When former American Ballet Theatre principal Cheryl Yeager watches her daughter—Hannah Marshall, a current ABT corps member—take the stage, she gets a bit emotional.
"I always think, 'I wanted to move just like you when I was dancing!' because we are total opposites," Yeager says. "She is tall and moves with a legato quality, while I was short and moved fast and staccato."
Marshall isn't the only ABT dancer who inherited ballet genes from her mother. Former ABT soloist Carla Stallings Lippert's daughter Carolyn Lippert is also a current member of the corps, and former soloist Yan Chen's 17-year-old daughter, Chloe Misseldine, is a rising ABT Studio Company star. So for Mother's Day, we spoke with each pair about what it's been like sharing the same career path.
Dancing With Child
Cheryl Yeager in Don Quixote
Don Bradburn, Courtesy ABT
Each of these ABT mothers performed during their first pregnancies (all three gave birth to sons first) and returned to the stage before having their daughters. "When I came back I felt very different—it was like going to Mars and back!" says Yeager. "I felt like a real adult for the first time and I loved it. I wanted to see if I could dance for the pure artistic joy of it."
Blessed with easy pregnancies, Chen performed for a full six months during her first pregnancy and returned for The Nutcracker three months postnatal. "Even though my body had changed and I worked differently, I felt less pressure dancing because I had more balance in my life," says Chen.
When Stallings Lippert's daughter was born, she was in her ninth season as a principal dancer with Boston Ballet, and she decided it was time to retire.
"I came back for a retirement performance of Giselle; afterward my family, including newborn Carolyn, came onstage, so it was an amazing closure to my career," she says. Years later, her daughter would wear one of her Giselle costumes while competing at Youth America Grand Prix.
The Early Years
Carla Stallings Lippert
Misseldine and Lippert both began dancing for fun around the house and in the dance studio with their moms. Yeager says, "We first did a mommy-and-me class at Ballet Academy East when Hannah was 2, and it was clear she loved it. When she was 3 she said, 'Mommy, I want to hold the barre!' " It was obvious early on that she had the "it" factor, says Yeager.
As a child, Misseldine studied at Orlando Ballet School, where her mother is a ballet master for the company. "Chloe had fun dancing and meeting friends, but she didn't seem that interested for a while," says Chen.
Stallings Lippert has four children, three of whom followed her into the studio. After her time at Boston Ballet, they moved to Fresno, California, where she is now director of the local Severance Ballet Conservatory. "I was glad for my children to experience dance—it teaches discipline, focus, dexterity and poise. Carolyn absolutely loved ballet, and I could see from the beginning that she had the facility."
Teenage Trials and Triumphs
Yan Chen and Alessandra Ferri in Pas De Deesses
Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT
Undoubtedly, genetic predispositions and access to top-tier training came in handy once these daughters set their hearts on following their mothers' footsteps at ABT. Yet finding a balance between teacher, mentor, role model and mother was delicate business for each mom.
Yeager was one of Marshall's teachers at BAE for a couple of years, before Marshall entered ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at age 15. "You have many teachers in your life, but you only have one mom!" says Yeager.
The two regularly attended ballets at Lincoln Center together and discussed the performances on the drive back home. "Hannah had an intuitive sense of what she liked or didn't. She saw the whole picture, not just the steps," Yeager says. "I could see her falling in love with the art form, not just the technical portion."
As one of her daughter's primary teachers, Chen says she was careful not to overwhelm with advice. "I'm very lucky because she never rebelled. She absorbs and processes my coaching because I've been through it before," Chen says.
At age 14, Misseldine began asking her mother for private coaching and Chen witnessed a noticeable shift in her dedication. Yet she let Misseldine take the lead. "It is her life, so I had to let her figure it out," says Chen. "If you don't love what you are doing, no one can make it happen. You need that passion!"
Stallings Lippert began teaching her daughter when she was 10. "I was always very careful not to overstep boundaries, and Carolyn also told me she wanted to do this on her own, so I did nothing for her with ABT," says Stallings Lippert. "We had some rough moments certainly. I remember her in the studio at age 12 saying, 'Mom, I want to go somewhere you aren't!"
Lippert spent several summers at ABT's New York City summer intensives. The family agreed Lippert would stay home until her junior year, when she moved to New York to attend the JKO School. Now, she sends her mom rehearsal video clips for notes or tips. But mostly, Stallings Lippert offers encouragement.
"I was in the corps for seven years, so I can relate to the frustrations and challenges. I know how difficult it can be," she says. "Carolyn always felt ABT was home, and it is wonderful to watch her grow with the company."
From the Daughters' Eyes
Hannah Marshall (first in left row) in Don Quixote
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT
Carolyn Lippert: "I hit a difficult teenage year, and if my mom was pissing me off in the studio I would purposely do something poorly, and she would threaten to kick me out! Thankfully it didn't last long. We began working privately after class. I just couldn't get enough. We used to have 'bunhead nights,' ordering pizza and watching videos from Boston Ballet or ABT. I was starry-eyed watching her as Aurora or Giselle, or a lead in a Balanchine work. I loved hearing her stories—I still do! I attempt to mirror her artistry, and she reminds me to always bring my soul into movement. We are different dancers, but we do look similar. I often got confused for her when I first arrived at ABT. Her colleagues called me Carla!"
Hannah Marshall: "Having my mom in the audience is always very special. I have such great memories dressing up to see ABT performances as a kid. Now she watches me on that very stage—it feels surreal! It's nice to have someone who truly understands the highs and lows. It was definitely hard during my teenage years to apply her corrections without rolling my eyes, but now I'm so appreciative. She is my role model."
Chloe Misseldine: "Having everyone know my mother was an ABT soloist definitely puts more pressure on me because I want to be like her in the future. Sometimes people try to compare us, but we have very different physiques—she is 5' 2" and I'm 5' 7"! I feel like I expand and use up space more. She's been an amazing teacher since day one, pushing me to do my best in a gentle way I could appreciate. Even if I have a bad performance, she never criticizes me. Last year she taught some Studio Company classes, and it was so great to have my peers see what she does."
Carolyn Lippert (back left) in Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT