Eat, Pray, Dance

California Ballet Company dancer John Velasco spent his summer vacation traveling in Italy. He spent his time experiencing the culture, cuisine, and art that the birthplace of the Western Renaissance has to offer. His most memorable experiences were in Florence, home of the famed Medici family, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Donatello.

Mr. Velasco came away from the experience with his mind spinning, and we are excited to be able to share his thoughts with our fans and friends.

Eat, Pray Dance

Written by: John Velasco

Florence italy

THE best meal I’ve probably ever had in my life. It’s like I hadn’t ever had Italian food until that day. It changed my perception of food and how food can affect you. I felt like I weighed a metric ton afterwards though, especially since I had promised myself to not do a single pirouette nor plié during my only two weeks of freedom from the ballet. Besides, this was Florence, the birthplace of the renaissance! There was so much to see, do, obviously eat, but most importantly to learn. 

Although the present day vocabulary and canon of ballet is French, the origins of ballet seem to have had a more complex genealogy. While it was the French court of Louis XIV that capitalized and encouraged the growth of the art, ballet’s true progenitor was during the renaissance, in the land of Pizzas, Piazzas and Pasta! It is almost impossible to list all of the achievements in art, technology and philosophy that the renaissance has spawned, but one can see clearly that its thoughts and ideas are still relevant even today. 


However, if there is one singular expression of humanity’s timeless relevance, it is found in the statue of Michelangelo’s David in the Akkademia in Florence.  He is perfect, an ideal, an icon, a message of defiance, of indomitability. His muscles look like mine! Those quadriceps, those calves! I begin to wonder, was Michelangelo a ballet dancer? Was there a model used for the David? Was the model a ballet dancer in the renaissance courts? It is so strange and eerie to come face to face with an inanimate object hewn from the earth more than half a millennium ago, based on a story that is four times that age and therein seeing my own living and breathing humanity staring back at me. It really is a spectacle. 

Botticelli Venus

David was not the only iteration of this realization I had in Florence. It was everywhere. In the Uffizi Gallery down the street, Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Primavera were strikingly balletic in their fluidity and grace. Nay rather that ballet seems “Botticellic” in its fluidity and grace. Then there’s Filippo Brunelleschi’s own Goliath, the Duomo at Santa Maria de Fiore. The biggest dome ever built since antiquity-a practical REBIRTH of human creativity and invention!  Even the Arno River itself screams newly defined elegance with its serpentine swoops and sways through the city-an image that has surely captured the hearts and imaginations of Florentines through the ages. The whole city mirrors its people and the people their city. 

Florence stole my heart. The city itself is a present likeness of a time long gone. Time traveling is a possibility in this city what with its cobbled streets and 5th floor walkups that predate any sort of star spangled whatever by a couple hundred years. It is OLD. But what’s most striking about this city is that although its creators have come and gone, their ideas , feelings and emotions are still so very tangible. Maybe that’s the tradeoff. Similarly, Ballet itself has been around the block but the essence of the human experience is something that we can still see, touch, hear, smell, and most of all EATTTTTTT today!


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