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By Laura Gilbreath
A dancer who exudes vitality, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Laura Gilbreath can be commanding or delicate onstage, as the role requires. She grew up in Hammond, LA, and began her training with Phoebe Brantley in Baton Rouge before going on to Joseph Giacobbe and Richard Rholdon in New Orleans. She later studied on scholarship at the School of American Ballet and the PNB School. In 2003, Gilbreath joined PNB as an apprentice and was accepted into the corps in 2004. A soloist since 2010, she has danced in works by Balanchine, Kylián, Ratmansky, Kent Stowell, and Benjamin Millepied. She is also enrolled in PNB’s Second Stage program, which allows her to take classes in arts management at Seattle University.
When your body hurts too much, when disappointment sets in about casting, or when the countless hours that you put in at the rehearsal studio don’t amount to much on pay day—if this was all dancing was, I don’t think anyone would do it. But it’s so much more than all of this, and the fact that I am fortunate enough to call this my profession leads me to ask not why I dance, but rather, why am I lucky enough to be able to dance?
As a child I fell in love with ballet for all the usual reasons: beautiful costumes, the thrill of being onstage, pointe shoes (oh how I became obsessed with pointe shoes!). But what kept me going back to the studio day after day was the people—wonderful teachers and friends who encouraged and inspired me daily. Pursuing ballet seriously from a young age is not the norm for most children; therefore, the bonds formed with people in your dance community become that much stronger. This feeling of family has extended throughout my dance life—from my little studio in New Orleans, to my time at the School of American Ballet, and right on through my career at Pacific Northwest Ballet. The friendships I formed at these places are ones that I will keep and cherish forever because they are built on a strong foundation of understanding, acceptance, and shared passion. Only a fellow dancer knows what it means to push your body to the brink of exhaustion while maintaining the façade that it was a walk in the park. Only a fellow dancer knows how the simple act of the curtain rising can elicit feelings of overwhelming joy deep into your soul.
As dancers we are individuals fighting for a common goal: to bring beauty and artistry to as many people as we can in the best way we know how. We do this by using the universal language of dance, which connects and touches people in amazing ways.
I dance because nothing else has the ability to bring about tears, joy, frustration, love, passion, and anger, both as a dancer and as a spectator. I dance for those moments onstage when exhaustion is overtaken by exhilaration in a matter of seconds simply by glancing at a colleague and drawing on their strength. I dance because I know it’s a special gift that was given to me, and sharing it is what I want and need to do.
All of this is what keeps me coming back, day after day, pushing myself to be a better dancer than I was the day before. I know that I will always be reaching for more, and that’s one of the things that I love most about dancing. The journey that a life in dance takes you on is forever changing, pushing, and reshaping you into a better person. The rewards along the way are worth the sacrifices it took to get there.
Gilbreath in The Piano Dance by Paul Gibson. Photo © Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.