Company Alumni

Merle Holloman

Where are you from? When did you first start dancing?

I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in the suburb of Bloomfield. According to my mom, I was dancing before I could talk. Apparently, when I was allowed to stay up and watch variety television shows with dancers, I would dance around the living room with such voracity that my mom had a difficult time getting me to go to sleep. By the time I turned three, my mom decided she needed to take me somewhere I could dance with other children. So, she enrolled me in the Alyce Carella School of Dance and that’s where it all began!

When did you come to Ballet Hispánico?

After graduating from a performing arts high school program affiliated with The Hartford Ballet Company, I made my way to New York City with dreams of becoming a professional dancer. I continued my professional dance training at American Ballet Theater School and the Joffrey Ballet School until 1974 when I became a member of the first Alvin Ailey II Company...known then as The Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble. 

After performing with Ailey II for two years I left the company and was considering leaving the field of dance altogether. But that consideration quickly dissolved when a close friend suggested I audition for Ballet Hispánico. I followed her advice and became a Company dancer member in 1977. 

Why did you choose to come to Ballet Hispánico and what was the audition process like?

As an African American, I was initially hesitant to audition for the Company. However, since almost a year had passed since I left Ailey II, my desire to perform again overtook that hesitation. 

I don’t really remember much about the actual audition, but what left a lasting impression on me was the moment Tina entered the room. Her dynamic presence, passion and pride for the Company she founded spoke volumes to me before she uttered a word. I recall her watching the audition with a laser like intensity and often stopping us to demonstrate what she was looking for in any given combination. Although the company would only be hiring one dancer at this time, it felt like Tina was as concerned with encouraging each and every one of us to do our very best as she was in finding that one dancer. So as a result of Tina’s captivating presence and positive engagement with everyone that day, I knew that Ballet Hispánico was a Company I wanted to become a part of. 

What was your favorite performance experience with Ballet Hispánico?

Since I have always loved the outdoors, I looked forward to the different outdoor venues Ballet Hispánico performed at during the summer. I really enjoyed the less formal setting for Dance Mobile. Dancing on a stage connected to the back of a truck on the streets of the city allowed for a close engagement with the audience that brought a party atmosphere to the performance. My favorite outdoor venue was The Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Onstage, surrounded by nothing but trees and the vast sky above gave me a sense of soaring. And on a clear evening, the glowing brilliance of the moon and stars added their magical aesthetic to the scene. 

This was the perfect setting for Talley Beatty’s Caravanserai, which depicted the evolution of man rising up from the earth to higher and higher heights. I adored this work. It’s fitting that this was the last piece I performed at the Delacorte with Ballet Hispánico. 

Who was the most memorable choreographer you worked with at Ballet Hispánico?

Geoffrey Holder was by far the most memorable choreographer I worked with at Ballet Hispánico. His grand imposing figure, deep sonorous voice, and irresistible infectious laughter made me always look forward to rehearsing with him. Geoffrey’s work Danse Creole was one we performed more than any other and it became one of my favorites in the repertory. Many years later while working as Assistant Professor of Dance at Marymount Manhattan College, I had the honor and privilege of staging Danse Creole on my advanced students. Once they had learned the piece, Geoffrey came in to add the finishing touches, leaving the students with an invaluable learning experience, which many of them hold dear to this day. 

How did your time at Ballet Hispánico influence your career as a professional dancer?

The most influential aspect working with Ballet Hispánico had on my professional dance career was the greater awareness and understanding it gave me of Hispanic culture. The rich rhythms of the works I learned based on the traditions of Flamenco and folkloric dance, the songs and instruments they incorporated and the cultural traditions they drew upon began to expand and transform my approach to movement that in turn enhanced my creative expression in performance.

What do you remember most about working with Tina?

From the moment I joined Ballet Hispánico Tina made me feel right at home. Her high standards of discipline, perseverance and passion were elements I had been raised with in my professional career. However, what I was not as familiar with was her constant push to make me believe that I was capable of successfully achieving so much more than I thought possible. Since I had joined Ballet Hispánico after a period of being away from dance, Tina’s strong support is really what helped me regain my confidence as a performer. 

Although I haven’t worked in the field since 2009, I have made a point of staying in touch with friends in the dance community. In 2018, after posting a few photos on Facebook from my days at Ballet Hispánico, a number of people I danced with responded about how great it would be to get together. I am so grateful I acted on the heels of that suggestion.

Our first little reunion was on January 19, 2019. We all met at Ballet Hispánico before going out for a meal together and to our great surprise discovered that the company was about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

It has been such a joy to become reacquainted with Ballet Hispánico today while reconnecting with friends and precious memories from the past!


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Merle Holloman

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