Pauline Locsin-Kanter: Dance, Connection and Playing Mulan
Pauline Locsin-Kanter serves on the faculty of the department of theater and dance at Santa Clara. She has had a prolific dance career, playing Mulan (as the video reference model) in the Disney hit of the same name, dancing in shows in New York and working at Walt Disney World. After graduating from the United States International University, School of Performing and Visual Arts, Pauline ventured out to sea dancing for Norwegian Cruise Lines. At Santa Clara, Pauline directs the annual performance “Images,” and teaches jazz dance, tap, and musical theater.
In this conversation, we discuss her experience with Disney, how she discovered her love for dancing, and how dance is about the art of connection.
PLK: What did you learn from that experience?
GC: I remember going in and being overwhelmed with the entire process. Although I was playing the Mulan role, I was a small component to the actual production. After watching the movie, I waited for my name to pop up in the credits, and I realized how many people were involved.
PLK: Was there a point in your life you knew you wanted to be a dancer?
GC: Absolutely. I was probably a senior in high school when I realized that dance was something I would love to continue doing. My parents weren’t really supportive of the idea. I did well academically and they thought I should do something like be a doctor. With that said, they still attended all my performances and were very proud of the work I did. Culturally, this is not something that their young Pacific Islander daughter should do. But after a while, they got it.
My biggest supporter was my sister’s husband. His brother was in the industry, and he would attend his brother’s performances. He would tell me after seeing a show, “You’re better than a lot of those performers. You could easily do this if you wanted to.” I honestly wasn’t the best dancer out there, but I wanted to keep trying and learning. My skin was pretty thick too, I could handle the “no’s.” A good friend assured me, “If you’re good enough, and you stick it out, you’ll get the work that you’re supposed to get. Be open to the possibilities.”
GC: What was it like working for the Norwegian Cruise Lines?
PLK: There were two times I lied in my life. The first time, I lied to my mom about riding a friend’s horse when I should have been working on a project in fourth grade. The second time was on a resume. Back then, you had to include your weight. I knew what the standard weight was, and I put myself about ten pounds lighter. I went to the call in San Diego, and they kept sending girls home after each round. I made it to the final ten. About a week later, they called and offered me a position. They said they had four ships going out on the Caribbean. They said, “One more thing, we do need you to lose about ten pounds before you arrive.” That was probably the worst part about dancing and being hired for the job.
That was the only bad thing about working on the ship, the rest of it was amazing. I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, I got to dance a few times a week, I was hanging out by the pool, I’d play games with passengers. It was amazing. I highly recommend it to any dancer who needs a vacation.
GC: You brought up some issues with dance being so visual, and the issues with stereotyping and body image. But at the same time, as a visual medium, you can tell stories… How do you think about those issues as dance moves forward?
PLK: In terms of a dancer’s physique, it is a downfall that they have to be physically fit. If I see that a dancer who has a larger bone structure than someone who has a “dancer’s body,” then I just encourage them to pursue healthy habits. Every dancer cross-trains as well.
I really believe that there is work for everybody and you don’t always have to have the dancer body. I have seen shows on Broadway where they cast real people with different body types.
GC: How does this stage of your career compare with your performance days?
PLK: I used to love to perform. I absolutely loved it. I don’t know if I would perform again, I stopped full-time in 2004. I get really nervous now. It’s in phases for me. My younger days were about performing, and now it’s about giving back.
GC: What is it like watching one of your performances from the audience?
PLK: Partially nervous, very excited and hopeful. You know the piece inside out, and you know the potential obstacles that may come about. The hardest thing is to just bless and release it. But I definitely put good vibes out there for the kids to put out there and do their best.
GC: Is there something about dance that led you to be so passionate about it? Is there something about the art of dancing that has stuck with you?
PLK: It is the art of dancing, it’s the art of connection. One of the first shows that I saw was at Disneyland. I remember at the end, everyone was clapping and I was bawling, and my sister looked at me and asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
I said, “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” At that moment, that was the nail in the coffin that I was going to do this. I wanted to have that impact on people. If they could have that effect on me, I would like to do the same.
GC: What do you mean by the “art of connection”?
PLK: When an audience can feel something beyond what they’re seeing. If I could break down their dance steps, I could saw kicks and turns and transition steps, but I saw the passion and love behind it. Anybody can do a kick or turn if they have the information, but not everyone can actually feel it and let you feel it with them. Dance, through movement, acting, through dialogue and song, through lyrics, all have their way of touching anybody, whether you’re an artist, an artist at heart or just a normal person.