Following my dream
“Learning expands my life.”
My name is Stefania Catarinella. I have been living in Leamington Spa for the past 3 and a half years and I’m originally from Puglia in the South of Italy.
I lived in Puglia until I was 18 when I finished school. Then I left to follow my dream.
I started dancing when I was 5 and it was not by choice. My mum said that I was always so active that she wanted to put me into dance to use up some of my energy.
And for the first few years, I hated it! I would cry because I didn’t like putting on pink tights or putting my hair up in a bun. As I got older, I began to enjoy it and I made friends there. And it wasn’t until I was around 15 or 16 that I began to start thinking that maybe dance could be my future.
Dance became a safe space for me, in my body.
But it was also a challenging place to be. In dance, you must stare in the mirror most of the time and during this time I was seeing my body changing.
I started with ballet and jazz but contemporary became the style I wanted to do the most.
When I was 15 or 16, I took a spring school intensive in New York. I loved it and after two weeks, the teacher picked out two girls that she wanted to come study at her school there, one of them was me!
I was amazed and I went back to my parents and told them. However, they didn’t want me to go because they couldn’t afford it and I had not yet finished my high school diploma.
I thought that my dream was falling apart!
In the end, my parents sat me down and told me that I should finish my high school diploma and then they would support my decision to become a dancer.
So, in the last few years of high school, I continued dancing semi-professionally.
Then I finished my diploma and I went to Florence to study for 2 years in dance. And this was the beginning of my new journey. I was faced with a reality that I was not expecting.
The Italian dance scene is rooted so much in ballet and therefore in how you look. This was the first time someone told me that I didn’t have the right body to be on stage. Which really triggered me.
I never suffered from any eating disorder or anything like that but I struggled so much with what she said because I had experienced bullying about my body in school when I was younger.
I crumbled. I started to eat the wrong way.
However, other teachers at the school began to treat me more nicely and became more protective of me. This confused me at the time.
I realised years later that my dad had called the school and told them that what was said to me by the teacher was not acceptable.
I think that I was able to manage this situation safely because of my family’s support. But there are so many girls who do not have the same.
I went to the University of Malta to do my BA in dance. At this time, I was working with professional companies freelance. I was 21-22 and again had the opportunity to travel to different places.
After university, I went back to Italy. Going home was hard because I had been living on my own for so long that I wanted to continue doing so.
I began to teach at a few schools in my hometown while working with two companies there. I experienced new theatrical work there and I learned aerial dance (dancing on cranes, with ropes in the air and sometimes on the side of buildings!).
Eventually, I felt that this life was not enough for me. I applied for a residency in India and within a month I was selected. I packed my bag and went off for a month.
It was great because we were learning and creating in a different environment. I brought back more courage to create my life the way I want it to be.
When I got home, I felt that my home wasn’t my place anymore. After another audition, I came here to Leamington Spa.
Now I have been here for three and a half years. My journey here started with an internship opportunity for six months, so I quit my teaching job in Italy.
It went well and after 3 months I started performing with the company.
We were in Wales for a few months and during this time I auditioned for a job within the company and got it. I had finally achieved my dream.
And then, of course, COVID hit and that opportunity was not there anymore.
I suddenly had no way to pay my expenses and I had no perspective or opportunity. I was in a dark place.
My parents told me to come home but I wanted to figure it out here.
I applied for a grant from the art council for a self-development practice. I got that funding, and I began developing my practice as a performer. Some of the connections I made there I still know and work with now.
I did not like doing the online dance classes in the small space of my kitchen so I began yoga classes instead.
This is what has got me towards what I do now.
When restrictions were lifted, I took a teacher training course in London and met another amazing bunch of people. I’m now a Pilates instructor as well as a long-time professional dancer.
Now I do both. I am a performer with companies that I want to work with. I am an associate artist with a company here and I also teach and do workshops with young people as part of professional productions.
I also started teaching Pilates last year. I teach in studios around Warwickshire and I also do private lessons.
Chatting with my clients before and after the class is refreshing. It makes my life wider… I like that I am using my experience to help them lead healthier and happier lives.
I feel that learning expands my life. I feel that our lives are like an elastic band; it expands and comes back. If you put this elastic between two pens it has a base to stay there. You can decide to fill that space in between with whatever you choose. I choose to feed this place in between (this elastic) with things that feed my soul and things that challenge me.
I think that it is so important to celebrate the challenges and the failures. You don’t realise how valuable those experiences were until later.
I left home when I was 18 and I stayed in the UK through covid when I had no money, no job, and no perspective. I did that!
I could have gone home and chosen the apparently easy road but I did not. I knew that I had to stay, not particularly for my career but for myself.
This blog was written by Ava Goldson, based on the interview with Tales to Inspire.