5 DIY gift ideas for dancers

The dream

Photo by Jayme Thornton

Garcia-Lee grew up in his mother’s dance studio in Bucks County, Pa., At the Pennsylvania School of Performing Arts (his mother sold the school earlier this year). In addition to her regular training, she traveled several hours each day to New York and New Jersey for lessons with Steps on Broadway and the Princeton Ballet School, respectively. The walls of his room were lined with cutouts from the pages of Dance spirit, which served as inspiration for its goals. Her mother, Terri Garcia, was a professional dancer in the 1980s (she even danced Francisca in the West Side Story toured in 1985), and Garcia-Lee was eager to follow in his footsteps. “I would stay in bed until 3 a.m. staring at the ceiling, thinking, ‘OK, I’m ready to do this,'” she said.

Garcia-Lee went to high school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she first studied ballet and then theater. In second grade, she was chosen as Graziella in her school’s production of West Side Story. The magic of performing Jerome Robbins’ iconic choreography has never left her. “The last time I put myself in Graziella’s shoes, it changed my life,” she says. “She gets these great features in ‘Dance at the Gym’ and ‘Cool’. [She] is so powerful, strong and so wicked. “

She hit it West Side Story‘s been wearing ever since. After graduating from high school, Garcia-Lee moved to New York City, where she made her Broadway debut at age 17 in The The Phantom of the Opera. She would go on to perform in five other Broadway shows: Nice job if you can get it, on the town, Natasha, Pierre and the great comet of 1812, Charlie and the chocolate factory and, more recently, Red Mill! All the while she kept the hope that West Side Story would one day come to her.

In 2009, Garcia-Lee was considered for Graziella in the Broadway revival but didn’t get the role after countless callbacks. “I was a wreck sobbing with my mom on the phone,” she says. “For some reason this was not the right solution for me.”

After that, two other productions did not choose her for the role of Graziella. When West Side Story had gone up to the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, in 2016, Garcia-Lee was offered the role of Mugsy. For the Broadway revival in 2020, she only had the opportunity to audition for the role of Anybodys. She turned down both opportunities in favor of other projects – she would wait for Graziella.

Despite the rejection, she was not deterred. So when Deadline posted an article announcing the remake of the film, Garcia-Lee felt playing Graziella was meant to be.


Paloma Garcia-Lee sits on a white stool in a pink skirt / top and black heels.  Both knees are bent and one leg is lifted in the air.  Her arms are folded and raised near her head and her face is turned in profile.

Photo by Jayme Thornton

Auditions for Steven Spielberg West Side Story took place in the fall of 2018, at the same time Garcia-Lee was filming for the award-winning FX series “Fosse / Verdon”. She had to negotiate with the production team to allow her to take time off. At the audition, the casting room was packed with several of her beloved Broadway friends and colleagues, like Eloise Kropp (Cats) and Jonalyn Saxer (Bad girls). “Paloma has a way to take all the tension out of an audition room,” says Saxer, who plays a Jet in the film. “You can feel her love of dancing emanating from her, spreading to everyone.”

According to the film’s choreographer, Justin Peck, Garcia-Lee quickly caught the attention of the creative team. “She is one of those artists who constitute a real triple threat by her talent and her capacities”, he says. “She’s really committed to the uniqueness of the movement, and she’s determined to get it right. I could feel it from the first hearing.” He recalls that Garcia-Lee took a free minute throughout the rehearsal process to ask for feedback on his style. “It really shows in the final results of the film.”

The film

Paloma Garcia-Lee stands in the past with her arms outstretched in second position.

Photo by Jayme Thornton

Garcia-Lee found out that she had booked West Side Story in November 2018. At the same time, she got involved in the Broadway series Red Mill!, and discovered that the two productions both had to start rehearsals at around the same time. She spent much of winter and early spring 2019 trying to figure out how to do everything. Fortunately, both were based in New York and Garcia-Lee already knew Red Mill!‘s choreography and directing, as she had been a part of the show since her lab in 2017. She asked if she could miss any rehearsals and most of the preview performances (including the all-important first preview) so that she can film her scenes in the film. “It wasn’t a simple negotiation,” Garcia-Lee explains. “I’m the biggest advocate of ‘If you don’t ask, it’s a no.’ You’ll be surprised how people will rally around you to help your dreams come true, but it takes that risk, ”Garcia-Lee said.

Work on the West Side Story The movie was very different from any experience Garcia-Lee had ever had on Broadway. “It wasn’t just about learning steps,” she says. “It’s not a front display, it was really this 360-degree experience. I’ll never forget Steven on a ladder, then Steven halfway up the ladder, then Steven on a wheelchair, Steven lying down on the floor watching [the choreography] that way, Justin tweaking and polishing. “

Rehearsals for the iconic “Dance at the Gym” scene lasted two weeks. Each day began with a ballet class led by Peck, his wife, former Miami City Ballet dancer Patricia Delgado or former American Ballet Theater dancer Craig Salstein. Before labor began, Garcia-Lee says, she got to know Peck’s work as much as she could to get a feel for his style. “It’s anchored and sprinkled with Jerome Robbins, but it’s also led by Justin,” Garcia-Lee said. “His movement is not innate to me. However, I loved the challenge.”

After rehearsals were over, filming for “Dance at the Gym” lasted six days, and according to Garcia-Lee, her feet have never hurt so much in her life. But that didn’t stop her from soaking up the magic. Especially the day she and her co-star Mike Faist (Riff) filmed their duet. “We were so tired and we were giving everything we could,” she says. “All I remember is we did the impossible. We got lost in the art. We finally came to the end of [the take and] Mike and I fell to the ground. Steven ran towards us, dove to the ground with us, and choked us with love. It was magical.”

The future

Palomar Garcia-Lee stands in a pink skirt and purple tank top with one leg raised, facing the stage.  Her head is tilted skyward, her left arm lifts her skirt, and her right arm reaches out behind her.

Photo by Jayme Thornton

After West Side Story wrapped up in September 2019, Garcia-Lee continued his journey with Red Mill! But all of that festive kicking came to a screeching halt in March 2020 when the pandemic struck, just when she felt she was “reaching the peak of her career.” Garcia-Lee was one of the many members of the company who fell ill with COVID-19. Although she luckily recovered, she wondered what the future held for her. A few months later it was announced that West Side StoryThe release of will be postponed for a year.

Garcia-Lee spent his days volunteering at a stable in Brooklyn. It was the first time in decades that she had found the time to get back in the saddle like she had when growing up near Bucks County Farms. “There was a lot of work to do to identify myself outside of who I am as a performer,” she says. She found solace and solace around the horses. “I think horseback riding is deeply like dancing with a partner,” she says. “It really gave me a place to be and something to grow up in and accomplish.”

Then, with the help of her father, she crossed the country to LA for a new start. She wanted to focus on acting and find something new to give it a purpose. But that doesn’t mean she gave up dancing. As the studios resumed in-person classes, Garcia-Lee returned to the dance floor. “There’s just a lot of anxiety coming back into the room – a lot of us are really not in good shape,” she says. “Coming back has been a journey. The learning curve right now is to have a lot of grace with myself.”

In LA, she stepped out of her musical theater comfort zone and took jazz lessons with teachers like Will B. Bell. “She’s probably one of the most focused dancers I’ve come to know in the past year during the pandemic,” Bell said of Garcia-Lee. “When she comes to class, she comes with a mission and a goal.”

When it comes to professional work, Garcia-Lee auditioned for film and television projects while cultivating the next phase of his career. “This break was a blessing in disguise,” she admits. “It really took me a while to calibrate myself differently.” She would love to create new roles, as well as inhabit classics, like those found in the next one. Guys and dolls musical film directed by Bill Condon. She also dreams of playing Roxie in Chicago on Broadway.

For now, however, Garcia-Lee is eagerly awaiting the West Side Story release of the film in December. After a year of delay, she is physically and mentally ready to celebrate by playing Graziella. “I’m actually more ready nowshe said. “I think a lot of us feel that way. The timing is exactly right. “

Paloma Garcia-Lee wears black pants and a hot pink top and looks over her left shoulder.

Photo by Jayme Thornton

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