Professional dancer and ballet maverick Leonard Perez lives and breathes dance and all forms of creative expression, creating a feedback loop of endless inspiration. 

Hailing from the dancing country of the Dominican Republic, Leonard did not begin formal training until moving to the United States in high school. He practiced ballroom dance and was recruited by Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance, a Chicago-based company that focuses on Flamenco, Folklore, Escuela Bolera, and Danza Estilizada. 

Leonard trained assiduously during university with Ensemble Espanol, the Ruth Page School of Dance, Civic Ballet, and Milwaukee Ballet II before securing his first company position with Dayton Ballet and later Indianapolis Ballet. 

“Dance, and ballet specifically, brings me closer to myself every day and is a way I can express myself without words,” he says of his rather shy personality off stage. 

Leonard currently works for the Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, a company focused on promoting ballet growth within communities of color, who have historically been unrepresented in this sphere of talent. 

“We are a contemporary ballet company rooted in classical techniques, but the way we use those techniques to tell stories is way more expansive and untraditional,” he explains. 

As a professional dancer, Leonard has a full, Monday-Saturday 9-5 rehearsal schedule buffered on both ends with yoga, nature walks, journaling, strength training, fashion styling, physical therapy, teaching, and West African dance with Kindred Spirit. 

His involvement in the highly energetic, rhythmic African dance allows Leonard to be expressive and fluid while learning about different cultures and connecting with the community. 

It also influences his ballet. At work, “who I am is shining through every movement. Part of that is my Dominican culture. There is no disconnect. People from the DR, we are very lively, happy, joyous, and humorous people, so I always try to throw a bit of this lightness in.” 

Often, Leonard works with a choreography piece anywhere from 10 days to 5 weeks, some of which he may perform for several consecutive shows in one week while on tour or premiere in a show the following month or year, just twice. Tours typically last three weeks and include four separate programs in four cities. 

“We are constantly changing the casting and dances to give different people opportunities.” 

Whether it’s while cooking dinner or during a grocery run, Leonard constantly finds moments to review his rehearsals, jotting down notes about how to enhance foot pointing during a jump. 

For Leonard, dance is a way of life and is not exclusive to any group of people. 

“I would encourage people to use it to connect with themselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Everyone can access this art form, regardless of age, gender, background, or experience. Whatever your reasons are, I hope people never feel afraid to try ballet.” 

Catch Leonard this spring at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts on April 20 and 21 for his performance of Elevate with Collage Dance Collective. You can also join his Adult Beginner Ballet class every Saturday from 9-10:00 a.m. at Collage Dance Collective. 

IG: @collagedance IG: @leonardperezjr 

By Shlomit Ovadia 

Photo by D’Angelo Connell