Meet the Artist: Adji Cissoko

Get to know the dancers! Our Q&A series continues on with Adji Cissoko. Born and raised in Munich, Adji joined LINES Ballet in 2014 after four years at the National Ballet of Canada. Read on to learn how her German and Senegalese heritage has influenced her dancing, how she compares pointe shoes to flat shoes, and what three favorite foods she can’t live without.

Can you define what dance is?
Dancing is movement. A movement that stimulates all the senses. A gift everybody is born with. There are countless forms of dance often to music or without a sound being a requirement.

Adji Cissoko | © RJ Muna

Dancing can be used for communication expressing feelings emotions ideas and thoughts, as well as a form of learning and listening to one’s own body and others. You can dance by yourself and with others. Dancing has no limitations or restrictions. It is universal and for all ages while being healing and nurturing! 

Why did you choose dance?
I don’t think of dancing as something I chose, but rather something that’s always been a part of me just like breathing. Whenever I dance I feel a sense of connection and love. That pleasure made me chose to commit to dance in a way that I hadn’t to anything before! I view dance as one of the languages I speak, like German, English, and French. It is another way to express my thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

When you say, “dance is who I am” could you talk about that a bit more.
I feel no separation between the “dancer me” and the “other me”. It’s one and the same! It’s a balance of using my brain and letting my intuition guide me. As the mind gets richer, it will influence and affect the dancer part. But as a whole, it’s all me.

How has being both German and Senegalese influenced your dancing?
Being both German and Senegalese meant I got to learn and observe two very different relationships to dance. I got to experience not just one but two different cultural approaches to it. As a consequence, I ended up choosing and adapting rituals, habits, and beliefs from both worlds.

My Senegalese dad, being an artist himself, showed me that dancing can be anything you’d like it to be. Growing up my dad would play the kora and sing while I danced. It was our way to bond with each other in a fun and playful way. In Senegalese, Culture dancing is part of everyone’s daily routine. Moving is their way of enjoying themselves and connecting to each other without using words. That really resonates with me!

Once I started getting older and taking ballet lessons, my mom’s influence became more apparent. She taught me the importance of following rules and hard work. Without the discipline that I adopted from her, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Both my parents’ biggest influence on my dancing was, and still is, their ability to show and teach me all about love and kindness! I carry that paradigm in all my movement. When I dance I always hope to embody the latter.

What do you feel are the striking differences between pointe shoes and flats in engaging the floor? Is the difference based on the shoes or the dancer? Which do you prefer and why? Are there ballets where you would like to switch shoes? 
In flat shoes, I feel a strong connection between the sole of my foot and the floor. It’s a larger area that is connecting than when I’m on pointe where it’s just the tiny square of the box of the shoe that’s touching the floor. Both feel powerful in different ways.  

I like the sensation of being on pointe it makes me feel powerful, to be so high up, further away from the floor while still keeping that strong connection through the top of the shoes into my toes. The engagement with the floor becomes crucial when on pointe if you lose the connection and balance you fall off pointe. While turning I sometimes imagine screwing into the floor which gives me support and feeds me with energy and momentum to keep turning.

The most challenging but at the same time most fascinating difference, in my opinion, is the act of going up on pointe and rolling down.  It requires a lot of strength, but when finessed it can really show all the little in-between steps that happen from having the whole foot flat on the floor to rolling up to relevé and then taking it one step further and rolling up all the way to standing on the top of your toes!

Is the difference based on the shoes or the dancer? I would say it’s both. 

Can you share an invaluable message that you have found helpful from your life’s experience?
Something that I’ve found extremely helpful and valuable is the idea of constant change. The simple fact that we, and everything around us, is constantly changing by evolving and expanding – it has helped me to welcome change with a feeling of excitement rather than fear. Since change is inevitable, we might as well strive for more and better on a daily basis!

Adji Cissoko | © RJ Muna

At the same time, change taught me gratitude! Knowing that nothing stays the same has helped me appreciate even the tiniest moments of joy. Simultaneously, it has provided me with a layer of protection by offering a different perspective when dealing with disappointment, frustration, and confrontation. What seems like a big deal today may mean very little to you in the future.

If you could only have three foods to eat what would they be? 
Salmon. Watermelon. Coconut.

BIO: Adji Cissoko was born and grew up in Munich, Germany where she trained at the Ballet Academy Munich and graduated with a diploma in dance. Cissoko attended the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre in New York City on full scholarship, before joining the National Ballet of Canada in 2010. In 2012 she was awarded the Patron Award of Merit by the Patrons’ Council Committee of The National Ballet of Canada. Cissoko joined LINES Ballet in 2014. Since then she’s originated many central roles and guested for galas worldwide. Cissoko has given multiple masterclasses and taught classes around the world as part of the company’s outreach program. In 2020 she became certified in health/life coaching as well as in ABT’s National Training Curriculum.

Photos: © RJ Muna