Have you heard of the Broadway musical Hamilton? It’s a story of one of America’s founding fathers, featuring a score that blends hip hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway. It has won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and our own President has seen it. In today’s episode we hear from one of the show’s stars, Ariana DeBose.
Ariana is a young, passionate, multi-talented woman with many creative projects already under her belt. I personally loved hearing about her courage to follow her intuition and drop out of school in order to fulfill her dreams. We talk about her challenges as an outspoken girl and one of the only students of color in her peer group, her encounter with anorexia and the pressure she felt as a teenager to be perfect, and what it means to her to be a true creator.
If there’s something you want, say that you want it.
— Ariana DeBose
Majo: Did you go to college? Tell me what happened there.
Ariana: I finished high school and started college, but I had auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance and ended up on the show for their first Fall season, so I deferred from college and went back Spring Semester to Western Carolina University in the mountains. I lasted for two and a half months I think, and it wasn’t for me. I stayed long enough to do a show for them, because the director asked me to stay. So I stayed to do A Chorus Line, playing Cassie. Opening night, we had a glorious opening and we got to the closing number, and this kid hit my shoe and I broke my ankle. So I was like, “Okay, my foot’s broken. I’m leaving. Bye!” (laughing)
Majo: You were probably like, “That’s a sign.”
Ariana: Yes, it was a sign I didn’t need to be there. So I left, and a week later I got a call from an agent I was working with at the time in New York City, and he said he had an audition for me, a job he thought I could book. It was for One Life To Live, they needed dancers. So I wrapped my ankle, my broken ankle, put on a pair of Nikes, got myself to New York and booked the job. And I took that as a bigger sign, you know? However terrible it is to dance on a broken ankle, I felt I was in the right place and that was what I needed to be doing.
Majo: Was it hard for you to leave school?
Ariana: No, actually. My mom was terrified. My family thought it was a terrible idea. I remember my uncle sent me this message, saying “Are you sure about this? We support you and we love you, but you know New York is expensive, it’s very dog-eat-dog, people might be mean… but I was so self-assured. I was like, “Nope, I’m leaving, it’s fine.”
Majo: Where did that come from? Was it just your inner faith, or… tell me.
Ariana: You could definitely call it inner faith. I have always had a strong sense of intuition. I feel very intuitive at times, and that was one of those times where I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing, this is absurd, I do not need to be here, it is crystal clear to me that I need to leave. So I left.
Majo: Well as a dancer I imagine you have a lot of kinesthetic intelligence. Like, I imagine you’re very in tune with your body.
Ariana: Yes, and your body tells you things. When you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, your body will let you know.
- Ariana’s childhood: Her early love for cinema and how she connects that love to her passion for theater today. [2:55]
- On being raised by a mother who treated her like an adult, never being afraid to ask questions, and her start with dancing. [10:24]
- The challenge that took a self-assured teen out of her comfort zone, plus Ariana’s perspective on needing approval from others. [13:46]
- Her struggles fitting in, always being the smart girl, and rubbing people the wrong way with her focus and ambition. [17:04]
- “I thought I had to be perfect.” Ariana’s struggle with perfection and finding solace in dance. [20:31]
- How her inner faith and intuition helped her fight the odds, drop out of college, and move to New York to become a dancer. [23:18]
- How she came to realize the importance of being there for the creation of projects she worked on, and making her broadway debut. [27:53]
- Lessons from the last six years: Not taking things too personally, knowing your own worth, and fighting stereotypes. [31:35]
- On what it means to Ariana to be a creator, and how it felt getting the part in Hamilton. [36:20]
- “What are some of the internal barriers women face today who want to create?” Ariana shares her insight. [40:31]
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