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."
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"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.