Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, familiarly known in the community as CPYB, is at the threshold of a new era, an era where internationally-recognized ballerina Noelani Pantastico takes the helm.
Students at the acclaimed ballet training school are already accustomed to seeing her in the studios where she has been teaching them for the past year.
But now they will also find her pacing the halls and in her office taking on macro decisions about where and how to guide CPYB today and lead it into the future.
Read on for a peek inside our conversation about Noelani’s ideas, hopes, and concerns as she enters this new phase of her life, as well as some great takeaways for aspiring young dancers!
Interview with Noelani Pantastico
‣ Firstly, congratulations! A few months in now… how has the transition been?
The transition from dancer to teacher to director has been a rollercoaster!
Nothing can prepare you from going from a life of physical activity and artistic freedom to being on the other side of the dance realm in the planning and administrative side. I honestly didn’t foresee that I’d be spending so many hours in meetings or at a computer! I do wish I was in the studio more, coaching the students.
‣ Do you think that will become more feasible once you’ve found your rhythm as director?
It’s hard to say. One can hope, though. I think as long as I get the support I need then hopefully things will feel more manageable and allow me to be in the studio more. Knowing myself, and what I can give best, I belong in the studio!
After starting that [PNB 2021-2022] season, I got signals that I should move on.
‣ Having received a good share of your pre-professional training at CPYB, this seems like quite a full circle moment in your career. Is being an integral part of the organization again something you perhaps always had in the back of your mind, or was it a wonderful happenstance of events that led you back to Carlisle?
During the time of covid, like many, I questioned my life path. Had covid not happened, I believe I would still be dancing today. But it happened, and I was forced to acknowledge that I should think about what’s next.
That was when Nicholas Ade, CPYB’s CEO, contacted me… around November or early December. My plan then was to continue building Seattle Dance Collective, which still operates, but I received this offer for CPYB.
By the time I retired from the big PNB stage in February 2022, I had already spoken to Nicholas about the position of Artistic Director for CPYB in the future. I started back at CPYB as faculty in May 2022 and then took the post of AD in May 2023, earlier than initially planned.
So, yes, it was quite a full-circle moment, but I did not have it in the back of my mind to return to Carlisle and CPYB.
‣ Continuing on the legendary trail paved by Marcia Dale Weary, and later carried on by Darla Hoover, is no small undertaking. What is it that most excites you about being in such an influential leadership role?
What excites me the most are the students!
When I trained at CPYB, the gift that Marcia, Darla, and all the fantastic faculty at CPYB gave me was life-shaping. I was a troubled and lost kid before entering the school, and I have my mentors and teachers to thank for guiding and supporting me in those crucial years. Without them, I wouldn’t have had a career in dance at all.
‣ What do you believe will be some of the biggest challenges?
The most complex challenge so far is joining an administration team that is very connected and has been working together for years. Change is hard, and I’m still trying to figure out if I can make an impact here at CPYB.
Yet the best challenge so far is the students. Seeing their growth throughout the year pushes me to be better for them.
‣ I feel there has been quite a bit of talk in recent years about how to bring traditional ballet – to put a broad term on it – into the 21st century. Do you believe there’s a just way to honor ballet’s roots and history while allowing it to evolve and stay relevant? How will you apply this at CPYB?
It’s important to find a balance between preserving the core principles of ballet and embracing innovation to keep the art form relevant. I’m striving to apply this approach by maintaining our strong classical ballet foundation and programming in our training and enhancing it with workshops and seminars to promote thinking and moving in diverse ways.
We will instill a deep understanding of ballet’s history and traditions while encouraging creativity and exploration beyond it.
I’d also like to incorporate modern choreography and other diverse styles that reflect contemporary influences, allowing our students to develop a well-rounded understanding of ballet as a classical and evolving art form.
By blending tradition and innovation in our pre-professional program, we will prepare our students for a future that respects the past while embracing the possibilities of the present.
‣ What lessons learned in your 25-year dancing career do you feel are most important to pass on to the next generations of artists?
Gosh, there are so many things! To name a few:
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of discipline and consistency. Regular practice and a disciplined work ethic are key to improving and achieving long-term success.
Embrace failure! Take it as a learning opportunity. There will always be setbacks in life, and it’s crucial to persevere, stay motivated, and push forward.
Nurture your body and mind. Prioritize rest, proper nutrition, injury prevention, and mental health practices. Life is a balancing act, so one must take care of their well-being to sustain a long and fulfilling career.
Embody authenticity. This is one thing that I learned later when I moved to Monte Carlo. It’s super important to find and express one’s unique voice. Staying true to oneself and exploring personal creativity will inform and develop artistry.
Stay curious. Part of evolving as an artist is being open to learning diverse styles, techniques, and experiences to broaden their horizons and stay inspired.
Lastly, each person’s journey is unique. Continue exploring to uncover your own wisdom along the way!
‣ Well, circling back to your moment of self-doubt earlier, I’m sure that you imparting these values at CPYB will have a lasting impact!
Cherilyn's lifelong passion for ballet has opened the door to the next chapter of her journey. Her strong foundation includes training at the School of American Ballet, being a featured dancer with Hartford Ballet and Carolina Ballet, and being co-director/owner of City Ballet Raleigh. She was granted the Affiliate Teacher Award after successfully completing the ABT National Training Curriculum®. A professional career in the industry along with extensive global travel provide her with a unique set of experiences to draw upon as a journalist and audience member. Cherilyn is excited to be sharing her insight about ballet around the world.