it was bliss! I think that especially when I was young and performing—it all felt like playtime to me. I was ecstatic just to be on stage with my friends dancing and pretending!
The power of dance is often unnoticed or undervalued. Could you tell us a story where you’ve witnessed this power?
I’ve seen dance move audience members to tears of both sadness and joy. The ways in which people respond to dance is infinite and we all watch dance or want to experience dancing for different reasons. It’s a way to communicate without words and that’s beautiful. Last summer, I taught and ran a summer intensive for twenty-four female students of The Gabriella Foundation. The Gabriella Foundation provides dance training to students from under-privileged neighborhoods and inner city schools during the school year. During the Summer many students don’t have access to dance classes. The teachers selected some of their most dedicated dance students to participate in an LA Dance Project intensive for free.
The way the students threw themselves into dance and the way they grew in just two weeks was astounding. Multiple students told us through tears that the Summer program was life-changing and that they felt safe and encouraged at LADP. Others said they felt inspired and gained the confidence to follow their dreams. I truly saw how powerful dance could be. Their sweet words made me feel prouder than ever to be a dancer and a teacher.
What would you say to someone who has never been to a dance show?
I would say: “Let the movement, music, and visuals wash over you. There’s no wrong way to observe a dance.”
How did your own personal history and experiences have shaped the professional dancer that you’ve become?
I do not possess the traditional aesthetics or proportions of a classical ballet dancer. But from age six, I dreamt of becoming a ballerina. Since I did not attend a conservatory or specialized school for the arts, I had to make the most of the few hours I had each day in the dance studio. My technique was strong, I was mature for my age, and my love for ballet showed in my dancing. I felt like I was on track to becoming a professional dancer. I attended high-caliber summer programs, receiving positive feedback from teachers.
There was only one problem: my body. While I have the desired legs and feet, I am short-waisted and built more like an athlete than a swan queen. At age seventeen, a teacher told me that I needed to lose ten pounds in order to make up for my shape. I felt hurt, embarrassed, and conflicted. I wasn’t at all overweight and wasn’t about to risk an eating disorder, but I also didn’t want my body to stand in the way of my goal of joining a ballet company. So I cross trained, saw a nutritionist, and worked on my lines and port de bras. I compulsively watched YouTube videos of principal ballerinas. If I couldn’t physically look the part, I decided I was going to make up for it in artistry and precision.
Despite my dedication, my body presented another challenge that felt beyond my control. A late growth spurt complicated a condition I had been dealing with since age eleven: Osgood Schlatter’s disease. The growth spurt, made the knee condition go from manageable to truly painful. I would hobble up and down the stairs at home and ice my knees every night. I remember clenching my teeth in ballet class, just to get through grand allegro. Still, I was determined to leave home at eighteen to join a ballet company. Taking time off was not an option.
In my senior year of highschool, I was offered a traineeship with the Joffrey Ballet.
Around the same time, I was gifted tickets to see a new dance company at Disney Concert Hall. It was LA Dance Project’s inaugural performance. The show was mesmerizing. It was my first encounter with choreography by Merce Cunningham, Benjamin Millepied, and William Forsythe–I had never seen Quintett performed live before, and I was struck by how nostalgic, daring, and playful movement could be. Until that moment I hadn’t imagined that types of dance beyond ballet could move me in such a way. The dancers could switch between styles of choreography effortlessly and they were all unique in both body type and movement quality. In the program I read that two dancers were graduates of The Juilliard School. Late that night I told my mother that I was going to apply to Juilliard. That spring I received my acceptance letter. I felt validated as a young artist with potential. Tired of fighting the ballerina stereotype, I knew I needed to go where I felt encouraged and free.
At Juilliard I had to set aside my ego and embrace starting from square one in order to develop versatility. It was hard to stray away from my “safe” zone of ballet, however, I thrived alongside dancers who were different than me and teachers who challenged me. But after my first year, my left knee was worse than ever and I learned I would need surgery. The operation set me back and I was in pain for most of my time at Juilliard. My healing process was long and I was always managing my knees. I cut and sewed my own knee pads just so I could get through performances of Symphony of Psalms without excruciating nerve pain. I was mentally broken down; I felt like a failure, because I knew I wasn’t dancing to my fullest potential.
But, with the help of my teachers and peers I persevered. I learned how to work efficiently and intelligently to minimize my pain. On the weekends I worked with my teacher Charla Genn who coached me in owning my weaknesses and using my strengths to my advantage. She understood my insecurities, but didn’t let me wallow. She would say “I’m Daisy and I feel fabulous” and have me repeat it aloud. Slowly, my knee pain diminished and I started coming into my own. I stopped feeling ashamed of my body and my newfound confidence showed in my dancing. I finally felt free.
Things came full circle when I was offered an apprentice position at LA Dance Project. I’ve been with the company for three seasons now and I never thought I’d get here. My love for dance has never been greater and I feel that it’s all just the beginning. I hope to provide inspiration to young dancers who’ve been discouraged by injuries, body stereotypes, or teachers’opinions. Being true to oneself is the most gratifying way to live.
I am living proof of this: I am a dancer, despite the odds – or perhaps, more interestingly, because of the odds.
How would you explain the importance for underprivileged children and teenagers to have access to dance and music? How can dance be a way of integrating the most vulnerable children into society?
It’s extremely important. Moving to music is innately human. It’s a way to understand ,
communicate, bond, and empathize with one another. If we can empathize, we can better work as a team.
Dance is also fun! it’s a way to de-stress and move through feelings. Expressing one-self
breeds confidence as well.
Do you feel you have a responsibility towards society as an artist?
Yes! Absolutely. I’m responsible for sharing my craft with others and influencing young dancers in a positive way. I’ve learned so much from my own challenges in dance that many people can relate to many other facets of life.
Do you believe that artists can bring hope to people? Yes! I saw it in my Gabriella Foundation students.
What dance can do? Dance can inspire