Georgina Pazcoguin: The Rogue Ballerina
The term rogue is usually associated with villains, scoundrels and other nefarious types who refuse to participate in normal society. Which is why it was so disarming to sit down with the woman known publicly (and self-proclaimed) as “The Rogue Ballerina” and find her to actually be a warm and generous spirit, anxious to inspire others with her knowledge, passion and experience.
Not at all what one might expect from someone who first made the decision to pursue her ballet career after seeing Jerome Robbins’ The Cage, which explores the feral instincts that compel the female of an insect species to consider its male counterpart as prey.
“There was something about seeing this theatrical ballet – a ballet that was based off the women [being] insects, and exerting their power over the men… It’s very foreshadowing that I would gravitate toward these super strong women on stage in this particular ballet but yeah, that was definitely the moment. I was glued. Whatever that is, I have to do that ballet, and I have to be IN that ballet. And that was the decision… I got my point shoes and started on my way.”
Little did she know at the time that she would go on to become NYC Ballet’s first Asian American soloist – not that it was an easy path. But, perhaps it was those hardships along the way that gave rise to her renegade nickname.
The Rogue Ballerina first came into being when she was a teenager, at an intimate performance in a tiny theatre when she refused to wear a pink tutu, insisting that black was more appropriate for the style of the piece, “I didn’t care if only my closest friends and family were seeing this tiny little gig at home in Altoona – My thought was I’m presenting what I’ve moved away to study for and my ultimate passion and calling, every detail matters.” She made such a big deal of it that what started as a joke became an identity.
“Every dancer that has made it to a professional company has their own story, so I’m not a novelty in that sense, but my struggle at NYCB involved this passed down idea that one must fill a previous ballerina’s roles, and a lot of that comes down to look rather than artistic quality. There really is no one whose footsteps I can follow, so I’ve blazed my own path at NYCB. I almost didn’t get my corps contract. The company wasn’t sure I fit in because artistic leadership couldn’t slot me easily into a career path already etched. They wanted me to resemble a ballerina from the past, but I don’t resemble anyone! I am singular, and over time my director came to value my strengths. I hope now the new leadership at NYCB will continue to let me break glass ceilings and look outside the box as to what roles I can embody. “
Pazcoguin was born into a big family with an emergency surgeon Filipino father and an Italian nurse mother. She identifies as Asian American.
“I have never really embodied the quintessential definition of what a ballerina is… When I grew up dancing at home, I never saw myself as an ethnicity – it was only when I began dancing for the New York City Ballet that I started noticing pushback for the way I looked and how I was cast. Clearly I’m part Asian and my stage makeup makes that even more apparent, but it was a shocking and telling event when the administration went so far as to say I looked perhaps too “Oriental.” The generational use of a politically incorrect term made me feel very isolated, pigeon holed, and unseen. In my experience at my beloved company, there have been very few Asian Americans that have been in the upper tiers, soloists and principals. Some men, but even fewer women. – so I really didn’t resemble any other dancers at that time, and I’m very proud to have added to that representation. I also battled being told my body type didn’t fit – I’m more of a muscular, athletic build and not this waif thin, impossibly skinny body. So Rogue Ballerina became a mantra/ idea of just embracing my differences and spinning all towards the positive while dancing in unchartered territory.”
“But I wouldn’t want it any other way. It only fueled my grit and my passion, and my love of Ballet even more. I savor where I am right now in my career, even experiencing the hardship of a devastating injury.”
Bringing it all together…
Pazcoguin has been studying ballet her entire life. She took her first class at the age of 4 and really has not looked back since, spending 8 to 12 hours a day practicing for the last 17 years. But now she finds herself sidelined by a torn ACL for the first time in her career. However, rather than being content solely with surgery and a rigorous PT program, she’s found new outlets for her energy, including connecting with young people and creating a YouTube series following her road to recovery.
“[The YouTube series] is more so for the younger generation of dancers to [show them that] this is part of the game, and it’s hard…. The first 7 episodes are gonna look really janky because I filmed it all wrong. I’m just jumping in. This thing is something I have no idea how to do – I just need to find some kind of creative outlet if my body can’t be that for me right now.”
It’s this same restless energy and desire to help young people that has been the catalyst for another project, her collaboration with Arteamor and the Orphaned Starfish Foundation which provide education to impoverished children in developing countries, many of whom have suffered abuses. As part of the program, she visits boarding schools in South America where she teaches dance classes to help the children learn to express themselves and heal through art.
“I didn’t think being a ballerina would be my life’s calling, but now here I am. And I’m finding ways of wanting to reconcile what I do with wanting to help people.”
Perhaps what is most “rogue” about the Rogue Ballerina is her refusal to allow setbacks to diminish her passion for dancing or the arts in any way.
“I can’t see myself dance, but I know what I feel when I perform. On stage is where I feel the most comfortable, and my true self is on display. I will share my soul with you there, and that’s a process of communication for me. How can I reach someone in the audience without making direct contact? That’s the kind of impact I want to make and being able to express myself in that way is one of the many things I love about this art form. Now, as the Rogue Ballerina, how can I make ballet relevant in today’s society? That’s the question I keep asking myself.”
- What is an important fact about yourself that isn’t on the internet?
“I’m a science nerd.”
- What is the most valuable piece of advice your mother ever taught you?
“Every day’s a new day.”
- What is the BEST thing about being Georgina?
“The best thing is that I have infinite amount of energy.”
- What is the WORST thing about being Georgina?
“The worst thing is also that I have infinite amount of energy.”
- What fictional character do you most closely align yourself with?
“I don’t know but I’ve been exploring the idea of Carmen Sandiego a lot. Just the fact that she’s a criminal – and you want to catch her – but throughout the process she’s helping you learn things because she’s taking you to all these different places, these new countries, and you still can’t catch her. She helps you learn all these new ideas and perspectives, being this kind of rogue woman. I just I kind of dig her. I like her.”