As I rode through the scenic streets of Roslindale, I thought about what it would be like to see Santiago Paniagua for the first time in years. The Paniagua family have been close friends with my family for many years, ever since Santi and my sister attended preschool together. Filled with anticipation, I walked up the small set of steps leading up to the house he grew up in and rang the bell.
He looked older, more mature than I remembered, more sure of himself. I greeted the rest of the family who were happy to see me but exhausted because they had just gotten off a flight from their vacation in Mexico. We sat in the dining room, which was cluttered with random objects, and talked in hushed tones so as not to wake up the rest of the family who were still jet-lagged.
Twenty years ago, Paniagua was born in Boston to two immigrant parents. His dad immigrated from Spain to Mexico, then came to the United States to continue his education. His mom came from Colombia as an adult to pursue higher education.
By the age of nine, Paniagua began what would eventually be his career: dancing ballet. He decided he wanted to pursue it professionally when he was 12-years-old. Encouraged by his family, he joined the Boston Ballet and began practicing in the evening after school. “They were very supportive, like, throughout the whole time. And there was never a point where I felt like they wanted me to do something else, or they wanted me to stop” he recalls.
In addition to dancing ballet, Paniagua has a number of interesting hobbies. He was quite a talented baseball player, with the potential to get even better if he had more time to practice. He also has a YouTube channel that entirely encapsulates his personality. He's a funny and easy-going guy who lights up any conversation he's involved in. When I asked him about his channel he let out a contagious laugh and fondly remembers the home videos he posted online for the world to see. His videos consist of a collection of funny skits, challenge videos and clips of him performing ballet.
Although he loves ballet, Paniagua has made several sacrifices because of it. “Ballet was taking up my whole after school life, it was every day, Monday through Saturday. I feel like I missed out on hanging out with people from high school and live that sort of life,” he said.
On top of taking up all of his free time, ballet also hurt his education. He attended Boston Latin Academy each day exhausted from training the day before. Paniagua dropped out of BLA during his junior year and finished his education at Boston Ballet. Despite the hardships, his love for ballet kept him motivated. “It was always kind of a push. And sometimes it really did feel like you hated it, but like, I don't know, something kept you going,” he said.
For the second year in a row, Paniagua will be working with PA Ballet in Philadelphia. When the season starts he will perform in “Don Quixote” and several other shows in the coming months. Before I took off he left me with a piece of advice for aspiring dancers: “Pay attention to how possible it is that you will be able to make it.”