Meet Anabella Lenzu: Dancer, Teacher, Writer, Mother, and Immigrant

Written by Jahaida Hernandez Jesurum


Before Anabella Lenzu  first went to New York City in 1999, she had a heart-to-heart with her father. He told her that she could be one of two things: a rat’s head at home, in a place that’s trusted and familiar, or a lion’s tail abroad, in a place she didn’t know and where no one knew her. That difficult decision — and her father’s words of wisdom — put Anabella on a path she never expected.

Born a second generation immigrant in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, to a family of Italian working-class immigrants from Naples, Anabella began dancing during her childhood with an innate determination and commitment that inspired her parents’ support. The result? The establishment of her first dance school at the precocious age of 18.


“It was a boom”

Founded in 1994, Centro Creativo de Danza L’Atelier launched its classic ballet program with just five students. Within two years, there were 250. “It was a boom,” says Anabella. “This was the result of being young, but with a visible passion for dancing.”

Within a few years, she had exposed herself and her students to everything that Argentina had to offer in the classical dance spectrum, including workshops and lectures by professors from El Teatro Colón, Argentina’s most respected opera house. And then Angel Fumagalli, one of the greatest South American ballet historians, suggested Anabella take her choreography career to New York City.

Anabella knew that this was a life — and career — changing decision. As her father said, “It’s your decision, whatever you want to do, just make sure you give it your 100 percent. In Argentina you’re the head of a rat; abroad you’ll be the tail of a lion.” With that in mind, she packed her bags and knew there was no turning back.


Starting again in New York

Eager to learn from the best, Anabella left her sister Pamela Lenzu, a flamenco dancer, in charge of L’Atelier. In 1999, she came to New York for three months to attend workshops at The Juilliard School, Martha Graham Dance Company, and The Limón Institute, among others. The following year, she returned as a guest performer in two festivals, and in 2001, she decided to stay in New York for a full year.

She learned English by listening to demonstration lectures and reading classics at the Lincoln Center library with a dictionary in hand. Three months after settling in Flushing, Queens, came September 11, 2001. The horrific attack prompted her to go back to Argentina for a few months, but when she tried to reenter the US in January of 2002, she was detained for twelve hours, given a five-year ban for having overstayed her visa, and deported.


“I always followed my intuition”

Determined to dance with the world masters who were still alive, regardless of their geographic location, Anabella again left Argentina for Rome with a one way ticket. Though she had double citizenship, she didn’t speak the language — but she managed to land a job with the Balletto Noventa within just a week of her arrival.

“In Italy, just like in Argentina, there’s an idiosyncrasy for the arts,” Anabella says. “People will include the arts in their daily activities, they will choose it over what most Americans will prefer as entertainment, like going to the movies.”

Numerous jobs kept coming in. She kept learning and networking. And for the next five years of her life, Italy became home.

“Education and technical formation are everything. Both will land you a job, regardless of the language barrier, regardless of where you come from. I always knew what I wanted. I always followed my intuition,” she says.

Shortly after moving to Rome, her boyfriend, an American photographer, came to visit in Italy. He decided to stay in Rome with her and they later got married. When they started to consider parenthood, the couple decided the US was a better place to embark in this new stage of their lives because it meant being closer to both of their families. At first they moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she worked for the Atlanta Ballet. But having worked in New York, Rome, and London, it left her unsatisfied: “Once you work in big cities, it’s hard to establish yourself somewhere else, so we left for New York.”











“I’ve found my voice”

Finally back in the Empire State, Anabella, now 39, says she no longer feels like a foreigner — “because we all are.” Despite her feeling that New York is no longer the world’s dance center, Anabella says she still grows every day from her exposure to the city’s culture.

“Here, dance and theater are divided,” Anabella says. “I define my work as dance-theater, with ethnographic influences, classic, modern, and some may deem it contemporary. But what I have are stories, words, gestures, Latin history. I am Latino. I am not postmodern, I am not abstract dance. As my career has matured, I’ve found my voice.”

And while Anabella may have spent her life studying and practicing to become a better dancer, having kids has also helped shape her current outlook on life.

“Motherhood changed my world,” she says. “Now I understand that without my mother I couldn’t have done any of this. She still helps me grandiosely. After becoming a mother myself I realized so much, when you walk in the streets your sense of gravity changes, so to speak. I no longer wanted to dedicate my life solely to dance as a priesthood.”

Her children, Lucio, 6, and Fiamma, a year and a half, spent their lives in Anabella’s world, consisting of her rehearsals and teaching. “[My children] see me as a teacher and my students see me as a mother, so it’s well worth the sacrifice.”


What’s next?

While she keeps busy with rehearsals and being a mom, Anabella says her kids also helped her realize that she needed to start writing again. Her first book, Unveiling Motion and Emotion is, she says, “about the role of the artist in society and the problematic about dance and theater” — what she calls “more of a philosophical work.” Her forthcoming book, however, focuses on technique and graphic work, so future dancers can “emotionally, psychologically, and physically train and grow awareness about themselves” through exercises, photos, and drawings.

Anabella says she hasn’t opened her own school in New York, as she did in Argentina all those years ago, because she can always collaborate with others.

“I found freedom in being the lion’s tail.”


To learn more about Anabella’s work, please visit her website. You are also invited to come to an open rehearsal of In Pursuit of Happiness on Friday, May 22 at 7:30pm at the Gibney Dance Center, more information available here.



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