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Light on their feet: The world of a contemporary ballerina

Light on their feet: The world of a contemporary ballerina

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She hears it as she's waiting in the wings: the murmuring of the audience, the sudden rustle of settling in as the house lights dim. In the breathless quiet before the curtain rises, her heart races a little even as she wills it to be still.

The music from the pit swells, the curtain rises. A deep breath, arms poised, she rises en pointe and advances feather-light to the footlights.

It is the moment ballerina Kristy Victor has dreamed of for most of her 28 years.

It is not the first such moment. Since the age of 3 she has practiced dance at the Indiana Ballet Theatre IBT), the brainchild of founder and director Gloria Tuohy. And while dance is in Tuohy’s heart and soul and directs the course of her career, Tuohy is realistic about expectations — hers and her dancers’.

Ballerina Kristy Victor, for example, is a full-time oncology nurse. Tuohy explains, “Ballerinas have to be very versatile, to be able teach or to do some other work in addition to dance, because many can’t just survive on ballet alone.” She adds that much of today’s choreography is upbeat and contemporary, leaving even fewer roles available for ballet dancers.

“There are a lot of dancers who want to be ballerinas, so it’s really important to have good training. If the production is only looking for three dancers, you want stand out in the competition,” Tuohy says. Dancers are constantly auditioning, “In between, they have to live somehow.”

Tuohy says some of her dancers go to college, then come back to teach at IBT. Victor is one of them. She may not be a typical example, however, since her schedule would be daunting to many. In addition to her full-time job administering chemo and care to patients and teaching Mondays and Tuesdays at IBT in addition to lessons and performances, Victor is also a sales director for Mary Kay cosmetics; is a head cheerleader for National Cheerleaders Association; and dresses the part of a princess for Princess Parties.

“I have quite an active schedule,” says a cheerful Victor, who lives in Crown Point, Ind. “It’s long hours, but it’s all work I enjoy. Dancing is my real passion, my very favorite thing to do.” Victor is also in IBT’s six-member Chamber Ballet, whose members receive a stipend.

It’s a challenge finding time for rehearsals, such as for her role in the upcoming “The Nutcracker” Dec. 3 and 4 at the Radisson Star Plaza. “But when I step onstage, I want to know I’m at my best, to be part of a wonderful experience for people.”

Married for a year in August, Victor says husband Conrad is always supportive and comes to all her performances.

Sara Eichmeier, 17 years old, knows what it is to get ready for a performance. “I think my family gets a little flustered by the amount of time it takes to prepare for a production, but they’re very happy I’ve found something I’m so passionate about.”

She found that passion early. Her grandmother tells her that even at 2 years old, Sara stood before a mirror and danced, so lessons began when she was 3. From then until she was 10 it was ballet, “mostly because (the IBT instructors) like to give you a really strong core in ballet technique; it helps you branch out in other styles.” At 10, she started modern ballet; at 13, jazz.

Sara dreams of becoming a ballerina as a career. She wants to graduate high school with academic honors, then go right into a ballet company, but is realistic enough to realize she needs to go to college, with Butler University her first choice. If for some reason performing dance doesn’t work out as a career, Sara says she’d want to teach it. She’s already teaching ballet to little ones at IBT and loves it.

For now, “When you’re up on stage in front of all those people performing ballet, you follow the role and it helps you enter a new world. You’re living a cool double life, on stage and off stage.”

Off stage she’s a Valparaiso High School student who sacrifices an active social life for dance. Every day except Friday (yes, Sundays, too), she’s at IBT. “The best part about training is how much responsibility and self-control you learn. Ballet is a very strict profession. In the long run, it helps you be the best person you can be.”

For Sara the biggest challenge is the discipline. “The audience can’t know if you’re in pain or tired or sick. If something goes wrong with the music you just have to roll with it and keep playing your part. You have to maintain that composure.”

Her favorite role so far was in “Sleeping Beauty.”

“As a kid, I always dreamed of playing the part of Aurora.” Did the reality measure up to her expectation? The teenager giggles. “Yes, it’s beautiful … you feel like a princess when you’re performing.”

In ballet, even princesses must be strong. “It takes endurance to hold yourself up on your toes. People think about the flexibility, to be able to put your foot at your head. But to hold it there, the strength is harder than the flexibility.”

Victor agrees. “(My age of) 28 is young, but you have to keep up on a daily basis. When a performance comes around, I’ll go in before work to get the rehearsal time in. If I can’t make it to the dance studio, I go to the gym.”

In her busy schedule there’s been no lack of friendships. “At IBT I’ve made a lot of great friends over the years. With two of them, Bailee Serocinki and Libby Evenhouse, we’ve formed a wonderful bond. They’ll be dancing with me in ‘Nutcracker.’”

Sara will perform as well. “For ‘Nutcracker,’ there are long hours, at the studio from 9 a.m. to 5 at night, so any kind of social life is kind of gone. Then there’s the expense — different pointe shoes, which are very expensive, and the clothes.

“But if you really love something you’ll do whatever it takes.”


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