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Ⓒ 2018 SDC | Seattle Dance Collective
Photography by Kenneth Edwards

NOELANI PANTASTICO

Founding Artistic Director, Seattle Dance Collective

I was born on the island of Oahu to a Hawaiian-Filipino father and an Aussie mother. My late father worked at an oil refinery, while fixing cars and playing the ukulele in his spare time. I hold memories of him from photos in which he is playing and I’m imitating whatever form of Hula I could grasp at that point. I was two years old. He unknowingly taught me about rhythm and music in those precious moments, and I believe that is a big part of why I gravitated towards dance. 

Fast forward almost a decade and I’m 11, living in Pennsylvania, attending the renown Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Up until that point I just did whatever activities my mother could afford to put me in. Sometimes there was nothing. Being one of six kids we mostly just had each other and lots of house work. Occasionally though, I had opportunities to expand my horizons, trying out gymnastics, soccer, or whatever. Our lives were moved every couple years across various states and I craved consistency and a place to feel rooted. I developed anxiety, literally pulling my hair out while obsessing over small things, which I suppose helped me feel like I had a sense of control. Looking back now I see how lost I was. Thankfully, somehow I ended up in the hands of people that gave me structure and changed the course of things. Nothing had come close to how dancing made me feel. 

Thirteen years passed by and I was a ballerina at a crossroads in my career. I had worked diligently through my teens and 20’s, hyper-focused on moving up through the ranks to Principal Dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet. When I finally “arrived” I remember saying to myself, Okay, what’s next? Surely this can’t be it. At 24 I yearned for more, and feared complacency. I started to put out feelers, and a few years later I met Jean-Christophe Maillot of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. I remember it felt like the floor fell out from under me and then the wind carried me to another existence, butterflies and all. I traveled and danced with BMC for seven and a half years, seeing the world and becoming another person and artist because of it. 

Today I’m enjoying the years I have left at Pacific Northwest Ballet. I’ve had hardships along the way just like everyone else, but I’ve always felt lucky that my life’s purpose has been so clearly defined for me. This was all meant to happen. Dance has given me direction, happiness and purpose - without question, saving my life. I have several years left before I hang up my shoes, but finding other ways to contribute to the art form while enriching people’s lives is the road I am paving. This is very clear to me. Seattle Dance Collective is the first paragraph in a new chapter. How fortunate I am to be able to give back to a career that has shaped my existence so beautifully.