Married To Normal Folk

Romances between dancers feel natural, almost inevitable. You’re cloistered with your fellow company members all day in the studio, rehearsing swoon-y ballets, so why not marry one of them? Relationships with “civilians,” however, seem more complicated: Figuring out scheduling is stressful, eating habits can differ and one partner probably can’t tell a tendu from a tour jeté. Yet many dancers have found that dating a non-dancer keeps them grounded in the real world. At the end of the day, the things these couples don’t have in common are more of a blessing than a curse. Pointe spoke to four dancers about the special chemistry they feel with their regular guys.

Houston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler and Robert Patman, executive director, Texas Oncology
Hassenboehler and Patman were next-door neighbors before they became husband and wife two years ago. “I stalked her,” jokes Patman, an executive at Texas Oncology. It took a while for him to win the ballerina over. “She always had a friend with her for the entire first year that we dated,” he remembers.


Though Patman had never been to the ballet before meeting Hassenboehler, she finds his eye for dance just fine. “He gave me the best compliment ever when he thought someone else danced Odile during a performance of Swan Lake,” she says. “I was aiming for two completely different characters.”
Patman is fascinated by the difference between his job and his wife’s. “The business world is about construction,” he says, “while the arts are more about deconstruction—there is so much critique involved in the process.” And his wife’s schedule can prove a plus as well as a minus. “She works on Saturdays, which means I get to watch all the football I want.”


The couple, expecting their first baby in May, come together on selecting pieces for their cozy home. “We love strolling through art festivals and galleries in search of things that will work in our house,” Hassenboehler says. “And I’m guessing he’ll have some decorating tips for the baby’s room!”


Ultimately, they find that it’s their differences that create balance. “I’m a cut-and-dried person,” Patman says. “Mimi adds that creative spark.”


Hassenboehler is a huge fan of her husband’s achievements. “I admire the way he thinks; he’s so genuine and compassionate,” she says. “He’s my rock.”

New York City Ballet principal Jennie Somogyi and Brian Fallon, New Jersey police officer
You might think a ballerina and a cop would make an odd combination—until you visit with Jennie Somogyi and her husband, Brian Fallon, a New Jersey police officer.


The couple met through a mutual friend. Somogyi has long prided herself on living a balanced life. “I’ve always had a lot of non-dancing friends,” she says. “I’ve never dated dancers. I like that I can come home and leave what happened at the studio there.”


She has, however, converted Fallon to ballet. “I never watched ballet before Jennie. I appreciate it more and more,” he says. “Although, story ballets, not so much. They make me sleepy. I like abstract pieces.” In fact, Fallon’s whole office has fallen for dance. “It’s so funny to see a bunch of cops reading about
ballet,” Somogyi says.


When it comes to aches and pains, the two have very different standards. “He doesn’t always understand just how badly my legs hurt,” Somogyi says. “He’ll come back after a run and ask me to rub his calves.” Fallon counters, “She has no idea how demanding it is to be behind the wheel of a car all day.”


The most difficult part of the busy couple’s life? Scheduling, which has gotten even wonkier with the addition of their 2-year-old daughter, Madeline. “One is coming while one is going,” says Fallon. “But we call and text when we are apart,” Somogyi adds. “We even run errands together when we can.” 


Ballet Memphis dancer Liliana Muhlbach and Kyle Griffiths, operation analyst, Encore Senior Living
Liliana Muhlbach and her fiancé, Kyle Griffiths, an operation analyst at an assisted living company, met way back in high school. “It’s great that he’s not part of ballet,” Muhlbach says. “Drama at the studio doesn’t follow me home.”


But the fact that Griffiths is outdoorsy while Muhlbach is indoorsy gets a bit sticky—especially when the subject of fishing comes up. “It’s not what I want to do with my free time,” admits Muhlbach. Griffiths, who grew up in a ballet-free part of Alaska, is also into extreme sports. But because Muhlbach doesn’t want to risk injury, she isn’t able to join him on his wilder adventures. “As a dancer, she’s not allowed to do some of the things I want to right now, like skiing and mountain climbing,” he says. (Muhlbach plans to try skiing when she retires, but makes no promises about fishing.)


Food is another touchy subject. “He’s the health nut!” says Muhlbach. “True, I am an elitist,” says Griffiths. “This is a no-Twinkies household.”


The couple has come to terms with the fact that they see each other very little during performance season. “I’m on my own around here,” says Griffiths, who works from home. But Muhlbach does come home to grab lunch when she can—and Griffiths welcomes the break from spreadsheets. “It’s refreshing to be a part of the arts,” he says. “Watching ballet with a live orchestra lets my brain relax. And I always love to watch Lana dance.”

American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles and James McCullough, CEO of Exosome Diagnostics
James McCullough proposed to Michele Wiles while the two were stuck in a traffic jam in Central Park. “It was so spontaneous,” Wiles recalls. The couple also met through a mutual friend, who had been trying to get them together for years.


“We both went into it with no expectations,” Wiles says. “But then we had such a fabulous time.”


The newlyweds—they were married last October—have adapted relatively easily to life together. Their travel schedules haven’t posed a problem: McCullough, a successful medical marketer who can control his own schedule, follows Wiles on tour. “He’s the CEO, so he can work from anywhere,” Wiles says. It’s sleeping schedules that cause the most tension. “Dancers love to sleep in,” says Wiles—especially after late performance nights. McCullough, who prefers to get up at about 6 am, has learned that lesson the hard way. “Rule number one of being married to a dancer: Do not wake the sleeping ballerina,” he quips.


While it would seem that a dancer would be able to teach a non-dancer a thing or two about diet, it’s actually McCullough, a health foodie currently training for a triathlon, who has stepped up Wiles’ nutrition big time. “He cooks me whole-wheat pasta and makes me eat lentils and organic foods,” she says. “We try to watch our sodium and sugar, too. But we’re both always hungry, so it’s often a fork fight for the last bite of food.”


McCullough believes that their all-or-nothing vocations bring them closer. He says, “I’ve learned to love ballet almost as much as my own job.” Though it’s hard to put a finger on how, Wiles feels that her experiences with McCullough “translate to more expansive dancing.” She says that being a married to a non-dancer makes her world a bigger place. “James has exposed me to things I’d never experienced,” she says. “I come home and there are scientists in our living room! He’s opened my eyes.”

Nancy Wozny is married to a normal guy. She writes about health and the arts from Houston, Texas.

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Last summer many intensives were canceled or online-only. And the past school year has been spotty and strange for many, as well. All the more reason to look forward to an in-person summer program this year with excitement—but also, perhaps, some nerves. Take heart, says Simon Ball, men's program coordinator at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. "Once you get there the first day, all those fears will be relieved."

Here, Ball and two other experts share their advice for how to make the most of this precious opportunity to dive deep into dance—and how to handle complications that may get in the way, like injury and drama.

1. Show Off...Your Work Ethic

Summer intensives offer a preview of company life: You'll be dancing in a variety of styles over the course of the day, and all day, everyday. But that doesn't mean you have to be company-ready on day one! Though the first day may be filled with placement classes, try not to approach every class as an audition. "This year has taught us that the work is the important thing," says Ball. "Let go of trying to impress. The best impression I ever receive as a teacher is when I see someone receptive to doing things differently, even if that means taking one step backwards initially, to be able to take two steps forward by the end of the summer."

Angelica Generosa, a principal with Pacific Northwest Ballet, clearly made a splash during her first of three summers at the Chautauqua Institution's School of Dance. At 14, she was cast to dance the pas de deux from Balanchine's Stars and Stripes in the final performance. Generosa describes her younger self as "very eager." She'll be a guest teacher at Chautauqua this summer, and says that a similar eagerness catches her attention: "Dedication, and willingness to try. That twinkle in the eyes when a step is really challenging."

2. Make Friends

Even if friends from your year-round school will be with you this summer, branch out. During breaks at the studio, you may be tempted to spend time on your phone. "Take your headphones off," suggests Margaret Severin-Hansen, director of Carolina Ballet's summer intensive. "Share that ballet video with the person sitting next to you! Their eyes might see it differently; you could learn something. Or find that you have other things in common, too."

Do things outside the studio, too, even if your social circle is limited for safety reasons to a "pod" of classmates. "Sign up for activities," says Generosa. Go on that weekend shopping trip, or out for ice cream. "Be open," she says. "These are people you might see along the way in your future."

Simon Ballet, wearing dark clothing, is shown from behind demonstrating ecart\u00e9 arms while in front of him, a class of teenage ballet students perform d\u00e9velopp\u00e9 ecart\u00e9 devant on pointe in a medium-size studio. The dancers, all girls, wear leotards, pink tights and pointe shoes.

Simon Ball leads class at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Courtesy CPYB

3. Stay Healthy

"The first week is tough—you're going to be sore," says Ball. "Prepare yourself." He means that literally. Before your program begins, ramp up cross-training, especially cardio to build your stamina. Severin-Hansen recommends you also keep dancing. It no longer matters that your regular school might be on break: We now know it's possible to take virtual classes from home or in a rented studio. If you're on pointe, make sure to put the shoes on every day, at the very least for some relevés. Keep the skin on your toes tough; the last thing you want is to be sidelined by blisters.

If you are recovering from an injury or managing something persistent like tendonitis, take action even further in advance. Find out if your intensive provides access to physical therapy, and if not, make a plan before you leave home. Learn exercises and massage techniques that you can do on your own, and ask about virtually checking in with your regular doctor or PT. Once you arrive, says Ball, communicate with your instructors. "Chances are it's a common ballet injury that teachers understand. They'll be able to help you."

During her summer intensives, Generosa often suffered flare-ups of inflammation. "I knew the tendonitis in my knees was from over turning out, and in my ankles from lifting my heels in plié." She was able to alleviate some of her pain by dancing more thoughtfully, addressing those habits. She also got creative about taking care of her tendons during off-hours. "I basically did ice baths in Chautauqua Lake."

4. Deal With Disappointment Constructively

Whether you're placed in a lower level than you'd like or were hoping for a soloist role that went to someone else, disappointment is understandable. Try, on your part, to understand too. The faculty may believe you'll thrive more in that particular group, or see a technical issue better solved by not pushing you too fast. If you're not sure exactly what you should be working on, ask. "Trust that you can make the most of your experience, whatever level you're in," says Ball. "Don't be afraid of the conversation."

5. Avoid Drama

Competition is inevitable, but unproductive competition is unnecessary, and bullying unacceptable. Severin-Hansen lays down a very clear guideline: "Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable." If you hear or see anything that bothers you—whether directed at you or someone else—don't hesitate to speak up. "If there's even one person creating drama, you feel it in the class. Summer is short. There's no room for that." Tell the resident advisor in the dorms, or bring the problem to the school administration.

Angelica Generosa performs an arabessque elong\u00e9 on pointe while her partner stands behind her holding her waist and with his left leg in tendu. She holds her left hand on her hip and extends her right arm out to the side with her palm up. Angelica wears a purple leotard, black tights and a white Romantic tutu while Kyle wears a yellow shirt, black tights and tan slippers.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Angelica Generosa (shown here in rehearsal with Kyle Davis) made notes of corrections she'd received and variations she'd worked on during her summer intensives to help retain what she had learned.

Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB

6. Fuel the Long Day

Depending on your housing arrangement this summer, you may be on your own for buying or preparing your own meals. Generosa recalls her first time living in a dorm and eating cafeteria food: "I wanted to try everything: pizza, chicken tenders, the salad bar, the dessert section—that was also my introduction to coffee." She found, however, that caffeine and sugar rushes would give way to energy crashes, and soon enough her better knowledge prevailed. "I told myself, 'Angelica, get your protein, vegetables, complex carbs—the right kind of energy.'"

Masking requirements may make snacking at the studios slightly more difficult. Nonetheless, there will almost certainly be somewhere you can safely have a nibble in between classes, whether that's a dancers' lounge or socially distanced in the studio itself. Make sure you always have something with you that's easy to munch on during breaks. Ball recommends protein bars or fruits and veggies. "Hydrating is huge," he adds, and suggests bringing packets of powdered electrolyte supplements to add to your water.

7. Retain Corrections

Take a moment each evening, Severin-Hansen advises, to write a few things down. "Say the whole class got a general correction, like 'Use your head.' The person who takes notes will think about it: 'When could I have used my head?' It's all about how you come back the next day and improve."

Generosa set a goal for herself to get better every day. To accomplish this, she would stay late to practice, she says, "so my body could adjust to what I was trying to achieve in that class." If you're inclined to follow her example, ask a friend to practice with you. You can film each other to get a glimpse of your own progress.

At the end of her Chautauqua summers, Generosa made notes of some things she had worked on and which variations she'd learned. "Then it wasn't like I left and that was that. I brought the summer experience with me, for my whole year."

Michael Cousmano, AKA Madame Olga. Courtesy When I'm Her

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