Before You Take the Stage: A Chat with Living Arts' Senior Artists

In the 45 minutes window between school and rehearsal, I met with 5 young women at the FREC-Mercado. In preparation for their upcoming 20th Annual Student Showcase, we sat down to talk about their history with Living Arts, and the role the organization has played in their lives.

“I came to Living Arts when I was 5 or 6,” stated 18-year-old Xalma Palomino. “The studio was right around my house, so my mom just signed my sister and I up for a ballet class once a week”. 18-year-old dancers Carolina Anaya and Andrea Hinojosa also began in ballet. “Xalma introduced me to dance because we’ve been friends for many, many years. My mom signed me up and I took every class they took,” says Anaya. Alexis Harris, 18, began dancing when she was 3 years old, and was introduced to Living Arts by her grandmother at 8 years old. Alexis in turn introduced Tanykia “Diamond” Davis to Living Arts when the girls were in the 8th grade.

On Sunday, June 9th, Xalma and Carolina, along with fellow senior dancers Alexis and Andrea, will be performing in their last Showcase. The recital will be held at Cass Technical HS, where most of the young woman attend. The performance will be bittersweet for the girls as they are also graduating from high school and moving on to different things in life. “It’s sad because we’re leaving now. We became like a family, we all grew up with each other like sisters,” stated Xalma. Andrea added, “We really became close to each other and not seeing them every day is going to be weird.”What started as a fun activity as children has become a passion for these young artists.

Dedicating so many years to their craft, has not come easy. “We’ve had to chose between school activities and rehearsals or performances at times. I even missed my mom’s graduation,” said Alexis. But the sacrifice is worth it. When Diamond and I spoke on the phone, she talked about the feeling of creating. “Every time I get in the studio to dance or I’m making art at the SPOT, it’s a chance to be the best dancer or artist I can be. It helps my mind expand and open up.”

There’s a consensus among all the young women that their craft has given them a sense of freedom. Jeimy shared, “Making art, especially painting, gives me an outlet for stress. I can channel that I have into making something beautiful.” Jeimy began as a dancer as well, but realized she didn’t have the same love of dance as visual art. She’s passionate about the open-studio model of the SPOT and has previously presented on the approach at conferences. She continued, “For teenagers who are just trying to see what art has to offer for them, it’s better to have a research-based approach in the studio, where the mentor is there to guide along the way. It' helped me to discover art as an outlet.”

Through the arts, each of the young women have found an identity that is all their own. “I’m more outspoken now and not afraid to express what I want,” said Carolina. “So many kids feel like they’re going to be judged for what they do or say, and I feel like through dance, I’ve gained so much confidence.” Each expressed they’ve faced criticism for not being “enough” (whether their art was something that didn’t speak to others or their bodies didn’t scream ‘dancer’), but they all site persistence and the support of their fellow artists as their motivation to do what they do.

When asked what advice they wished they’d heard more of as children, and what advice they wanted to give to young artists, they shared encouraging words to keep making art. Diamond summed it up best when she said “You can do whatever you set your mind to as long as you keep at it. Anything you do can be a form of art. When you move your body, it’s a form of art, when you’re drawing, painting, it’s art, whatever it is, it will tell a story to someone. It might take some time, but don’t give up. It will get you somewhere in life.”

Click here for more information about Living Arts’ OSA program. And for tickets to the 20th Annual Student Showcase, click here.