Wandering the streets of Times Square by night, lights cascaded from sleepless billboards and dodgy advertisements. Opening her phone, the clocked flashed 11:30 pm. Subtracting five hours, made it only 6:30 pm at home in the Hawaiian islands. Jasmine Perri, then only in middle school, wanted to call someone but didn’t know who. She had gotten out late that night, surely her older sister, Jennifer, was asleep by now. Fumbling around in her bag amongst hair spray, tights and slightly damp ballet shoes for the keys she prayed she had, she just wanted to go home, and by that she didn’t mean to the apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, she meant to her island in the middle of the sea.
Jasmine had moved to New York from Honolulu months ago to live with Jennifer. Riding the wind beneath her sister’s wings as her career as a singer hightailed for the heavens, Jasmine was left to sip on jetstreams. She did indeed “drink the KoolAid” but mixed it first with her talents as a dancer and ended up on Broadway in Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life “accidentally, almost.” With the closing of the curtain that ensued after loud applause, Jasmine took her bow each night and took up the solitude that had befriended her. With late call times and her family and friends 5,000 miles away, she spent most of her time alone, a rebel to the world in a city of dreams but she was not yet a dreamer. “I have a really complex upbringing, my dad suffered from addiction so that was traumatic as a kid and a lot of the time when I lived in New York, I was completely alone so I developed this weird perspective of the world,” said Jasmine.
She instead placed faith in a fondest memory. It was one that she shared with Justin Timberlake and her father at Madison Square Garden for JT’s, Future Sex, Lovestoned Tour. She was used to going to shows with her dad, after all he was a sound engineer who owned a production company that had done the sound for everyone from Janet Jackson, to Journey, to Prince as they took their tours tropical, ending up at one of the main concert venues in Honolulu. The JT show had been a surprise and her father had flew in just to take her. She had been recently offered the opportunity to move to Italy to dance in a ballet company but the dancers on stage held her gaze with a firm grip. With more self-awareness than room to grow, Jasmine knew that her story would begin elsewhere, on a different stage, in what would feel like another life. But it was now finally time to go home, turning her back on a dream that she knew was never hers.
At home in the islands, Jasmine was made aware of her otherness whenever people got a whiff of her individuality; she was bullied when people realized she was talented. A contrast by nature, her ninth grade peers at Mid-Pacific Institute who grew up unexposed to blatant diversity made her out to feel like she didn’t belong, not only in the cafeteria but in Hawaii in general. She had been so excited to come home but now she was questioning where home was. The bullying got so bad, that Jasmine pulled out of school as she was told to go back to New York and ‘where she came from.’ “I was like uhh, that’s not where I’m from, I’m from here. Long story short, I got my GED and ended up moving to Tokyo where my sister was singing,” said Jasmine from over the phone on a late afternoon in October. She had just flown into LAX from Hawaii and was speaking to me from a seat on the sidewalk.
This time when her world shook, the rest of Japan convulsed with her. Jasmine had already given up on the modeling thing she moved there to try out. She had left the last dressing room crying after overhearing her co-workers malicious tauntings, unaware that she could understand them. The language barrier let her in only enough that she realized she would always be a gaijin, a foreigner, someone that could exist in society but never truly be a part of it. Being half-Italian and half-Japanese, she realized the roots she sought to find did not lay in foreign soil. Instead, she would become cognizant of a recurring theme in her life, “that every question I have, every step that I’m making is not spontaneous, it’s all in me already.” Whether dance had found Jasmine or that she had found her way back to dance, she had her first epiphany. “It sounds so corny but it hit me in that [dance] class and I started crying. I was like what am I doing?” It was then that she began to turn her own tides. “I heard about this scholarship program in LA from the international teachers I had been taking class with. They only take 20 people a year and [those 20] they’ll train and then you audition for the agencies. I really winged it but I got myself to LA. My dad threw two suitcases down and said, fill it up because that’s all you’re taking. I only had dance clothes forever,” said Jasmine.
Now a 23-year old professional dancer with her signature straight bangs that slightly dovetailed in the middle of her brows, Jasmine is represented by the Bloc Talent Agency and is known best for her place beside Justin Bieber on stage as he cooed, “baby, baby, baby, ooh” during the Purpose World Tour (dates ran from Mar 9, 2016 – Sep 24, 2017). She did exactly what she set out to do; traveling the world on someone else’s dime became her reality and the world became her textbook. “If you seek knowledge about yourself, about the world and even your perspective of the world, you have to see it. Not on Instagram, not on virtual reality, no, no, no, no, you need to find your way around town, you need to get lost, you need to talk to people, you need to make friends, find friends, you have to,” stressed Jasmine.
Destiny was a narrative that hinged on self-awareness. Although it was never in her plans to even audition for the Purpose World Tour stating that her fears and insecurity would’ve kept her from the opportunity. Jasmine was in South Africa when her phone happened to get wifi. “I got an email from my agent saying that the choreographer wanted to hire me – wanted to hire me. I wasn’t used to direct booking at the time and I would’ve started the next day for a month of rehearsals. I was just staring at the email; and I was so confused but of course I said, ‘duh’.”
A different hotel every night, a new city, another screaming crowd. Jasmine took to the open road rent-free her first year as she and her co-workers would live everywhere and nowhere all at once. She was finally one of the dancers on stage, living out the memory of the JT concert that seemed more like a premonition everyday. In between dancing in Dubai in 120 degree weather, to being on the brink of dehydration a few songs into the performance, Jasmine not only pushed herself to her limits, she lived teetering on their edges. “For my mental state, not having a solid place was like, wow; it really showed me what areas I lack in like where I am unstable. I feel unstable because I don’t have a home, but I shouldn’t feel that way,” she recalled. The tour did not stop or slow for anyone and Jasmine simply had to make a home out of her own self. “Home is not where you put your head at night, or where the wifi connects, or where your boyfriend is, or where your dog is, if that’s where home is then shoot, what if it disappears? Then you’re gonna be homeless? Then nothing is going to work out for you. You’re not even allowing the smoke to clear to be able to see, everything is right here, I’m good.”
It was when the world stood still that she began to buckle. While a dancer views their craft as an artform, they are inevitably bound to the body’s mortality in the same way that athletes are. From aching joints, to disfigured toes, youth is a friend that a dancer must keep close even as it whispers sweet nothings in your ear. The question of what comes next began to plague Jasmine at the beginning of the year while she was on tour in South America. “My body was just so hurt and I stopped and thought to myself: I’m unhappy right now. Why am I unhappy when everything I’ve ever wanted, I have? What now? It’s not a feeling of not being content [or greedy], but it’s a deeper thing. It’s really like why am I not happy? It was because I realized that I cannot drain myself and make money because now that’s what I’m doing. I’m not dancing for me anymore so now it doesn’t feel good; it’s not nourishing me, it’s not cleansing me. I literally felt like a prisoner to my artform,” she said with a hint of anguish in her voice. What was her next move?
Dancing as she understood it involved a painter and a canvas. When you started as a dancer you were given a palette of 12 colors, a mixture of releases, isolations and body artistry that channeled emotions while requiring detailed physicality. “There are some people that can paint it and there are some people who should strictly be the canvas; they’re beautiful at interpreting the choreography but when it comes to now it’s your turn to make the picture, it’s like oooh, I’m better as your mold. It’s complex,” said Jasmine. As she progressed, her colors became emboldened, deeper and brighter hues with more dimension. “So now when someone is saying, ‘Jasmine, be the canvas and now copy this picture’, I have more colors to work with so now it’s more dynamic,” she said. All along, Jasmine had been developing her style. It was what originally kept her from auditioning for the Purpose World Tour in the first place and what the kids at Mid-Pac were intimidated by. With this understanding of depth, dimension and subtle nuances represented by her movements and breath, Jasmine’s style expanded as she began to honestly express herself, on and off stage. The growing pains she was feeling were familiar and destiny held out its unexpected hand. “Every new level that I reach, I have to shed something and that’s painful, it’s really painful,” she said, speaking about the changes on her horizon, “but no amount of money is worth losing your mental health.”