Perlizbeth De Leon blends commercial and concert dance for both stage and screen

Photo credit: Kat Ko
Perlizbeth De Leon gazes down at the camera in an expression of confidence. Wearing a black sweater, she sits in front of a dark backdrop with her arms extended toward her knees. Gold hoop earrings shine underneath her long dark hair, which cascades over her right shoulder revealing lightened tips. 

March 1, 2021
Volume 2 Issue 2
By: Julie Galle Baggenstoss and Maile Griffeth

“See all the different companies and all the different studios? If someone wants to dance, there’s a place for them here. And I love that. If there’s a population that doesn’t have it yet, someone is thinking about it, and it’s going to be here soon.” 

Atlanta’s vibrant cultural and artistic scene continues to inspire and motivate dancer Perlizbeth De Leon. She moved to the city in July 2019, immediately immersing herself in projects both onstage and offstage. “It’s a lot more soulful and intense, and it can be super releasing,” De Leon says, describing her experience dancing in Atlanta. As someone who has spent much of her time in Atlanta quarantining and social distancing, dance has become a form of therapy for De Leon. Despite the challenges of working through the COVID-19 pandemic, she has noticed the accessibility and variety of the dance community, and she has found opportunities for growth.

While majoring in Art Education at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, De Leon often traveled as far as New York, Chicago and Florida to attend dance classes. She also became acquainted with Atlanta while attending ADX and T. Lang’s Sweatshop intensive. When she relocated to Atlanta, De Leon began working in dance immediately. Dance Canvas presented her work titled “A Woman’s Life” during its 2020 summer residency, which culminated with outdoor performances at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in Midtown, in July of that year. 

She mounted a duet because she wanted to “speak on the injustice women face in the world and what that looks like when multiple women come together in their lives.” It was a poignant piece to show during a time when scientists told people to stay far apart. “Life is not alone, but together, especially in times that we need each other,” says De Leon. “I wanted to portray two women meeting seemingly coincidentally and going through their life together, sharing their stories and finding strength through each other.”

The sense of women gathering is present in much of De Leon’s work, as seen in her choreography for camera. De Leon describes her dance style as “a combination of hip-hop with hints of jazz and popping.” She says, “Everything that I make plays with music — nothing I ever do is against it.” Her movement style is informed by genre, combining the grounded and articulate musicality of hip-hop with technical elements from jazz and contemporary dance. Her dancers exude the confidence and flare of popular commercial dance combined with the prowess of academic studio technique, and the result commands the attention of the viewer. 

This control may be the result of De Leon’s technique of motivating the movers by giving them a storyline and asking them to express what is close to them. “Because dance is so personal; that is what I tap into a lot, where I feel like maybe sometimes people can’t reach it,” says De Leon, explaining why she likes this approach. “And I just need to urge them a little bit to reach that. Because despite what the movement is, if they can tap into what motivates them and create that, it looks a million times different. It’s more about the feeling than the detail.”

Photo credit: Screen shot from the video “PINAY || US by Ruby Ibarra ft. Rocky Rivera, Klassy, & Faith Santilla DANCE VISUAL || Perlizbeth
Nine dark-haired women in their teens and twenties are positioned in a pyramid formation on a set of white, concrete stairs. The single woman in the front row is sitting down on the steps, winking at the camera. The three women on the back row at the top of the stairs are standing. Many of the women’s faces are covered by their long, dark hair, which sways in motion at their right sides. The dancers extend their right arms to their right sides and up from their torso while bending their left arms. The dancers are wearing street clothing, including blue jeans, athletic pants, tank tops and sweatshirts in shades of blue, black and pink.

De Leon is putting her method to work in her current project as a choreographer for a music video with R&B artist Alto Moon. In addition to setting work for film in January 2021, she also hired dancers for this job. “I asked [Alto Moon], ‘What kind of look do you want your dancers to have?’ And he said as diverse as possible.”

Describing her goals, De Leon says, “I want to do more choreography behind the scenes for music videos, for movies, just in general for commercial work.” De Leon continues to develop the skill of creating for others, rather than dancing herself, in Atlanta by working on music videos, and she wants more. “I would like to do that in a bigger sense. Maybe not for a bigger name, but in a way that reaches more people,” says De Leon. 

While Atlanta is a place for De Leon to blossom, she may not call it home forever. She also wants to go on a world tour as a backup dancer performing for a music artist. “The feeling you get when you perform live is just so amazing,” she says. “That is for any form of dance. It’s always amazing. That is the number one thing that I’ve always wanted to do.”

De Leon’s journey into the Atlanta dance scene has been shaped by the accessibility and variety of creative work happening in the city. “That’s the biggest thing,” she says, “accessibility to more art to take in, to consume and thus create more, do more.”

To see more of De Leon’s work and follow her journey, check out her Youtube page.

Julie Galle Baggenstoss is a scholar and frequent lecturer in the field of flamenco history and culture. She has an M.A. in Spanish from Georgia State University, where she analyzed flamenco through the lens of Spanish history, literature, and linguistics. She is the Executive Director of A Través, 501c3, dedicated to flamenco arts in the state of Georgia, and she is a founder of the Atlanta Flamenco Festival. In addition to performing and working with students in grades K-12 as a teaching artist, Julie teaches flamenco at Emory University.

More by Julie:
Nadya Zeitlin creates in listening and leading
Allyne Gartrell, Atlanta Dance Connection transmit healing power of dance

Maile Griffeth is an Atlanta based dancer currently dancing with ImmerseAtl. She is a junior in highschool with plans to pursue cultural anthropology and linguistics in college. Maile is interested in the intersection of culture, language, movement, and dance. 

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