What My Teacher Taught Me: Alonzo King LINES Ballet’s Ilaria Guerra on Alicia Head, Maurya Kerr and Sandra Chinn
February 27, 2023

My life in dance can be divided into three distinct phases, and each one is supported by my time working with Alicia Head. The first was my introduction to dance at 11 years old, at Lauridsen Ballet Centre in Torrance, California. I trained with their pre-professional company, South Bay Ballet (now called Ballet California), until I was 17, and Alicia was my ballet, pointe, variations and Pilates/Gyrotonics teacher. She is a master in Gyrokinesis and has an innate understanding of anatomical placement. She taught me how to find my turnout using correct muscles, how to be grounded energetically and how to lift up so I didn’t harm my body. Under her guidance, I was never taught to force anything, but rather work with my body to naturally find extreme ballet positions. I attribute my nearly injury-free career to my time working with her there.

Onstage in front of an orchestra's silhouette and a bluish gray backdrop, Ilaria Guerra wears a nude unitard and twists her torso in a deep lunged tendu croise derriere, her arms swiping up to the right. Other dancers do floorwork around her.
Guerra performing with LINES. Photo by Chris Hardy, courtesy LINES.

I would describe Alicia’s teaching style as scientific—her class felt like a lab. She wasn’t a happy-go-lucky person per se, but she was enthusiastic about exploring what ballet could be for each dancer. She was always encouraging and excited when I succeeded, but she was also intense about getting to that point. She taught me the value of warming up before barre with Gyro exercises, as well as continually returning to the barre in order to keep my body healthy. Even when things hurt, and you’re sore and tired, you have to fire up those muscles. I think about that every day, even now.

Most importantly, Alicia celebrated what made me (and every other dancer) unique. I remember rehearsing my Snow Queen entrance for The Nutcracker after having just returned from a summer training with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, and a teacher told me to dance more classically. Alicia overheard that and said, “No, you need to continue exploring that freedom in your port de bras and dancing in a way that celebrates your six-foot frame. It’s beautiful.” She told me that I should trust that my body knows what it’s doing and dance my heart out. It was one of the first moments I ever felt that someone believed in me and my dancing. At that age, I stuck out because of my height—I didn’t fit the mold of a classical ballerina. For Alicia to affirm that my natural way of moving was captivating was meaningful for me and ultimately gave me the confidence to pursue the career path I did.

In a brightly lit studio with large ornate windows in the background, a male and female dancer partner together in shiny black and white tight-fit dancewear. The woman poses in a pitch-attitude penche , torso facing her partner. She is on flat but wears nude colored pointe shoes. The man poses in a deep lunge toward her, supporting her arms with his as he reacher toward her.
Ilaria Guerra and Jeffrey van Sciver at the LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican. Photo by Rapt Productions, courtesy LINES.

After graduating high school, I entered the second phase of my dance journey and did the Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA program with Dominican University of California. Here, I worked with Maurya Kerr, who took the foundation Alicia gave me and pushed me artistically. Maurya taught me to have opinions and make choices when I dance. She taught me how to make my voice heard and to give the simplest moments the most meaning. She also taught me LINES rep, which allowed me to successfully transition into the third phase of my dance life so far—a professional career with the company [starting] in 2018. In this setting, I’ve had the privilege of working with Sandra Chinn for my daily open class with LINES. Sandra has picked up right where Maurya and Alicia left off. She too understands the body anatomically and encourages me to dance with abandon. She allows me to have fun, so that daily class is not a chore but, rather, something I love. It’s exactly what I need at this phase of my career of rehearsing and performing. She gives me a spark of joy.

Alicia taught me to be in sync with my body and dance safely, Maurya took these concepts and helped me build on them with artistic choices, and now Sandra adds to these principles with her own understanding of bodywork and how to bring joy to dance. I use all of these lessons every day in class. I love that I have these strong and powerful women guiding me and believing in me and my life. Today, I am true to myself and work with the body I have been given. I have achieved what I have because of the guidance of these three women. And for that, I want to say thank you.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Sign up for any or all of these newsletters

You have Successfully Subscribed!