Dandara Veiga was destined to dance right from the time she was in her mother’s belly. Both her parents were capoeira dancers who taught the style in public schools around her hometown in Brazil, and her mother even performed while she was pregnant with her.
Out of concern that Veiga would be discriminated against in ballet classes, her parents avoided introducing her to classical dance forms and focused on Afro-Brazilian dance instead. But by the time Veiga was 9 years old, her older sister recognized her interest and took her to a local social project for dance called Projeto Social Primeiros Passos. She immediately fell in love with ballet, and her parents couldn’t do anything about it because they saw how happy she was. After three years there, she was offered a scholarship to train at a nearby studio called Escola de Dança Ballerina, under the direction of Jacqueline Zacarias. There she met one of her mentors, Claudia Zaccari.
Veiga was initially placed in beginner classes, but she immediately asked to be placed in the more advanced levels. Zacarias acquiesced but gave her a warning. “They move fast, so you will need to stay alert and catch up,” she said. So, Veiga worked hard, trained with every level of the school, and made huge leaps of progress. By 14, she was ready to attend major national competitions, and by 16 she participated in international ones. “I got good responses at the competitions, and earned scholarships to summer programs at conservatories in Argentina, Italy, Portugal, and the United States.”
But despite the scholarships, travel and housing costs were so high that Veiga had to spend her teen years working as a carpenter (on top of her schooling and dance training) in order to earn enough funds to attend. “It was very tiring, and there were moments where I didn’t think I would make it,” she admits. “My whole community was invested and helped me to raise funds to attend. My teacher even went to the mayor of my town in order to get tickets for me to fly to Italy. I’m so grateful to have so many people supporting me and believing in me.”
After graduating high school, Veiga attended just one semester of college before being invited by Charlene Campbell Carey, the president of Ballet Beyond Borders, to compete at the Montana-based competition. Winning it changed her life. It was meant to be the last time she would compete before she put away her pointe shoes forever, but when she was introduced to her (now) career mentor Charla Genn and given a scholarship to attend a school in Portugal called Annarella Academia de Ballet e Dança, she saw both as a sign. So, she changed her plans and spent the next three months in Portugal, while waiting for her US visa and putting all of her energy into dance. “I was at the studio from 9 am to 9 pm,” Veiga says. “It was a dream to not have to worry about working as a carpenter and juggling a bunch of other things. I was able to focus on just this one thing, and my body changed in such a short amount of time.”
Once her visa came through, Veiga made the decision to move to New York City and continue her training at The Ailey School. One year later, she was given her first professional opportunity as an apprentice for Ballet Hispánico, where she stayed for the next six years, before completing her time with the company this past spring. “It was amazing. I had so many wonderful experiences and was able to learn and receive so much.”
For the next phase of her professional career, Veiga is eagerly stepping into the role of freelancer. “I’m eager to work with a variety of artists and have many new experiences,” she says. Her first major gig? Dancing with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet starting this November. “As I step into this next part of my career, I have so many people that I am grateful for, and I’ll never be able to pay back the amount of blessings and kindness people have given me. As a girl from a small town in Brazil, I will be forever grateful for the people who gave me a second look and saw my potential.”
Here, Veiga shares the most helpful correction she’s ever received, her advice for teachers in 2023, and her goals for the future.
On the most helpful correction she’s ever received “Charla Genn has taught me that although I should correctly execute the movements she gives me, I still need to be myself and believe that I have something to share. We need to be alert to the technique, but also show who we are as artists and tell a story. Otherwise, it’s just steps. In terms of technique, I have often been told that I need to think about the placement of my torso, ribs, and sitting bone. Sometimes I get excited and just let it all out, but if you keep neutral you will be able to move quicker and better.”
The advice she has for teachers in 2023 “Help your dancers consider who they want to be as an artist. Help them go deeper than the movement. Remind them to keep their humanity. As a dancer who started late, all I had at the beginning was passion and the will to tell a story. The technique came after, and that has really served me.”
On her goals for the future “I want to continue growing in my professional career, and eventually become a teacher who does for others what has been done for me. I want to give back to future artists. I want to go back to my hometown [Alegrete, a city in the state of Rio Grande do Sul] in Brazil and help the social project where it all started for me. I want to show kids that there is more to achieve and see.”