Grace in Motion

vincent padilla


At the barre, Vincent Padilla doesn’t try to stand out. He’s just one guy in a huge rehearsal room full of men in black tights and torso-hugging T-shirts; women in dark leotards, pink tights and hair neatly coiled atop their heads.

But there’s something different about Padilla. It’s the way he holds himself, his slight frame straight yet supple. It’s the chiseled cut of his muscles, the perfect grace and control each time he bends an arm, extends a leg, points a toe. Every movement is both artistry and athleticism, a practiced blend of precision and poetry.

Off-stage, Padilla is equally flexible, equally disciplined. Which explains how, at age 24, he’s already achieved what many covet — a career that combines multiple passions.

He dances with the California Ballet, a professional company based in San Diego. He has taught at a top ballet academy, as well as San Diego City Park and Recreation centers, where he got his start. And he’s a budding businessman, an independent consultant for a legal-services corporation.

Padilla ’10 found reason and will to pursue his eclectic lifestyle in the study of philosophy, his major at USD. “One thing I learned from philosophy is if you want something you don’t have now, you have to do something different,” he says.

Padilla’s personal credo, like his work, draws from disparate sources. He references Friedrich Nietzsche’s emphasis on personal choice, Dale Carnegie’s belief in self-development and a former ballet master’s mantra: “The only true talent is the ability to work.”

Dance, of course, requires all three. Choosing to dance as a career is committing to a life of relentless practice and continual improvement. And that’s exactly what Padilla loves about it.

“I like hard physical work, and ballet is so physically demanding,” he says. “And I like precision. When I execute things correctly, it feels really good. For me it’s like the exhilaration you feel when your team wins the Super Bowl. You’re pumped up on adrenaline; endorphins are shooting around; you’re excited.”

Audiences catch that excitement watching Padilla perform. Whether portraying the prince levitating into an aerial split in “The Nutcracker,” a gritty street gangster in “West Side Story” or a strolling tap dancer at Legoland, Padilla throws everything he has into each role, and it shows.

He was only four when his mother, herself a dancer and dance instructor, took him to tap lessons at the neighborhood rec center. “I wasn’t super interested,” he admits.

But five years later when the curtains opened on his first professional appearance — in “The Music Man” at San Diego’s venerable Starlight Theatre — Padilla discovered he liked performing. He moved on to jazz dance classes at age 11 and finally ventured into ballet at age 14, at the insistence of his jazz instructor.

During Padilla’s senior year at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, the physicality of dance hooked him for good. Five, sometimes six days a week, he studied Russian classical ballet at the San Diego Academy of Ballet.

All through his college years, Padilla shuttled between the lecture halls of Alcalá Park and the ballet studio in San Diego’s Kearney Mesa neighborhood. As a freshman, fascinated by the workings of the justice system, he relished the idea of using the law to help others, perhaps as a public defender. But by sophomore year, he had reconsidered.

“I decided law school wasn’t something I wanted to do,” Padilla says. “I was starting to realize I wanted to pursue physical endeavors. I thought, ‘I can’t sit at a desk all day. Maybe in 20 years, but not now.’”

He stuck with his degree program, though, postponing the advanced dance training he knew he needed until after graduation. His diploma secured, Padilla set out for New York to explore his options. An intensive program with Ellison Ballet at the Baryshnikov Arts Center proved just the right prescription to strengthen his skills and buoy his confidence.

Padilla came home to San Diego and signed on with the California Ballet. At the same time, he began building a business through Legal Shield, an organization offering an HMO-like approach to legal services and, Padilla hopes, a steady income to underwrite his ballet career as long as his body allows.

And then? Padilla turns pragmatic. “Then it will be time to tap. You can tap forever.” — Sandra Millers Younger

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