Samantha Klanac Campanile and Joseph Watson in Nicolo Fonte's "Where We Left Off." Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

Two Years After Retiring, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Dancer Makes Remarkable Last-Minute Comeback

In the final moments of Jiří Kylián's strenuous Return to a Strange Land, Samantha Klanac Campanile made sure her exhaustion didn't stop her from savoring the moment. She looked around The Joyce Theater as the lights began to dim and soaked up her last scheduled appearance there.

"I took a mental picture because I thought, I'm never going to do this again," she said. In September of 2016, after over 14 years with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Campanile retired. She and her husband moved back to Buffalo, New York, where they both grew up and first dated in high school. She settled into a new life as a fitness instructor and gave birth to daughter Anja in July 2017.


Fast forward to late 2018. Back in Aspen, company directors Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty learned that one of their current dancers was pregnant and wouldn't be able to perform in the spring. The company has only five men and five women, so losing a dancer creates a challenge. But the directors were in a particular bind: For their March season at the Joyce, they'd programmed two pieces featuring all 10 company members, Nicolo Fonte's Where We Left Off and Fernando Melo's Dream Play. "We usually can have roles covered within the company," Malaty said. "But we took a risk with two full-company pieces and wound up with a problem."

Campanile with her daughter Anja. Courtesy Campanile.

Malaty mentioned the situation to Campanile, now 35. "J.P. said to me, 'do you know anyone taking class?'" Campanile said. "I thought he was kidding and we had some fun banter. But then he said, 'Would you consider coming back?'"

Campanile thought she was in shape for a "normal" person, but she wasn't sure that was enough to be back onstage. She rarely took class anymore and only taught dance as a sub. But the chance to perform again was too good to pass up.

In early January, she figured out a plan to get herself ready, and decided to go for it. She had just a little over six weeks to get ready for a one-week rehearsal period, followed by performances in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then the Joyce. She set out on a course of taking class, working out and renting studio space to rehearse both roles off a video.

It was challenging to find the time.

"The cliché is true: As a mom, you don't have time for anything," Campanile said. "Anja would take a nap and I'd take out the video and go over the choreography, or I'd get up at 5 am to work out."

She credits her work as a teacher with The Bloom Method, a fitness method specializing in pre and post-natal conditioning, for her successful comeback. "Dancing with better awareness of my core and functional movement patterns, my body feels much better supported now," she said. "I broke some bad habits."

That said, she was nervous when she arrived in Santa Fe for rehearsals. "Would people wonder, why didn't they just hire someone young?" she said. "I was the new person for the first time in a long time."

But quickly, she felt support from her colleagues and the company's directors, who were thrilled with her performances.

"Having her back was a gift," Malaty said. "Her physical beauty, yes, but her honesty. You see her soul onstage, this time even more than before."

Campanile and her daughter Anja get ready backstage at The Joyce Theater. Courtesy Campanile.

During her performances at the Joyce, Campanile stood out for her long line and dramatic intensity. In the middle of Fonte's piece, the lights suddenly dim and she runs over to a male dancer as he exits the stage. In supported, off-balance extensions, she gave the moment urgency, as if trying to stop time and keep the moment from ending and the lights from going out.

For all her intensity, Campanile described being back onstage as calming. "Being a mom is 24 hours a day. It's the most selfless thing," she said. "Being onstage, having some time for myself, it's like a mental vacation."

She always hoped to become a mother, but with ASFB's heavy touring schedule, she never planned to return to the company after pregnancy. So the sweetest moment of her comeback came when the curtain went up and she saw her daughter Anja in the audience. As she did the last time at the Joyce, Campanile savored the moment. "It was so surreal to see her there," she said. "In my wildest dreams, I never thought this would happen."

With the performances over, she's back to Buffalo and the new life she's built, with no more performing on the horizon. "Being a mom is my greatest role now," she said. "But I never expected this to happen, so who knows what's in store?"

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This is Pointe's Summer 2020 cover story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Just days before the world shuttered under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and the curtain came down indefinitely on dance companies everywhere, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Sydney Dolan debuted Gamzatti in La Bayadère with captivating ease. Her jumps soared, her technique was sound, and her cheeky smile paired with exquisite port de bras was beguiling. Though she didn't know the company would soon cancel the remainder of its season, her beautiful performance acted as a kind of send-off into the unknown.

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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."

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"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."

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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.

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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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