Breaking Stereotypes

This Mother/Daughter Duo Is Dancing In The Same Company—But Only For One Season

Melina and Regina Willoughby, photo by Ashley Concannon

There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.

Performing Side-By-Side In The Nutcracker

Regina and Melina are not only dancing in the same Nutcracker this month, they're onstage at the same time: Regina is doing Snow Queen, while Melina is in the snow corps, and they're both in the Arabian divertissement. "It's very surreal to be dancing it together," says Regina. "I don't know that I ever thought Melina would take ballet this far."

Left: Regina and Melina with another company member post-snow scene in 2003. Right: The pair post-snow scene in 2017 (in the same theater)

Deciding To Have Children Early On

Regina started her career at Ballet Austin when she was still a teenager. But she always knew she wanted to be a mom. "We had our first daughter, Sierra, when I was 19—we were kids with a kid," she says with a laugh. "When Sierra was about 10 months old, I realized, 'I can still dance!' " After auditioning for companies along the East Coast, she joined Columbia City Ballet in South Carolina.

After a couple years there, she and her husband decided to try for a second child so the kids would be close in age. "I thought, Okay, now I'm just going to be a mom," says Regina. But when Melina was 2 years old, CCB director William Starrett asked Regina to fill in for someone in the corps for just one performance. "Before I knew it, I was back full swing," Regina says. "Honestly I never would have seen my path going this way. The fact I've been able to have such a wonderful career and be a mom is really unsurpassed. It's something I wouldn't take back for anything."

Regina Willoughby. Photo by Ashley Concannon

Passing Down Dance

Melina admits that growing up with her mom as her teacher presented its fair share of challenges. "I didn't want to listen to her!" she confesses. But by the time she got to high school, she'd fallen in love with the discipline of ballet and had decided to try to make her own career out of it

Her sister Sierra, on the other hand, tried a couple ballet classes, but it wasn't for her. Instead, she's currently going to school for mechanical engineering. ("Maybe she'll make more money," jokes Regina.)

Melina Willoughby. Photo by Ashley Concannon

Dancing In The Same Company

Regina was a little apprehensive at first about having her daughter join CCB. "I thought, How am I going to not 'mom' her to death in the workplace?" she says. "I wanted to let her be a professional and do her own thing and be responsible for herself." But it turned out to be less difficult than she feared. The company has embraced Melina and she's found her own place within it. "We're very close," adds Regina, "so it's cool to have her there every day. I can go stand next to her in rehearsal and chat about ballet or regular life stuff."

Melina points out the unlikelihood of there being many other dancers in their situation. She says, "It's really cool to be living out something so rare."

After Arabian

Day in the Life

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