The Throwback that Inspires

Then and Now

Competition season is about to begin at the end of this month. So what is better than seeing some of our favorite professional dancers who went from competition to classical ballet.

Chase O’Connell

Principal dancer at Ballet West 

Photo by : Luke Isley

“Doing competitions helped me prepare for the professional ballet world in many ways. I learned to pick up choreography very quickly. I learned what it’s like to be on a stage a lot and to feel comfortable performing. I started doing competitions when I was 3 years old, so it felt like second nature after a while. It also helped with my competitive side which has helped and been a disadvantage at the same time.” 

Dylan Wald

principal dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Photo: Lindsay Thomas Photography, Pacific Northwest Ballet 2020, Age 24 and Starquest 2007, age 12

“If someone were to tell my young self I would become a professional ballet dancer, I would have never believed them. I grew up immersed in the competition dance world in my hometown of Plymouth, Minnesota. It was not until I spent a summer at the Juilliard Summer Intensive at age 15 that I learned what life as a professional dancer even looked like. That summer, I was what felt like the most behind student in my technical abilities. This was the catalyst that pushed me to dive deeper into my ballet training when I returned home, and ultimately lead me on my path to becoming a Principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet. 

Growing up, I spent a lot of time frustrated by this notion of feeling behind in comparison to other dancers. I constantly compared myself, and remember thinking “if I only had this, or that, or danced here, or taught by that teacher, I would be better off”. Upon reflection, I wish I could have seen that my experiences shaped a path that made me unique and special, but I guess that is what retrospect is for. 

The numerous performing opportunities, exposure to various dance genres, and cultivating a love of dance are things I credit to those early competitive days and furthermore have become strengths in my professional career. Every dancer is climbing their own uphill battle. The sooner I accepted the hand I was dealt and focused on my own path, the sooner I was able to start that climb. Ultimately the journey and personal triumphs have proven to be the most fulfilling moments in this beautiful, difficult, fulfilling, unfair, fleeting, and wonderful life as a dancer.

Kelly Loughran

Classically trained ballerina, transitioned to Broadway 

Email: kelly@kellyloughran.com

Website: http://kellyloughran.comReel : https://vimeo.com/153684061

Photo: Provided by Kelley and Rosalie O’Connor

“My transition to Broadway from the classical ballet world was a very full-circle moment for me. I dreamt of Broadway since I first saw “Sweet Charity” when I was ten years old. My mom knew my love for dance and enrolled me in every single class available at our local dance school. Thankfully my ballet teacher at the time, Tara Hench, recognized my passion and steered me in the direction of a more serious school: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. It was there that I realized I had a lot of work to do if I wanted to be a professional dancer. I spent five years training under the direction of Marcia Dale Weary & slowly my dream of being a Broadway dancer morphed into the dream of being a professional ballet dancer. I worked at this dream tirelessly and it simply felt like I was knocking on a door that wouldn’t open. After another unsuccessful year of auditioning for ballet companies, I moved to NYC and rediscovered jazz dance! I slowly started auditioning for musical theatre shows while simultaneously auditioning for ballet companies. I found that not only did I have more success in a musical theatre audition but also that I had much more joy in this department! I felt free to really express myself and reconnect with that kid who had those starry eyes for the Broadway stage. Within a couple years of training vocally and building my musical theatre resume, my childhood dream came true and I made my Broadway debut with “The Phantom of the Opera”. I am so grateful to my ballet training for giving me the tools to achieve this dream. But I am even more grateful for the people in my life who encouraged an open-mind and an open-heart so that I could rediscover my love for Broadway.”

Shale Wagman

Dancer with Bayerisches Staatsballett Muchen 

Former dancer with English National Ballet 

Winner of Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Prize at Prix de Lausanne 2018

“I learned how to dance thanks to competitive dance. It is a blessing to be able to throw yourself into movement and expression so freely at a young age without the fear and limitation of being “correct” so to speak.  It is so important to feel your inner dialogue and artistry as a young dancer because you are building your truth from those early years which will give you so much understanding for classical ballet later on. I’m so grateful to have started on this path. To all of the young dancers who might feel frustrated about starting in an unconventional way and  feeling like they have to relearn dance when starting ballet, just remember that you have gained  so much from your path and that will ultimately aid you in becoming the dancer that you have always dreamt to be.”