Ballet West's 'Innovations' helps dancers take the leap

By Heather Hayes

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 11 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

“After the birth of our son, the nurses helped me so much. I decided I wanted to do that as well,” she says. As for whether she misses dancing, she says, “Only when people like you come a-knocking, reminding me of it all. What a wonderful time we had, what a privilege to perform and enjoy that stage of our lives. We owe a lot to Ballet West.”

Former dancer Aaron Orlowski, who retired in 2010, took classes at Salt Lake Community College while dancing full time. This spring, he graduated from the University of Utah with his bachelor’s degree and started a master's program in social work.

“Ballet taught me the importance of being passionate about what I do,” he says of his new interest. He still teaches and guest performs on occasion, but enjoys watching his wife, principal dancer Katherine Lawrence, light up the stage.

Former Ballet West artist Emily Harrington, who retired in 1999, didn’t have the luxury of utilizing the resource fund while dancing, but she pursued degrees in both biology and chemistry all the same. A master’s degree in public health soon followed, and now the once-ballerina is an epidemiologist, working in a public health consulting firm and raising a lively 2-year-old girl.

“Although I don’t miss dancing professionally, I’ve learned that dance has to be part of my life,” she says.

Most former dancers echo her sentiment.

Even former principal dancer Jessica Harston of Orem still finds time to dance while raising four children. Retiring in 2004 at the height of her career wasn’t part of her original plan, but holding her new baby girl for the first time changed her mind.

“I knew how much time and commitment would be required, and I just couldn’t do it,” she says, saying her choice was a personal one, and notes that many of her contemporaries who became mothers have done an excellent job of balancing work and family. Although fans were disappointed at her quiet, unexpected retirement, Harston has no regrets.

“I still dance almost every day,” she says of teaching at the ballet school part-time where her two daughters train. “And now I get to do it with my girls.”

Until quite recently, discussing life-after-ballet was taboo in the ballet world. It meant your focus was off. It meant you had covert intentions of leaving before your time. Artistic directors who saw dancers studying textbooks in the dancer’s lounge felt they could justifiably see the writing on the wall.

Today, directors like Sklute are realists. In many ways, he is a father figure at Ballet West — after all, everyone agrees it’s nearly as tight-knit as a family. And like any good father, he wants what’s best for his dancers. “Innovations” is proof of that.

If you go …

What: Ballet West’s “Innovations”

Where: Rose Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City

When: May 17-18; May 22-25

How Much: $45

More information: call 801-355-ARTS or visit www.ArtTix.org or balletwest.org

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