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.
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 takes barre at her family's home in California.
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 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."