The (Non-Dancer) Husbands and Wives Who Swept Dancers Off Their Feet
Considering the demands of a career in dance, it isn't surprising that many professionals find romance in the rehearsal studio. With taxing schedules, perfectionist tendencies and quirky habits, it can be challenging to find true love outside of the art form. We spoke with three non-dancer spouses to hear what it's like sharing their life with professionals from ballet to Broadway.
The Musician Husband, Christopher Dale Ryan
Allison Walsh with husband Christopher Dale Ryan. Photo by Ed Israel, Courtesy Ryan.
Profession: Bassist in the band Deer Tick
Who he's married to: Allison Walsh, who danced with The Joffrey Ballet before breaking into Broadway as an original cast member in An American in Paris. Since transitioning to musical theater, Walsh has created the roles of Odette/Olga Romanov in Anastasia and headlined as Lise Dassin in the first national tour of An American in Paris.
Length of relationship: 9 years together, 1 year married
How they met: "Our best friends dated while at Hampshire College," says Ryan. "We met while visiting them. Though, it took four years for us to become friends, and several more to start dating."
Seeing his wife's performances: "I attend as many as possible. Ballet and Broadway are pretty stingy with comp tickets, and I could spend my entire income on going to see Allison perform. But I have been known to put on legwarmers and sneak through the stage door to watch Allison dance from the back of the house."
Staying connected when they're both on tour: "We talk on the phone when we can. We have negotiated long-distance logistics since the beginning of our relationship, but it was hardest this past year when we were both on the road for 10 months. We had to work extra hard to make sure we were communicating and checking how one another was doing."
Getting to the pointe: "I've grown to love helping her sew pointe shoes by picking out the threads in reused ribbons."
Handling "dancer speak" at social events: "I follow it like a tennis match, bouncing from face to face, trying to absorb and keep up with the volley words—terms, pieces, repertoires, names."
Being inspired to take dance: "After being together for several years, I realized I still didn't understand the slightest thing about dance. So, I secretly started taking adult ballet classes at Mark Morris Dance Center. It helps me to think about how I carry myself onstage."
The Yogi-Cop Wife, Colleen Quinn
From walking the beat to the Broadway beat, Colleen Quinn (left) and Stephanie Klemons. Photo courtesy Quinn.
Profession: Police officer and yoga instructor
Who she's married to: Stephanie Klemons, an award-winning Broadway performer and choreographer. Klemons currently serves as associate choreographer and global dance supervisor for Hamilton. Other credits include working as associate choreographer and dance captain on Broadway and pre-Broadway productions of Bring It On, In The Heights, and If/Then.
Length of relationship: 5 years together, 1 year married
How they met: "I used to practice yoga with her best friend. When we finally met, Stephanie barely made eye contact. A year later, we were both at a party and she finally spoke to me. We hit it off right away."
Favorite dance-related memory: "The opening night party for Hamilton. We danced our faces off until 4 am. I sweat through my whole suit."
Photo by Amanda-Lee Seely, Courtesy Quinn.
Challenges of living with a dancer: "Sweaty and stinky clothes."
On how her wife supports her work: "Stephanie is always there for me no matter what. She knows my job can be difficult, stressful and sometimes traumatic, which I try not to dump on her. But she never shies away from listening."
Favorite attributes of her spouse: "Her butt. But seriously, Stephanie has a presence when she walks into a room, which is what attracted me to her in the first place. She embodies what it means to be a woman."
The Life-Saving Husband/Dad, David (DJ) Jackson Jr.
Pennsylvania Ballet's Jermel Johnson (left) and husband DJ Jackson Jr. are fathers to a boy and baby girl. Photo courtesy Jackson.
Profession: Transplant coordinator and part-time paramedic/volunteer firefighter
Who he's married to: Jermel Johnson, a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet. Throughout his 16 seasons with the company, Johnson has danced leading roles in repertoire ranging from Balanchine to classical works and contemporary world premieres.
Length of relationship: 12 years together, 4 years married
How they met: "Online through Myspace."
Favorite wedding memory: "Standing in the wedding chapel, looking into each other's eyes in amazement that society has changed so much that we were able to get married in front of our friends and family."
Jermel Johnson found love on Myspace. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Johnson.
Odd dancer habits: "Jermel stretches 24/7. Also, many nights he sleeps on soft balls to relax his muscles."
Favorite dance-related memories: "Seeing Jermel perform for the first time and watching him win his Princess Grace Award. I'm developing new favorite memories as our son, Jaden, watches him perform. He gets excited and starts pointing and saying, 'There's Papa!' "
How life has changed since they've become a family of four: "Having two children has fulfilled the purpose in life questions. Raising our children and instilling values that will equip them to be a part of changing society is an amazing feeling. When I think about our family, I tear up. I've seen all too many times how short life can be, and I truly treasure each day I get with my family."
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.