LOVE AT FIRST PLIÉ: Dancers find love through artistry and understanding
Lilliana Hagerman and Lamin Pereira dos Santos may thrive on dancing the hyper-romantic characters of 19th-century ballets, but in real life their romance is as contemporary as it gets. They met, in fact, on Facebook Messenger: After a mutual dancer-friend “introduced” them, they spent three months getting acquainted online, through chat and Skype. And already during their “electronic courtship,” Lilly (as friends call her) was enchanted by Lamin’s courtly grace, and he by her beauty. “He saw a picture of me with our mutual friend, and he fell in love right away,” said Lilly, who was born in Italy because her parents, both members of the United States Air Force, were stationed at Aviano. “When we did meet, I felt like I’d known him my whole life. … We were friends already.”
That was eight years ago, and Lamin and Lilly, who both joined Kansas City Ballet in 2014 (Lilly as KCB II dancer initially), have been inseparable ever since. “I think it was better this way, because we were talking for so long without any physical contact,” said Lamin, a Rio de Janeiro native who studied at American Ballet Theatre’s Onassis School before dancing with Washington Ballet Studio Company and Orlando Ballet.
Electronic courtship worked for them, they said, because they got to know each other on a deeper, more personal level than a face-to-face couple often does. When they finally met, it was as if music from Swan Lake swelled to a fortissimo. “As soon as we saw each other, we just ran and hugged and kissed,” Lamin said. “It felt like we knew each other already … like we had just been apart for a long time, and were reconnecting.”
Born to a middle-class Brazilian family, Lamin never imagined himself a dancer until at age 10 he accompanied his sister to her dance and movement classes and was immediately “hooked” by the music and the movement. “From age 10, I never had a doubt about it,” he said. Lamin was the only “ballet kid” in his peer group, but he rarely received flak for it because even his soccer buddies recognized his laser-sharp focus on everything he did. “I got called ‘Cinderella’ by a girl once,” he said with a laugh. “But I didn’t care, I moved on. And pretty soon everybody became aware of what I was doing and where I was going.”
Lilly, similarly, seemed destined to dance: Already at age two she could not stop moving. “My parents said they would just put music on, and I would put on my Dad’s combat boots and just start dancing. I was always moving.” At age four, Lilly followed her family to Florida, where at six she began to study dance of all kinds, eventually becoming a member of Orlando Ballet’s Second Company. Incredibly, even before she was born, her father (who had already had a son from his first wife) had told her mother: “If we’re going to have a child, I want it to be a ballerina princess.” And there you have it.
Fast-forward a few years: Lilly and Lamin were becoming an item, something that doesn’t remain a secret for long at a ballet company. “You’ll see these two people who normally sit on opposite sides of the studio, and all of a sudden they’re sitting next to each other eating lunch,” Lilly said. It wasn’t long before they knew they were going to be together for the rest of their lives.
At the time, though, neither felt a strong urge to hear wedding bells. “Of course, I would have loved to have the ring on my finger,” Lilly said. “But we already knew we were going to be together forever, so we didn’t need to be married at that moment.” They both were content with what they had, Lamin said. “We didn’t have to be married to be happy.” But shortly after the five-year mark, when it seem as if everyone around them was getting married, they decided to take the dive.
Last August they were wed at a friend’s home in KC’s Northland, with forty people in attendance. “When it did happen, it felt right,” said Lamin, who had already asked Lilly’s father for permission, old-style. “I knew he was going to say yes. But I wanted him to know first, and he promised not to tell. … He almost started crying, and he expressed how happy he was.” Being married hasn’t changed them much, Lilly said, but it has simplified international travel.
When the two finally got to dance as a couple together onstage, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier in KCB’s The Nutcracker, it was a magical moment. To be sure, dancers are often called upon to “act out” romantic scenes, and each of them frequently watch the other perform with other dancers. Yet their professional training erases the possibility of jealousy. “We’re not just dancers, we have to be actors as well,” Lamin said, and Lilly concurred. “I’m confident … I know how he feels about me. … It’s part of the choreography, it’s what needs to happen to make this story come alive for the audience. It’s an art form.”
Of course, when they do get to dance a pas de deux together, a special energy is set into motion. “There is some kind of connection you make with another human being, doing what you both love to do.” And contrary to what you might expect, being around each other 24/7 comes completely naturally to them. “We have so much fun together, it never crosses our minds that, Hey I need time away from you,” Lamin said. It helps, Lilly added, when you’re not just married but also best friends. “We really enjoy each other’s company.”
Not that they agree 100 percent on everything. Lilly is a notorious foodie, for example, whereas Lamin would rather just go to the gym and work out. “Sometimes it’s annoying, because all she wants to talk about is food,” Lamin said with a smile. Lilly is unapologetic: Dancers crave food the way readers crave books. “Food is always on my mind,” she said. “And we work so hard in the studio that we just burn it right off.”
Differences aside, dance is what brought the couple together, and it’s what keeps them strong. “It’s really important that we share the same passion,” Lilly said.
Watching Lamin’s perfectionist work ethic has deepened her love. “You get to know a lot about someone’s personality by seeing how they work,” she said, adding that it doesn’t surprise her that Lamin is chosen for so many Prince-like roles. “He’s very good at looking elegant and manly at the same time.”
As for Lamin, watching Lilly dance is always a riveting experience. “She is very strong onstage … never afraid to ‘connect,’ both with the audience and with her co-workers. You always notice her, because of her presence and her natural beauty.”
To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor; send an email to email@example.com or find him on Facebook or Twitter (@phorsleycritic). To see Lilliana and Lamin dance onstage with the Kansas City Ballet, call 816-931-8993 or go to kcballet.org.
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