Dancer Spotlight: Fast-Forward

Jacquelyn Long, Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

With her long, slender arms and legs, Houston Ballet’s Jacquelyn Long has a gazelle-like quality—lyrical yet ready to charge through space with aggressive confidence. That may be why she looked so at home this past season in Balanchine’s impossibly paced Ballet Imperial. “I’m Herbie, Fully Loaded,” quips the 20-year-old corps member. “I like to go fast.”

Long has dance in her DNA. Her mother, Suzanne Long, danced with Cleveland San Jose Ballet for 11 years and currently co-directs Ballet Virginia International, a school in Norfolk, Virginia, where Long trained until she was 16. Having your mother run your ballet school isn’t easy, yet Long did her best to gather skills without hogging the limelight. The mother-daughter team had to find a working method when it came to corrections. “It took some maturity for me to realize that in the studio she was my teacher, and out of it, she was my mom,” says Long. “It was a tough slope.”

She got to know Houston Ballet during three summer intensives at the company’s Ben Stevenson Academy. “Once I got there and saw the Houston Ballet II dancers in the program,” Long says. “I knew that was what I wanted to be.”

By 16, Long was wrapping up high school and heading to Houston to join the second company with her mother’s blessing. After two years, she had a corps contract, skipping the apprentice stage. HBII’s ballet master Claudio Muñoz wasn’t surprised by the contract offer. “Jacquelyn knows how to make every step her own: She can speak both the poetry of ballet and the prose of contemporary with equal precision, clarity and, above all, intelligence,” says Muñoz. “She was able to go directly from HBII to the corps because of her maturity and the quality of her dancing.” Long’s sprightly presence and charm made her a good fit for a repertoire that ranges from Trey McIntyre’s whimsical Peter Pan to Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch’s hyper-physical choreographic style.

Despite some hurdles, Long found herself ready for the challenge of company life. “My first response when I got my contract was pure joy. My second was, ‘Oh no, I have to dance ‘The Kingdom of the Shades’ in La Bayadère. Adagio is not my strong suit,” she says. “ ‘Shades’ scared me so much, because the closest thing I’d done to adagio onstage at that point had been pas de deux work. It’s where I have the least amount of confidence.”

Conquering her fear of slow, controlled movement proved doable in the end. “Stanton would come in and ask for that spirit of hope in our eyes,” says Long. “After that, I think the feeling of the ballet really took over.”

Long ended up having a banner year. “I danced in every single performance, which included 37 Nutcrackers, and had no injuries.” Her work with contemporary choreographers proved a high point. She spent six weeks with Aszure Barton for the rigorous creation process of Angular Momentum, where phrases were fractured into smithereens of gestural minutia. “I’m a nerd, so the detailed process appealed to me,” she says. She also has loved working with Garrett Smith and Melissa Hough, both of whom have new ballets this season. “No matter how fast something is, I know Garrett wants me to be right on the money,” she says. “He challenges me to keep the grounded feeling and flow that the music carries.”

Long’s mother comes to Houston as often as she can to see her daughter perform. “My mom is not allowed to correct me now,” says Long. Although she sees herself as a different kind of dancer than her mother, she realizes that they share many qualities. “She was a great Juliet, and I hope to dance Romeo and Juliet someday, too. I’m determined to make my own mark.”

At a Glance 

Jacquelyn Long

Age: 20

Training: Ballet Virginia International, Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy

Favorite ballet to dance: Ballet Imperial

Dream role: Juliet in Romeo and Juliet

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