Multifaceted Dancer and Artistic Swimmer Mylena Leclercq
By Liam Klenk
Mylena Leclercq is as innovative and spirited as they come. She has lived and traveled all over the world, absorbing and learning many different dance styles along the way. At the same time, Mylena is also a gifted artistic swimmer. She loves to experiment and combine different styles of performance. In this interview, she tells us more about her life and career path thus far, as well as about her hopes and inspirations.
When I was a kid, I wasn’t like the other girls. I didn’t want to be a princess. I always wanted to be a mermaid dancing underwater.
My mom grew up with a father who believed that sport is unhealthy.
Thankfully, with her children, my mom decided to take exactly the opposite direction. She already signed me up for baby swimming classes when I was eight months old.
My mom realized very quickly that I was in love with water. I was always in the water. When she would try to take me out, I would start to cry.
At the ocean, my mom would sometimes get very scared because I would swim out way too far.
At home, I would dance in the bathtub every chance I got.
When I was five years old, I started ballet and swimming classes.
One night I asked my parents, “Mommy, daddy, I want to dance in the water.” My mom said, “But you’re doing ballet and swimming already.” I said, “Yes, but I want to not just swim. I want to dance in the water, too.”
Back then, synchro swimming wasn’t the same as now. Muriel Hermine was the first synchro swimmer to do aquatic shows in Paris. I saw her show and afterwards immediately told my mom, “Mommy, this is exactly what I want to do.”
We found a course. I had to do a test. When they saw how natural I was in the water they took me immediately.
Thus, I started training as an artistic swimmer when I was six years old.
I had my first competition when I was eight and made second place.
Then, I spent ten years in the Belgian National Synchro Swimming Team. At the same time, I continued my dance education.
There was always a show, or a dance, or a competition for artistic swimming, as it is called today.
When I was around fifteen, I became very anxious and nervous during yet another big competition. I lost. My teacher was angry and asked me why. I told him, “I can’t do this anymore. I don’t like competitions. I want to just grow without the constant pressure.”
I stopped swimming entirely for six years. I didn’t even go to the pool anymore.
After a while, I became depressed. I felt bad and got sick often. My mom told me, “You have to find a solution. Keep active. Do what you love.”
So, I decided to put my emphasis more on the dancing side of things.
But dancing is not the same. As a professional swimmer you have a different body. Many dance masters told me, “You’ll never be a dancer.”
But I told my first dance teacher during this time, “You’ll see, I will dance.”
I took workshops all around the world. I took courses in different countries to learn different dance styles.
When I graduated from my dance school, I went directly to Montreal to do a diploma in contemporary dance interpretation. These were studies with Marie Chouinard, Marie Beland, and other choreographers from there. I fell in love with Canada and wanted to stay.
But I went back to my home country and started to dance with Charleroi Dance, one of the big dance companies in Belgium.
I also worked with the Thor Company, the Jose Besprosvany Company, and the Ultimavez Dance Company… to name only three of the most important ones.
At the same time, I traveled a lot. Until 2008, I worked for different companies in Belgium and around the globe.
In 2008, I founded my own dance company, Okus Dance & Visual Lab, with Manu Di Martino.
In eight years, we did five different creations together.
After this important experience, I had a chance to audition for Franco Dragone’s The House of Dancing Water in Macau.
This audition really scared me, but I told myself, “Mylena, this is exactly what you want. They are searching for a dancer/artistic swimmer combo. An offer that rarely ever is on the table.”
I went, auditioned, and thankfully they took me.
I stayed with The House of Dancing Water for altogether three years. First in Belgium, for training and formation. Then in Macau, for creation and daily operation.
After this amazing experience with a huge, international, aquatic show, I came back to Belgium where I was invited to go to Cambodia for a while to work with the Phare Cambodian Circus.
I worked with the Cambodian artists and created one show together with them. I taught them not just in dance-related matters, but also in their personal development. For example, how to apply internationally, and how to present themselves in an audition.
Cambodian performers usually don’t have many chances to find work outside of their home country. They come mostly from poor villages and don’t have any connections to shows abroad.
So it was a wonderful experience for me to help some of them to set foot in international entertainment.
One of the artists I worked with now performs for an Australian circus, for example. Another one is in Montreal and worked for Cirque du Soleil until Covid shut everything down.
These performers reached their dreams and goals. Now, they want to come back to Cambodia to help the next generation of performers in their country to be able to do the same.
I am so happy that I had a little hand in that. For me this is what art is all about. Sharing, collaboration, inspiration, and growth.
During my work in Cambodia, I realized that I was, in fact, really in love with circus.
Inspired by my surroundings, I began training straps as well as other aerial disciplines.
After Cambodia, I moved to Canada for two years.
For a few months, I did a replacement for another performer in the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show Love.
Further inspired by these new challenges and experiences, I decided to create my own signature.
Normally, a good swimmer can’t be a dancer. And a good dancer can’t be a swimmer. But I have trained parallel in both disciplines throughout my entire life. I decided this was a unique strength and to work much more strongly towards offering this mix of swimmer and dancer.
In 2020, I was lucky to be chosen to work as a choreographer for the Belgian short film Amine which thematizes artistic swimming. The movie by Noha Choukrallah was screened in several film festivals and won many prizes.
Through my involvement in this movie, I gained more confidence in my work and have a better idea of what kind of creations I would love to realize as a creator, choreographer, and performer in the future.
I always get upset when people label us to narrowly as artists. When they want to fit us into boxes of “swimmer”, “dancer”, “straps artist”, etc.
I am lucky to be able to say I am all this and more. I see myself as a complete artist who loves challenges. Every new challenge gives me more power and strength.
Plus, I like to meet people, like to travel all over the world in my search for creative expression. I like to share and help others grow as well.
As a choreographer and teacher, I love to see the movement of the human body. Love the growth and intensity it embodies. I see the humans in front of me. And the artistic expression is almost like a flow of molecules around us.
When you start a creation, it is very much like working with a blank page. On this page you draw part of who you are and who they are to form a unified whole.
I want to inspire artists to think more out of the box. So much is possible. I, for example, have managed to create movements which work just as well in the water as well as on a dry stage.
It is possible to reach a career, no matter what people tell you. It is possible to be yourself.
I want to tell people, there is a place for you in the performing arts if you work hard enough. Your shape doesn’t matter, or where you are coming from, or if you have a handicap.
I you want to express yourself as an artist, then don’t let anyone stop you. Fight for it and you will reach your goals.
This is one of the most beautiful elements of true art. It is open and there are possibilities for everyone who is willing to invest their heart and soul in it.
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