It may be a cliché, but many still believe it. They call it the American Dream and the US is in fact the goal destination for many young students, artists, musicians or dancers pursuing their boldest ambitions. Riccardo Passera, an eighteen-year-old dancer from Milan is one of them.
My friendship with Riccardo began at Les Galipettes nursery school in Milan. Growing up, our paths diverged, but they crossed again when we started our new lives in the US. After our high school years, we both decided to travel to the proverbial land of opportunity. In spite of how different our ambitions were, mine being academic and his artistic, being in the US brought us closer together. Now I’m getting to know Riccardo not only as my childhood friend, but also as someone brave, who is not afraid to dream big and who is ready to do whatever it takes to see his hard work come to fruition.
Riccardo owes his love for dance to his parents, who would regularly bring both him and his younger brother to a Caribbean dance club at San Zenone al Lambro, on the outskirts of Milan. He began dancing for fun and soon turned to dance schools to cultivate this new passion. He would never have thought of finding himself in New York at the age of eighteen, in the prestigious Alvin Ailey Company, dancing with real professionals.
It was in middle school, as the day was approaching when Riccardo would have to choose a high school, that he came to the realization that he wanted to pursue a career in dance.
“Actually, I’ve always been a bit torn because I’ve always liked to dance, but I’ve also always been good at school,” says Riccardo. “While I was looking for the right high school for me, I found a dance school in Milan, and it is then that I realized that studying dance was something I could truly dedicate myself to.”
Riccardo did not end up at the high school specializing in dance. He decided instead to enroll at a high school for language study, to undertake a more traditional path and wait a while longer before dedicating himself to dance full time.
His years in high school went by quickly and with excellent results, so much so that he was given the opportunity to graduate early. He passed his final exams brilliantly, achieving full marks.
It was at that time that he began looking for dance academies to move on to after high school. In February of 2020 he was admitted to the Rudra Béjart academy in Lausanne. However, a few months before his departure, he learned that the Swiss Academy was about to close down.
He did not get discouraged. He proceeded by applying to all the academies that were still having auditions, including Alvin Ailey in New York, and after rounds and rounds of Zoom auditions, he heard back from the dance company. “I gave it a try but I didn’t really think they would accept me, but now here I am,” says Riccardo. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to audition for the scholarship, and neither my family nor I were prepared for America.”
For this reason, his mother launched a fundraiser on Facebook, which was also taken up by the mayor of San Zenone al Lambro. The crowdfunding campaign was a real success, helping Riccardo pay for school and take a few steps forward in the fulfillment of his American dream. Now he’s in New York. He’s had time to settle in, make friends and reflect on the path that has led him to the US. “It was hard at first,” he explains. “In the US it’s normal to leave home at seventeen or eighteen. In Italy the mentality is different.”
In fact, although more and more young Italians are moving abroad, very few do so before having earned a degree. “Coming from Milan, I thought it would be easier to get used to the pace of the city, but in New York City everything is very fast. A dancer’s life is very tiring and I’m still getting used to it.”
All in all, big dreams require big sacrifices. In a world where social networks make it seem like dreams come true as if by magic, it’s hard to believe how much effort and sweat lies behind the smiles that Riccardo displays on the streets of New York. Being away is difficult, but it’s an opportunity for growth, especially if you’re on the other side of the ocean and especially if you’re in New York. In only a matter of months, Riccardo has discovered how stimulating New York can be for a dancer. From the hundreds of shows and dance opportunities that he’s enjoyed, to the wonderful people he has met in his dance classes at Alvin Ailey, he always finds himself learning and having new experiences. “New York is a big city, with many artists. Those who come here have a goal and are ready to do everything to achieve it,” says Riccardo. “I got to know many people who stimulate me artistically.”
Riccardo lives in a dormitory on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, surrounded by students and other dancers who like him, study at Alvin Ailey. He spends his days with them. “We’re pretty much all here on our own, so we lean on each other with great solidarity,” Riccardo explains. “Having friends mostly in the dorm, we often meet up with each other. We eat together and travel back and forth together. Being always so close to each other has created a tight bond.
“For Thanksgiving, Riccardo and the other students who were left in the dormitory prepared a dinner, sharing the experience of a real American tradition. “We bought a turkey, some Italian guys made lasagna, others stuffed mushrooms and my Brazilian friend made brigadeiros,” says Riccardo. It’s also the people he has met who have pushed him to move forward and who have made his experience so special.
“I’m surrounded by people who, like me, are here not because they were forced but by their own choice and because they want to go all the way,” he says. “This also pushes me to always give my best.”
With all the sacrifices he has had to make, the experience of being so distant from everything familiar, New York has forced him to grow up quickly, but it has also offered him a lot. The US offers a myriad of opportunities to young people and taking advantage of them is a matter of character and strength.
In a city like New York, where nothing is served to you on a silver platter, Riccardo’s tenacity, determination and passion are to be admired. Having managed to overcome many obstacles and having faced many changes, he’s an example for all young Italians with great ambitions.
To all those who, like him, have a dream to fulfill and have the opportunity to go to America, Riccardo advises them to take a leap of faith, because that’s what dreamers do.