Noelani Pantastico on Retiring From PNB, Plus Her New Role at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet
May 31, 2022

On the day of her final performance with Pacific Northwest Ballet in February 2022, principal dancer Noelani Pantastico stepped onto the stage for one last company class and was greeted by a round of applause. Her colleagues had decorated her spot at the barre with balloons in the shape of her name, and she had to make an effort to keep her tears at bay. But by the time she was taking her final bow, rose petals falling down on her from above, there was no evading the mammoth wave of emotion that hit her. “I almost didn’t want to bow,” she says. “I wanted to press pause and just look around for a while. I tried my best to take it all in and enjoy, but my emotions overtook me.” A friend of Pantastico’s once told her that your final bow feels like attending your own funeral. “Wasn’t it Martha Graham that says a dancer has two deaths?” she asks. “It was difficult to say goodbye, but I was so grateful I got to share a big part of myself for so many years. I can say with ease that I will always be a dancer and storyteller. I’m just evolving into something else along with those abilities.”

Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Her first stop on that evolving journey? Teaching. During the height of the pandemic, when performances were completely shut down, Pantastico wasn’t sure if she would ever make it back onto the stage. She watched other dancers make the difficult decision to pursue other goals, and she wasn’t confident her body would be the same by the time she was able to return. When the time came to re-sign her contract with PNB, she decided to give it her all for just one last season, and then evaluate. Though she didn’t know what would come next, teaching had been part of her career plan since she was a student at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. “In my older years at the school I would sub if a teacher was late or couldn’t get to class,” she says. As an adult, she would often return to teach master classes and workshops. “The CPYB training and mindset has always been deeply ingrained in all I do,” she says. So it should come as no surprise that by December 2021, CEO of CPYB Nicholas Ade came calling with an offer she couldn’t refuse. “I was shocked and humbled by the offer,” she says. “To go back to my roots, to know that I would have the opportunity to give my knowledge to future generations. It was so clear that this was the next step, and there was no way I could turn it down.”


Here, Pantastico reveals the book that extended her professional dance career, her go-to teaching wardrobe, and her secret to staying energized.

Her teaching warm-up: “So far it’s just been simple stretches because I don’t have a rhythm yet. My goal is to really learn to communicate through my words and not my body. But if I can still demonstrate, I will!”

Her go-to teaching wardrobe: “I was actually thinking of asking one of my designer friends to custom-make me a uniform. Right now, it’s a mix of my dance stuff. If I wear a leotard, it’s usually a Yumiko or Label Dancewear. My favorite top to wear is from Solu Dance Apparel. For bottoms I go for Uniqlo or Athleta.”

Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Her secret to energy maintenance: “Maybe it’s a dancer habit, but I always have snacks like a banana or nuts that I carry around. I’m a fan of caffeine, too, but what really gives me energy so far is setting an intention for the day and for my classes. That usually keeps me fueled—no joke!”

The food she can’t live without: “It sounds silly, but probably rice!”

Her favorite nondance activities: “I love being creative or doing something involving art. It’s an exploration of myself and how I get to know myself better.”


Recommended reading: “The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van Der Kolk. This book gave me a better understanding of trauma and how it affects our bodies and minds. It helped me be more mindful of my body’s reactions to situations, and also understand how emotions played a role in my well-being. I carried this knowledge through to my dancing, and I know it helped extend my career. The body–mind connection is something I hope to make dancers cognizant of.”

Her guilty pleasure: “Reality TV/game shows (cue eye roll). I wish I wasn’t so drawn in, but I do enjoy watching drama unfold in shows like ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘Love is Blind.’”

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