Story by Susan Lee
Ballet San Jose‘s Joshua Seibel has some strong advice for young dancers: never let anyone tell you what you can’t do.
Seibel should know. Years of ear trouble—and multiple surgeries—have left Seibel mostly deaf.
“People probably don’t realize I should technically be wearing hearing aids,” he says.
But Seibel’s partial deafness hasn’t stopped him from dancing. This season, he was even promoted to soloist at Ballet San Jose.
Alexsandra Meijer and Joshua Seibel. Photo by Quinn Wharton.
Seibel began dancing at the age of nine at the Yuma Ballet Theater. By thirteen, he was venturing out of Arizona to a summer program at the San Francisco Ballet. “The day we drove into San Francisco was Gay Pride Day,” Seibel laughs. “I was from a small town. I’d never seen anything like that!”
In 2003, Seibel attended Houston Ballet’s summer program and was asked to stay on. “Being a student there was intense. We’d train for twelve hours a day. Then we’d sometimes perform with the company at night. I was fourteen. It was a lot of work and responsibility at a young age.”
After finishing in the semi-finals at the 2006 Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, Seibel joined the corps of the Houston Ballet. “It was so different from being a student,” he says. “First of all, I was actually getting paid! And I was performing at a much faster pace. Houston does a significant number of shows every year, so I was rehearsing a lot of ballets at once.”
Seibel was also the youngest member of the company. “It was intimidating,” he admits. “I didn’t want to slow other people down.”
In 2008, however, Seibel discovered that he needed ear surgery. Recovery was challenging. At one point, he was even told that he would never dance again.
Seibel took time off, joined Ballet Memphis, and then needed additional surgeries. At one point, Seibel actually decided to enlist in the military instead of returning to ballet. “Ballet dancers make great military candidates,” Seibel points out. “They are very well disciplined, very physically fit, and good at standing in lines!”
But after yet more surgery prevented him from attending basic training, Seibel took extra time off to decide what he really wanted to do with his life. “Then, one day, I saw my friends perform at Ballet Arizona,” he says. “That was that.” Seibel called Dennis Nahat, the former artistic director of Ballet San Jose, who’d offered him a position in the past.
Seibel joined Ballet San Jose as an apprentice in 2010.
“It was a huge accomplishment for me to make it back to the studio,” he says.
Seibel has made close friends at Ballet San Jose. “When I first arrived, I was so surprised at how much people smiled and laughed during rehearsal. And José Manuel Carreño was the first male dancer I’d ever really admired. I even recorded one of his performances on VHS back in 2007. He has huge ambitions and goals for Ballet San Jose. It’s so inspiring.”
This year, Seibel has danced the roles of a stomper in In The Upper Room and a sailor in Fancy Free.
“I’ve been so lucky,” he says. “My ears don’t affect my balance or my turns. Now, I don’t even make a big deal out of my hearing.”