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After Leaving Home as Teens, These Dancers Find Comfort Quarantining with Their Families

We all know that pursuing a ballet career involves sacrifice, whether that means giving up social gatherings, school dances or other hallmarks of a common childhood. Many teenagers make an especially significant sacrifice: moving away from home to attend a finishing program or to join a company. That often means losing out on valuable family time, and even leaving the nest for good. Once they become a professional, it's rare for dancers to return home for extended periods of time unless they are recovering from injury or burnout.

With the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down performances around the world, several fully-realized artists have chosen to take advantage of the situation and quarantine with their families. Pointe spoke with three such dancers about their homecomings and how they are reconnecting and regaining lost time with their loved ones.


McGee Maddox

McGee Maddox, dressed in black paints, white blouse and an untied bow tie, lunges to his right while Allison Walsh, wearing a pink dress, leans unti his right arm and kicks her right leg toward the sky.

Maddox as Jerry Mulligan with Allison Walsh in the national tour of An American in Paris

Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Maddox

Former National Ballet of Canada principal McGee Maddox had to make some fast decisions as the country began to shut down. Since leaving the company in 2017, he has embarked upon a musical theater career, headlining as Jerry in the national tour of An American in Paris and, most recently, as Rum Tum Tugger in CATS. "We were in a hectic schedule when we heard rumors about COVID-19 and how it would affect our tour," says Maddox. "There were murmurs about CATS being halted, especially because we interact directly in the audience." Sure enough, the tour was shut down and dancers were flown back to their primary residences.

Having been on tour for nearly three years—and without any official home base—Maddox made the split-second decision to fly back to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where his family still resides. "I wanted to be away from a major metropolitan area and I definitely wanted to be with my family."

Maddox left home when he was 16 years old to train at the Houston Ballet Academy. "Since then, the longest I have been home was for a few months during an injury," says Maddox. "It was a much different experience, though, because my focus was on recovery."

This time, returning home has been a time of reconnection and revitalization. "I have especially enjoyed my mom's cooking," he says. "It is the best! We make an effort to eat at the dinner table every night. Being on the road, it is hard to get a home-cooked meal. It has been valuable for me to halt things, feel like a normal person, and reconnect with my family."

Indiana Woodward

Indiana Woodward stands in fourth position on pointe while holding on to a wrought iron banister. She wears black shorts and a long sleeved shirt, while her white dog lounges in the corner.

Indiana Woodward takes barre at her family's home in California.

Courtesy Woodward

For New York City Ballet soloist Indiana Woodward, the choice to head home to Malibu, California, came when New York City Ballet cancelled its March tour to London. "I left right as the pandemic started," Woodward says. "I thought I would spend four days with my family before spring season rehearsals began." Expecting a short trip home, Woodward only brought her dog and a pair of pointe shoes. But now it has been more than 12 weeks. "I didn't bring any clothes or belongings with me. It has been a shock to be here as long as I have."

Woodward left home at 15 years old to spend two months at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Russia. During that time, she received a scholarship to the summer intensive at the School of American Ballet. "I fell in love with the Balanchine style," she says, and that summer SAB asked her to stay for the year. Woodward's mother, a South African dancer, had danced with Roland Petit in France and understood the sacrifices it takes to achieve a performance career.

While Woodward didn't foresee spending nearly three months at home in California, she has embraced the experience. "I haven't spent a good amount of time with my family in ages. One of my sisters lives in New York, too, but I don't get to see her often. It is the first time we are all together in many years."

As the family settles into routines and is learning to live together again, Woodward talks about how she has changed. "My perspective of home is different. The spaces are smaller than I remembered and the places we occupy have shifted. But also, I have changed. Coming home feels like a time warp. I feel like I'm going back in time as a student, but with the perspective of an adult."

Cameron Thomas

Wearing a green unitard, Cameron Thomas performs a saut\u00e9 jump with his right leg in retir\u00e9 and his left arm held above his head.

Cameron Thomas in William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated

Ali Fleming, Courtesy Kansas City Ballet

Kansas City Ballet up-and-comer Cameron Thomas flew to Rochester, New York, in the middle of March, two weeks after the company cancelled the remainder of its 2019-20 season. Thomas says, "I concluded the safest and most financially responsible thing to do was fly home. Given the sheer magnitude of a global crisis like this, I felt I should face it with my family."

In 2015, Thomas left home at 17 years old to attend American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York City. Since then, he has never spent more than a month at home. "I am still very close with my family. But in recent years, I have had to find as much work as possible, making it difficult to fly halfway across the country during layoffs," he says.

Speaking about his current experience, Thomas says, "I have enjoyed moving past the visit phase of coming home. Under normal circumstances, a trip home consists of a big meal, visiting close relatives, a night out with old friends, and I am gone before I unpack." He has now been home long enough to settle into a regular routine. "With the pandemic, I have coexisted with my family in all of the daily events for which I am usually not present. I may never get that opportunity again, so I am trying to appreciate it. I have even been here for a few significant moments: my dad was promoted, my sister graduated her junior year, and we lost my grandma. We experienced these things together, as a family, and that is valuable to me. We have been able to share success and grief together, which makes the former more rewarding and the latter easier to endure."

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SAB Student Founds Dancewear Nonprofit to Help Others in Need

When School of American Ballet student Alexandra de Roos was 8 years old, she placed a collection box at her dance studio for others to donate their gently used dancewear. De Roos, now 17, has since turned that single collection box into a nonprofit organization that aims to minimize economic barriers in the performing arts with free dancewear and classes.

De Roos' organization, Peace Love Leotards, has collected about $2,600 of new and gently-used dancewear and $2,000 in grants and donations since formally launching in April. Dancers or studio owners can request items through a form on the organization's website.

"I knew that dancewear was really expensive and that a lot of students might not be able to do the thing that they love because it's cost-prohibitive," de Roos said. "I really wanted to create something to allow people to have the same experience of the love and joy of dance that I've been so grateful to have."

After SAB shifted its winter term online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, de Roos decided to expand Peace Love Leotards. She reached out to dance companies, resulting in partnerships with brands including Jo+Jax, Lone Reed Designs, RubiaWear and Wear Moi.

"To have them be like 'We want to help you with this and we love this idea and what you're doing is amazing,' that was really exciting to me," she said. "It was very heartwarming."

Jordan Reed, the creator of custom dancewear brand Lone Reed Designs, said she has donated seven items to Peace Love Leotards with plans to donate more consistently every quarter. Custom leotards often retail at higher prices, but Reed, a former Houston Ballet corps member, said the one-of-a-kind clothing offers an "extra bit of confidence, which can go more than a long way in a dancer's journey of training."

Paul Plesh, a sales director for Wear Moi in the United States and Canada, said the company donated 11 leotards after finding Peace Love Leotards' mission to be "commendable." Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh, the founder and creative director of Jo+Jax, said dancewear "can make a significant impact on a student's confidence, as well as how much they enjoy the process of learning dance."

De Roos has worked to expand Peace Love Leotards, Inc. rapidly in the past few months, but she first created the organization at eight years old after participating in a mentorship program with competitors in the Miss Florida and Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen pageants. The pageants, which are part of the Miss America Organization, require competitors to have personal platforms they advocate for as titleholders. As a competition dancer, de Roos instantly thought about the cost barriers to dance when wondering what her own future platform would be.

De Roos said she and her young classmates often outgrew nearly brand-new dancewear, so she approached her studio's owner about placing a collection box at the studio.

Barbara Mizell, who owns Barbara's Centré for Dance in Florida, said she was unsurprised by de Roos' proposal. De Roos always had "such a way of pushing herself and she never forgot those around her," Mizell said. As the box filled up, she distributed the dancewear to others at the studio, local schools with dance programs, and the local YMCA.

"When they could start to see that it was providing happiness for others, then it was almost like the kids couldn't wait to donate," Mizell said.

Nearly a decade after the Miss Florida organization inspired her to launch Peace Love Leotards, de Roos is now a titleholder herself, as Miss Gainesville's Outstanding Teen 2020. Her new mission for Peace Love Leotards is applying for grants, and she has already received a $1,000 grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund that will be used to fund a Title 1 school class.

"The whole organization behind Peace Love Leotards is the dancers," de Roos said. "Being able to help the dancers that are in need and being able to think about the dancewear that they're going to be receiving or have received has been truly amazing."

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