The name Ariana DeBose is often flanked by the words “triple threat.” And Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler has said that in an industry where not all triple threats live up to the label, DeBose is truly “a principal dancer. And a principal singer. And a principal actor.” Writing about DeBose for Time’s list of “100 Most Influential People of 2022,” Broadway icon Kristin Chenoweth argued that DeBose is actually a quadruple threat whose talent in those three arenas is equally matched by another crucial quality: kindness.
In March 2022, DeBose became the first openly queer woman of color to win an Academy Award for acting when she scooped up an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s new West Side Story.
“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus, look into her eyes: You see a queer, openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said in her acceptance speech. “To anybody who has ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever, or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us.”
When it comes to DeBose’s career, what’s inspiring isn’t just what she’s done—though her resume contains much to stare at starry-eyed: a stint on season six of So You Think You Can Dance, a broadway debut as Nautica in Bring It On: The Musical, a memorable performance as the Bullet in the original cast of Hamilton, a Tony nomination for her role as Disco Donna in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, recent performances in Netflix’s The Prom and Apple TV’s Schmigadoon!, and a turn hosting Saturday Night Live.
What’s even more impressive is how DeBose approaches her work and her art. As she gears up to host the 2022 Tony Awards on June 12, we collected just some of her most moving quotes. Here’s DeBose speaking about everything from being prepared to saying no to representing LGBTQ and Afro-Latino communities.
- On firsts: “Whatever firsts are attached to my name, they’re important to me, but I’m focused on the fact that if I’m the first of anything it means I will not be the last.” —SAG Awards via NBC News
- On the whirlwind of West Side Story, promotion, and awards: “I try to keep my feet on the ground and my heart in the heavens… This is an extraordinary experience. It’s singular. It’s impossible to describe and I won’t be able to describe it until well after it’s done. I’m trying to remain a human.” —Associated Press
- On the women who raised her: “I was raised by a village of really strong, independent women with varied opinions. They were all a really great example as to how to walk through the world as a woman with your strengths, your flaws, your opinions. I saw great examples of knowing when to admit that you’re going to lose this battle, but you’re going to win the war, how to admit you’re wrong, how to apologize. That’s been very helpful in my adulthood… I had the benefit of many examples of femininity. And I think I don’t know how to be anything but myself because I was always encouraged to be myself.” —Deadline
- On knowing who you are: “Professionally, I have always known who I was, which is important when you are surrounded by folks judging you, your talent, and your Blackness.” —People en Español
- On believing in yourself: “With the way that I train and the way that I work, I knew that I had the skills to be successful. I have an undying belief in myself.” —Dance Spirit magazine
- On career advice she’s received: “I’ve been given several valuable pieces of [career] advice. [Director] Matthew Vaughn recently told me, ‘Don’t change.’ Know yourself, know what you stand for, what you like, and never stop speaking up for yourself. I think when you work in the entertainment industry, people around you change—but if you know who you are, you’re the constant, and so it allows you to steer your own ship and make your own choices. So that’s my goal—I really hope I don’t change. I actually like who I am right now!” —Harper’s Bazaar
- On fitting into a box: “I don’t like work experiences, period, where I feel like I’m asked to fit a box, because my job is to discover the box and to define the box. That’s my job, in my opinion.” —Deadline
- On saying no: “I realize the most powerful word I’ve said in the last 10 years is ‘no.’ You can say, ‘No, thank you,’ but it’s still a no. There’s a way to respectfully express yourself that people in positions of power can hear.” —Backstage magazine
- On power: “Power to me is a combination of insight, knowledge, and influence. I feel most powerful when I understand the world I am living in. I have a strong sense of people, and when I have all the information, I know the best parts of myself to bring to the table. I think understanding that there are so many resources living within ourselves to deal with a myriad of circumstances is a powerful thing. Trust yourself.” —People en Español
- On safe environments: “The work is only good when you feel safe with the people that are surrounding you. That’s what I’m looking to do. That doesn’t mean I won’t make a couple of duds here and there. In fact, I think I might. But damn it, they’re my duds and I’ll be proud of them.” —Deadline
- On rejection: “I was crushed when I was voted off So You Think You Can Dance at 19 years old. I was young and needed to sit with my emotions surrounding those voices and how I heard the criticism. Once I was ready, I got back in there and trained harder, and I moved to New York to prove to myself that the things echoing in my head were not true.” —People en Español
- On leading with love: “I try every day to lead with love and compassion and a sense of positivity. I think I was raised to see people and their potential for goodness, if that makes sense.” —Deadline
- On wanting more: “There does come a moment when you start saying, ‘I want more,’ and people look at you a little cross-eyed, because it’s loving what you have and also knowing you want to try for more. Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable.” —Backstage magazine
- On being ready for big career moments: “If I learned anything from watching my colleagues in Hamilton, [it’s that] they were ready until they weren’t. Each and every one of them found a way to meet the moment on their own terms.” —Backstage magazine
- On trying: “I always needed to be better than I was the day before. Not trying wasn’t an option.” —Dance Spirit magazine
- On doubt: “The biggest obstacle I have had to overcome is doubt, including the doubt from others and how that can make you doubt yourself.” —People en Español
- On being prepared: “Given my experience as a woman of color, you don’t walk into these rooms unprepared. Otherwise they don’t take you seriously, and sometimes you don’t get another chance.” —Los Angeles Times’ The Envelope podcast
- On representing Afro-Latino and LGBTQ communities: “I take this very seriously. I am a ‘positive vibes only’ person, especially in my social media presence. There are young people out there watching what I say or do. I don’t want to give anyone a reason to put these communities down. That being said, I say what I mean and mean what I say. Afro-Latinos have been underrepresented in our industry. I am excited to continue to be a part of moving the needle forward so we can reach a day where there is balance in how we represent the beautiful spectrum of Latinos, and not just one ‘traditionally Latino’ prototype.” —People en Español
- On wins: “Every time we see a woman elected to office, there’s another crack in the glass ceiling… Every BIPOC woman or LGBTQ [community] member who gets an opportunity to play a leading role or play a really well-developed character—a human with agency who might be a little bit messy but who is fully fleshed out—that is a win.” —Out magazine
- On speaking up: “I have a lot to say. But I try to say it with compassion, knowing that my opinions are my own, and I want to leave space for people to have their own opinions.” —Dance Spirit magazine
- On empowering women and girls: “Being a strong woman with an opinion these days is hard, so I want to empower young women and girls in whatever way I can. I want them to see that being yourself, standing up for yourself, being intelligent, and being fearless are all good things, and no one is ever allowed to take them from you.” —Dance Spirit magazine
- On the effects of the pandemic: “Like everyone I have had to learn to live more presently. I used to have a five-year-plan. Now I live peacefully with a five-day-plan. I would like to continue to build a healthy home life and choose work that allows both my personal and professional life to be in balance, so I guess my current goal would be to learn to say no to what doesn’t serve me and the ones I love.” —People en Español
- On down time: “I make sure to have at least 15 minutes every day that’s just mine. No social media, no phone calls, no work. I might read or just sit and have my tea listening to Yo-Yo Ma.” —Dance Spirit magazine
- On pepping herself up: “On days when I’m like, I’ll never get another job. I’m terrible,” she tries to tell herself, “You’ve helped a few people, you’re OK, girl. Get over yourself.” —Out magazine
- On acknowledging the seasons of a career and planting seeds: “There are seasons of one’s career. I seem to be in a season at the moment where the work that is calling to me most is in film or television, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not planting seeds for something that I might want to do in a different season on stage. I believe in planting seeds.” —Deadline
Stav is the deputy editor at The Muse, where she covers careers and work with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, and her work has also appeared in publications including The Atlantic, The Forward, and Newsday. Stav earned a B.A. in history with a minor in dance at Stanford University and holds an M.S. from Columbia Journalism School. She won the Newswomen’s Club of New York’s Martha Coman Front Page Award for Best New Journalist in 2016. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly. You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter and can visit her website here.
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