Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alicia Mae Holloway greets Matt James in the season premiere of ABC's "The Bachelor."

Courtesy ABC

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Alicia Mae Holloway Talks About Her Time on ABC's “The Bachelor”

Bunheads tuning in to the season premiere of ABC's "The Bachelor" on January 4 may have recognized a familiar face: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alicia Mae Holloway, literally bourréeing out of a limousine to greet bachelor Matt James. While Holloway unfortunately didn't get a rose that night, she did thoroughly enjoy being the long-running reality franchise's first professional-ballerina contestant, as she told Pointe in a recent Zoom call.


Have you always been a fan of "The Bachelor"?

My friends would watch it back when I was a student at the School of American Ballet. I watched one episode and was like, "What is this?! Why would people do this?!" A few years later, I started Colton Underwood's season because I was feeling really left out in my group chats. I binged the whole season and became obsessed.

How did you get cast?

One of my best friends (Jacqueline Bologna, of New York City Ballet) told me to apply. I wasn't sure but filled out the online application anyway—and promptly forgot about it. One day, I got a random call from L.A. The voicemail said, "Hey Alicia, this is so-and-so from ABC's 'The Bachelor,' and we're really interested in you." It all happened from there!

During the audition process, did you emphasize your career and identity as a ballerina?

Absolutely.

In New York's Times Square, an African American ballerina in a black long-sleeved shirt and white tutu performs a large jet\u00e9 with her left leg bent and nearly kicking her head.

Alicia Mae Holloway

Renee Choi, Courtesy Holloway

Did you have any misgivings about going on the show, like whether the ballet world would view you differently?

That was at the forefront of my mind throughout this whole process. I'd read articles about people who lost their jobs and couldn't find another one after coming off the show. That was my main concern, because my career has always been first and is always going to be first. But I felt in my heart that this was something I really wanted to do. I decided that if people don't want to work with me because I did something I wanted to do, that's on them and they're missing out on me.

Were you concerned about taking time off from Dance Theatre of Harlem?

At DTH we tour 16 to 18 weeks out of the year. Obviously, we can't do that now due to COVID-19, so we've been doing virtual classes and workshops. The company got to go to Kaatsbaan in the fall, which looked amazing—I obviously was not there. Basically, I realized that now was the time to go on "The Bachelor" if I was ever going to do it. We just got back to work in the studio last week, so I think the timing all happened perfectly.

Did you feel any kind of pressure to represent ballerinas—and ballerinas of color—on national television?

Arthur Mitchell, who founded DTH, said something once that stuck with me: "Cinderella doesn't walk into the ball. She arrives." What that says to me is, you have to present yourself in the best way possible all the time. You always have to be the best version of yourself and present yourself with the most class and integrity. I do want to be a role model and uphold my reputation, because I never had a professional ballerina who looked like me to look up to when I was young.

How did you plan to keep up your technique and stamina while on the show?

Before I left, I made a promise to myself and to my boss that I'd give myself daily ballet class. I wrote down at-home workouts and my favorite pointe exercises, and I brought two pairs of pointe shoes: one newer and a more dead pair for building my strength with.

You got a lot of screen time in the premiere episode (watch it here), prepping your pointe shoes and dancing around the resort.

Yeah, I was shocked by how much they ended up showing! I just wanted to showcase my real daily life as a dancer.

Did you pre-choreograph that (amazing) exit from the limo?

It literally came to me in the moment. At first I thought I might do a grand jeté, but immediately realized the dress was not made for it!

How did the other women react when they learned you're a ballet dancer?

Honestly, they were so kind. Everybody went, "Oh, my gosh, I've never met a real-life ballerina!" There weren't any ignorant or awkward questions. It was validating to get such a positive response.

Understandably, there were a few tears in your interview after the rose ceremony. What was going through your mind when you realized your "Bachelor" journey was over?

There were a lot of emotions. To viewers, the night seems short, but it is long—and I'm an emotional person. What got me through was reminding myself that everything happens for a reason. I was very upset that I didn't get to speak to Matt because we have things in common. He went to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, I went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. He lives in New York, I live in New York. He has a white mom and a Black dad, I have a white mom and a Black dad. I was obviously sad when I left, but I do feel like Mrs. James could be in that amazing, intelligent, badass group of women. I left feeling that Matt was in good hands.

Has the show changed your life at all?

My Instagram following went up, and I've gotten more offers to do photo shoots and stuff like that. I shot my first music video in December. The reaction from the dance world has honestly been nothing but great. I really thought people would throw shade, but everybody has been so supportive. I've gotten a lot of messages from people who were mad I was voted off. [Laughs]

What have you been up to since the show?

Life has been great overall, though I didn't get to work with DTH from the end of September until January 4. I was a little bored at first, in part because I couldn't go on social media in case people figured out I got eliminated. So I kept myself busy and created routines, because I thrive when I have a set schedule. I taught at SAB for a week back in the fall, and I taught a lot in Pennsylvania and in West Virginia, where I'm from. I'm now back in New York and ready to return to the studio with DTH.

What advice do you have for other ballet dancers who are presented with an opportunity like this?

If your gut is telling you to do it, go for it. Life is short! If you can make it work while keeping your dance career your number-one priority, then I would highly recommend going for an unconventional, once-in-a-lifetime chance.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Cinderella. Roy Smiljanic, Courtesy British Ballet Charity Gala

Darcey Bussell Is Putting on a Benefit Gala Starring 8 UK Dance Companies—and You Can Stream It From Home

Planning a major gala during a global pandemic is no easy feat—but don't say that to Dame Darcey Bussell. In an amazingly short time, the former Royal Ballet principal and "Strictly Come Dancing" judge has curated a historic evening to support the dance industry in her home country. The British Ballet Charity Gala will bring eight major UK dance companies together for a live performance at London's Royal Albert Hall on June 3, before it is streams internationally on June 18.

The event, hosted by Bussell and actor Ore Oduba, a "Strictly Come Dancing" winner, will feature performances by Ballet Black, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, New Adventures, Northern Ballet, Rambert, Scottish Ballet and The Royal Ballet—marking the first time all of them have performed together on the same program.

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Students of International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia. Karl Hoffman Photography, Courtesy International City Ballet

A Ballet Student’s Guide to Researching Pre-Professional Training Programs

Many dancers have goals of taking their training to the next level by attending full-time pre-professional programs next fall. But it's hard to get to know the organizations without physically experiencing them first. Even when the world isn't practicing social distancing, visiting a school or attending its summer program isn't always possible. So, what can students and their families do to research programs and know what might work best for them? Who do you reach out to, and what are the questions you and your parents should be asking?

Here, pre-professional-program leaders share some practical advice for taking the next step in your dance training.

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