Arielle Lee Ming’s first year studying dance in university came with a lot of unexpected challenges.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant that she got stuck in Bermuda.
Instead of going off to the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in Richmond, England, she took classes virtually for two months.
“I had to get up at 5am to do conditioning, push-ups and sit-ups,” she said. “I cleared out a room in my house and turned it into a dance studio. I used a chair for a barre.”
Then when she finally did get to England, all of her dance classes were done with a mask on.
“I feel like we are going to come out of this with such stronger lungs,” the 18 year old joked.
But through it all, she persisted.
Earlier this week her efforts were rewarded with the National Dance Foundation of Bermuda’s $7,500 Argo Foundation Award in honour of Madame Ana Roje, a founding member of the Bermuda Ballet Association.
“I am very thankful to win the award,” Miss Lee Ming said. “The National Dance Foundation is giving more people the chance to pursue dance as a career.”
She said it was wonderful just to talk to other local dancers at the awards presentation held at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess & Beach Club on August 16.
“It is a very small community,” she said. “I think that being able to relate to other people, it reminds you of why you are dancing, and the love you share for dance with other people.”
She thanked her parents, Ari and Maxine Lee Ming. She said a lot of parents don’t see dance as a potential career, but her own mother and father have been supportive, since day one.
“They have helped me get through very tough times,” she said. “When you are very serious about something that you want to do, you have to sacrifice so much of your life. You don’t get that much of a normal teenage life. It has been wonderful, just having people there telling you do your best at whatever you want to do.”
Her mother does not dance, but is a great source of practical critique.
“She does not hold back,” Miss Lee Ming said. “She will tell me straight up things she thinks I need to work on.”
Her grandmother, Conchita Ming, herself a dancer and choreographer, has also been an inspiration.
During the 2019 Emancipation Commemoration activities, Miss Lee Ming performed her grandmother’s choreography in a tribute to Mary Prince at City Hall.
“That was an honour to do,” she said. “It was something special to Bermuda.”
Miss Lee Ming loves performing and being on stage.
“On stage, you don’t care what anybody thinks,” she said.
The pandemic forced her to branch out.
“I have started making dance videos,” she said. “That is a whole different world of dance. With dance videos you can play with editing. It is different from pure performance on the stage.”
A year ago, she made a dance video to show her support for the Black Lives Matter movement triggered by the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, at the hands of Minneapolis, Minnesota police.
“I got dancers from all different studios in Bermuda, and also some of my friends from abroad,” she said. “I created a video, in support of the movement. I think it was very inspiring and kept people moving.”
She said with dance, you can easily put across your point without using words.
Now she is busy putting together a virtual dance performance for the Bermuda Festival next month. She and three other Bermudian professional dancers will be taking part.
She started taking dance lessons at United Dance Productions when she was just three years old. She knew she wanted to become a professional dancer by the time she was eight.
“I started asking my parents if I could go away to dance school,” she said. “I just had this gut feeling. I knew that would lead to happiness within me.”
But she had to wait a few years until she got her wish. She entered the Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild-Pine Cove, California at 13.
In her last year at the west coast school, she and several friends entered the Youth American Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious student ballet competitions in the United States. Miss Lee Ming and classmate Enoch Grubb, placed third in the semi-finals, in the small ensemble category, for their duet, Uncovered.
“We choreographed the dance ourselves,” she said. “We competed first in San Diego. Then we were offered the chance to go to New York to go to the finals. We fundraised and everything else.”
But the 2020 finals were cancelled due to Covid-19. Miss Lee Ming was very disappointed.
“We had a very good dance,” she said. “I think making it to the semi-finals was in itself amazing.”
In the fall, she goes into her second year at the Rambert School.
“It is very intense,” Miss Lee Ming said. “We have training from 9am to 6pm and then have rehearsals after. We dance for the first four hours. Then we have conditioning such as push ups and sit ups. Then we have workshops where guests come in. We also have a theory class. A lot of people think that when you are studying dance, you are just dancing, but the school I am at also has a lot thinking too. You learn so much about the culture. You are able to voice your opinions.”
Her favourite part about the school is the people she meets there.
“Some of my best friends are from Mexico and the Bahamas,” she said. “I have learnt so much culturally about dance in different places. Right now, I am immersed in European dance, but I got to experience Bermuda, obviously, then I went away to the US. It is very different everywhere, but you see the similarities and the differences.”
Going to boarding school in the US she dreamt of one day joining the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York City. But now that she is in England, she is becoming more familiar with European dance companies.
“It is a broad area that I can choose from right now,” she said. “I am not trying to limit my opportunities. Because I have two more years left, I am planning to travel and take classes and see where I like better.”
For more information see her on Instagram @Arielle.IM.