Okay, Cupid

January 31, 2015

Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh on the benefits—and challenges—of dating outside the dance world 

Connor Walsh and Lauren Strongin rehearse Stanton Welch’s
Sons de L’âme


When people find out that I’m in a relationship, the first question most ask is, “Is she a dancer?” When I answer “No,” the response is usually somewhere along the lines of “Good for you!” Many dancers are skeptical, and wonder, Would someone who isn’t a dancer appreciate our ugly feet or bear our nightly icing regimes?

The dance world has a reputation for being pretty incestuous, and not without reason: Dancers are notorious for only dating other dancers. Many factors are to blame, not limited to our demanding schedules and borderline-obsessive passion. It’s not uncommon for our experiences together to create special bonds that make us feel like family. We can become dependent on each other, making it challenging to break out of our comfort zone.

Yet growth and expansion are some of the most valuable experiences for a performing artist. When it comes to dating, what many dancers fear would be too complicated to make work can actually provide much-needed breath and energy to our crazy lives.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with dating a dancer. I myself have dated dancers in the past and know some beautiful and inspiring dancer couples. Since I spent my teenage years away from home studying dance, it was difficult to meet anyone other than dancers when I first started dating. But as I’ve become more independent, I’ve been able to meet new people around Houston. Although there’s a challenge in making conversation without mentioning dance, with practice, it can be enriching and stimulating to talk about other worlds.

Today, my girlfriend models, acts and takes college courses. Dating a “non-dancer” has helped create more balance in my life and actually allowed me to become more focused and find more joy in working to achieve my goals. It can be helpful to talk out frustrating work situations with an objective listener who’s not emotionally involved. She provides perspective to the dramas of the dance world—and helps me realize that as emotionally invested as we are in what we do, we can’t always take everything so personally. Even though dance is an extremely unique career, I’ve realized that every profession presents relatable challenges.

Above: Walsh in 
Swan Lake

I also get so much enjoyment out of sharing something I’ve been rehearsing for weeks with her. There is something special about her not being there for the process and first seeing it in performance. I’m always so curious to hear which pieces resonate with her. Dancers often let one step define whether their show was a success. Someone who didn’t notice whether your fifth position was tight enough or if you squeaked out that extra turn is probably more representative of the actual audience experience. Hearing her reactions makes me more courageous, and less afraid of imperfection.

I will admit that dating outside of the dance community does present it’s own set of challenges. A dancer’s schedule is very unique: We travel a lot, we switch from working days to working nights, and especially during a performance period, we have very little flexibility to take days off. Our body is our instrument so we have to take special care of it, which sometimes limits our extra curricular activities. It requires effort from both parties to make sure that each person feels accommodated. On top of that, many partners struggle with the closeness that dancers share both emotionally and physically. Our tight-knit groups and onstage relationships can be difficult to get used to. That makes trust and the patience to understand our world very important.

But non-dancers can also help you keep a sense of humor about what we do. When I retell my frustrations, all of a sudden the annoyances over long Nutcracker rehearsals seem petty. “Am I really complaining about doing magic tricks, passing out gifts to smiling children and dancing to music?” When I hear myself, it makes me realize that I am fortunate enough to actively use my body and imagination to bring art to life for a living. Any frustrating day is actually a great day, because I do what I love and I love what I do— it doesn’t get much better than that. [end slug]

Connor Walsh is a principal dancer at Houston Ballet.

Photography by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet