Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director, Diablo Ballet
Lauren Jonas trained at the Marin Ballet, performed with the Milwaukee Ballet, Oakland Ballet, and toured the US with the Moscow Ballet.
She has recruited dancers from all around the world. She wants to stimulate cultural development in future generations.
She wants to empower women in the field of ballet.
Dena asks Lauren to take us back to when her passion was born.
Lauren says she started ballet when she was six years old. She is the middle sister, she has a younger and an older sister. All of her sisters are professional ballet dancers.
She knew from her very first day that this was her passion. She was very serious about ballet. Her mother was surprised she became a professional dancer because Lauren was such a free spirit her whole life.
When she was in high school, she graduated early so she could train all day long in ballet.
After graduating from Marin Ballet, she was offered a position at the Milwaukee Ballet, which became the trajectory of her career.
She then danced in other companies after that.
Dena asks if Lauren struggled with the demands of ballet.
Lauren did struggle with it, she says. She was blessed with a curvy figure, but this was difficult for her because she would get weighed as a ballerina. It was a struggle for her because she was trying to fight her puberty to stay lean and healthy. It was very difficult for her to be health conscious but to be the correct aesthetic that her directors were looking for.
Lauren constantly struggled with this. It was something she never stopped thinking about. She remembers coming off stage and asking her mom if she looked heavy on stage. It was always in her head.
Colleen asks how she overcame these issues.
Lauren wanted to not over-do her food intake but also not deprive her body. She was never a drinker so that was not an issue for her. She wanted to figure out a food balance because her metabolism was slow.
Something that helped her was to cross train. After work, she would go to the gym and do weight training and running to increase her stamina.
Her last performance was when she was 42. It wasn’t until the last 10 years though that she was able to figure out what was best for her body.
Dena asks how Lauren was able to keep her passion alive and not have a burnout?
Lauren says she is a very driven person so that helped. She also became very dedicated, strong willed and resilient because of her training which helped her to keep her passion alive.
She did leave situations in companies that she felt were not good for her, and she went onto another situation that she felt worked for her.
Colleen asks about the family history and how all three sisters became professional ballerinas.
Lauren lived with her grandfather, who took them to the Nutcracker at a very young age and this is where their passion started. He instilled this love of the arts in them.
Dena asks Lauren how she knew she was living her passion? How does she follow her own internal GPS to know she was on the right path?
Lauren knew it was something she was in love with. She wanted to do it more than anything else. People just know when it happens to them, it is hard to articulate. She just feels at home when she is dancing.
Dena says that one way we know we are living our passion is through our joy.
Lauren agrees with this, but sometimes the feeling of pain and trying to strive for a certain “perfection.” She says that there is a certain type of fulfilment that comes from this. This is a type of “good work” she enjoys so much.
Lauren says that whenever she has something negative on her mind, she has no choice but to focus on every single part of her body. She is able to erase those negative emotions for that short period of time. This results in an exhilaration.
Dena asks if this feeling is transferable outside of the studio?
Lauren says she does not think so.
Colleen asks how Lauren developed the skill of positive self talk.
Lauren says she learned it in training because when she is trying to learn a step, positive self talk and positive thoughts are essential.
Lauren says she is constantly trying to positive self talk with herself so it can become what you want it to be and not just how you are feeling.
Our minds can be our best servants, or our worst enemies.
Greatness comes from the training of the mind as well as the physical body. Most importantly, there is that higher level of being which is where excellence is born.
Dena asks what Lauren did after age 42 when she ended her professional performance career.
Lauren started Diablo Ballet when she was 27 and she was still dancing with a company. At 42, she had a lot of injuries with her knees, and she knew it was time to stop. She was trying to avoid surgery.
She then became artistic director of the Diablo Ballet which was a full time job. She also does a lot of executive director work. She does a lot on the business side as well as the outreach program.
When a dancer has to retire, it is very depressing for them. It is a huge loss.
She is very lucky because she was in this new position and could focus on Diablo Ballet.
Lauren knew she wanted to start an outreach program, she started working with underserved communities. They started with one school and now they are in six schools. They serve these students every single month and there is a whole curriculum they teach and it is a lot of social and emotional education.
In 2015, they were approached by the California Arts Council where they work with incarcerated teens. Now they have been working with these incarcerated teens for 6 years. Lauren thoroughly enjoys the program.
Most recently, Diablo Ballet has also started working with boys as well as a behavioral therapy unit at John Muir Hospital.
She wants to teach these kids that they can put anything they put your mind into. She wants to give these kids confidence in being able to express how they are feeling through their movement.
Lauren also had two mentors who encouraged her throughout her whole career. They always gave her confidence. She doesn’t know where she would be in her life without these people. She feels very fortunate to have had these experiences, and she wants to give back to people who do not have these people available to them.
Colleen asks where Lauren’s creativity as an artistic director comes from.
Lauren says that she has always had an innate feeling of being able to power through adversity. She did not expect to be an artistic director, but her mentor told her she could learn how to be one. She learned how to create graphics, write grants, how boards work, and how to run a business. She said it was an incredible experience.
She also had to learn a balance between challenging and fulfilling dancers and giving the audience what they enjoy.
She really likes to have dancers that look very different. She wants the audience to feel a connection with each of them. She wants dancers from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds who can bring something unique to the table. She also wants dancers who are passionate about working with kids and teens.
She likes to hire both female and male choreographers, but she wants to show young people that you can direct a company and run a school as a woman. She wants to empower every member of the Diablo ballet.
Colleen asks if the ballet industry is dominated by men?
Lauren says that most of the artistic directors and choreographers were men in the 1990s, but now it has changed and women are running these companies.
Colleen asks how Lauren is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lauren says that when COVID happened in March 2020, they were about to have a huge performance. They had to go home but they began offering company class on Zoom. They ensured all dancers got a Marley floor and a barre.
The company teachers taught class every single morning. Lauren wanted to continue paying the instructors.
They also began making video footage that they posted on social media of past performances. Dancers also created dancing videos from home. All of their outreach programs also went on over Zoom.
They had their summer intensive in person and had no COVID issues. They had masks and social distancing and other strict protocols.
The main issue with these dancers was that a lot of them were getting injured after taking a long break. They eased back into it after a while.
After a month they were able to film their first performance without masks.
The dancers had their own bubble and they did not do any other activities other than ballet.
Dena asks for Lauren’s parting words.
Lauren says that she is a deep believer in whatever makes you be in a place of calm, to think about what you want to do in your life to try to impact others. For Lauren, she wants to give back because it is her passion. There is nothing you can’t do when you put in the work and are passionate about it. She had so many “nos” throughout her whole career, but if you really love something so much and don’t give up, that is the most important thing. Everyone deserves a chance in this life. Trying to make the right decisions to stay focused on what you love and not get distracted with bad energy is very important. Your passions will come to you.