Why Joffrey Ballet’s Victoria Jaiani Embraces Change, Challenges, and Living in the Moment

April 17, 2023

The Joffrey Ballet’s Victoria Jaiani brings openness, hard work, and authenticity to every role, whether she’s portraying Juliet, bringing a new work to life, or navigating the shifting balance of mother and ballerina. This month, she prepares to star in John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid. Here, she shares her thoughts on perfection, the creative process, and her biggest close call.

You originally came to the U.S. from Georgia when you were 14. What inspired your move?

Up to that point, I had only had rigorous ballet training. There was one big state ballet school in the capital city where you took everything—math, French, Russian, music history, dance history—all in one building. However, there wasn’t contemporary or any other form of ballet there. There were more ways to move the body out there somewhere—I don’t know how I knew it, I just could feel it.

How was the transition to living and training in New York City?

Culture shock. I spoke no English. It was different—even what the ballet teachers were saying was different. The thing that helped me was that I liked how different it was. I liked that the corrections were different, I liked the different ways of moving. I’d never been choreographed on before. I liked that I was learning new things constantly. And I had a bagel for the first time!

To whom or to what would you attribute your success?

To every teacher that ever walked into the room. Whether a positive or negative experience—because we’re artists, these things are going to be subjective—they still influenced me. 

What’s been your biggest challenge?

I didn’t believe I had “good feet”—I don’t have those natural arches. What I’ve discovered is that it’s about how you use your feet, how you articulate through them. Your feet can speak.

Victoria Jaiani dances onstage during a performance of Swan Lake. She does a relevé attitude derriere with her right leg lifted behind her and presses both arms back, arching her upper body. She wears pink tights, pink pointe shoes, a white tutu and a crown of feathers.
Jaiani in Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake. Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

How has your approach to dancing changed from the beginning of your career until now?

I’m more open. I’ve veered off from what I thought perfection was in my head. What is perfect?  It’s not easy, because we stare at ourselves in the mirror all the time and try to achieve “the lines.” While that is part of the training, you still have to bring yourself to the work. What energy you bring to the room, to your body, to your mind—these factors became more important to me than achieving that “perfect” ideal. I feel most satisfied when I feel 100 percent present in the moment and try my best. I believe it shows through my dancing—I don’t know how exactly, but I think that’s what people call maturity of the movement, more out of your head and in tune with yourself.

What do you enjoy more: performing or being in the studio?

Both, but the work in the studio is completely irreplaceable. If it wasn’t for that work, the stage wouldn’t exist. Onstage there’s the undeniable high as all of your work, hopes, and dreams come true. But those studio hours are the roots to be grounded and nurtured. Throughout the process, you water your roots every day, little by little.

Have you had a worst nightmare onstage?

None onstage, yet—knock on wood—but I’ve come close. I was guesting and didn’t know the theater, and I couldn’t find the stage entrance. I went through a door and it locked behind me. I couldn’t get out. I could hear my name being called because they needed me onstage. I started yelling loudly and luckily my partner heard and followed my voice. We literally ran right onto stage. It was about to be my ultimate nightmare!

How has becoming a mother changed you as a dancer?

Motherhood is humbling in so many ways. It’s made my dancing more honest. I appreciate each moment more. You have to be truly present; as mom, you are not given any other option. Becoming a mother inspired my questioning of what perfect is. My little guy inspires me every day. He tells me, “It’s okay, Mom. I’ll try again tomorrow.” And I’m like, “You’re right!”

Victoria Jaiani balances on pointe in a fourth position effacé and lifts her arms up her head as she looks down to the floor. She wears a gray dress with a knee-length full tutu skirt, long sleeves and a high neck. She dances on a darkened stage.
Jaiani in Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina. Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

My favorite is whatever my husband and son enjoy! And that shifts. My most recent favorite thing to cook, because my son loves it, is shrimp scampi.

What is a standout moment for you thus far?

Standing onstage, post–Anna Karenina, after the ballet came to life and Anna took flight. The curtain came down and I thought: That happened. It has a life now. It has a legacy. It can stay here forever.

What advice would you have for students wanting to be professional dancers?

Stay open-minded. Often, we get trapped into thinking “This is the only way,” but there are so many ways to achieve the same goal. Focus on discovering what is best for you, and that might not be a straight line or the most conventional way. The road looks different for everyone.  Spend the time to get to know who you are.