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Ballet’s Life Lessons

Male and female dancer partnering

By Mary Ashley Ray

Pictured above: TBT Artistic staff Li Anlin and Kathy Warakomsky-Li

From iconic stages to school studios, dancers around the world are impacted by their experiences in ballet. Only a small number of young dancers will go on to pursue professional careers, but that doesn’t change how formative dance training can be. A dance education can help dancers develop a variety of valuable life skills, including perseverance, discipline, creativity, grace, and much more.

The staff at Texas Ballet Theater are a testament to this sentiment. Many on staff have a dance background, whether that includes professional experience, college-level training, or years of recreational classes. Read below to learn how those experiences shape their lives today.


What did you enjoy most during your dance career?

“I most enjoyed being onstage and performing.” – Vanessa Logan, Executive Director, studied Dance in college

“I loved learning different styles of dance, the camaraderie with my dance team, and the outlet for creativity and physical movement that dance provided.” – Claire Hicks, Director of Development, danced recreationally and on a competitive dance team for 12 years

“Being onstage! Stage was the culmination of all the hard work and even though it was nerve-wracking, the exhilaration of doing it and completing a show is like no other! I also enjoyed touring and seeing new places, performing in all kinds of places, some not designed to be a theater and yet with a public that would do anything to see the dancers perform.” – Kathy Warakomsky-Li, Associate Director of Studio Training Company, danced professionally for more than 20 years with Houston Ballet and Ballet de Santiago in Chile.


What are some challenges you faced during your time as a dancer, and how did you overcome those?

“Being a swing for a Broadway show, you have to learn many different parts, as well as if you’re an understudy for more than one part in any production. Having to perform with injuries and learning new choreography are also challenges. Making the jump from a corps de ballet dancer to soloist, then soloist to principal brings the challenge of new and harder roles.” – Tim O’Keefe, Associate Artistic Director, danced on Broadway and with Houston Ballet

“It’s easy to slip into the habit of comparing yourself to others. I would be hard on myself sometimes when my jumps weren’t as strong as someone else’s, or I couldn’t do as many turns. However, you have to remember that every body is different and no one is built the same. Everyone will have different strengths. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter if someone was a ‘better’ dancer than I was, because I was there simply to do something I loved. If I enjoyed it, then that was enough!” – Mary Ashley Ray, Marketing & Communications Specialist, danced recreationally for 15 years


How do you the lessons you learned as a dancer translate to other aspects of your life?

“I learned perseverance, the importance of striving for excellence, and understanding that every single role is important to the whole picture.” – Vanessa Logan

“Dance taught me to be unafraid to try something new; how to learn and grow from feedback or critique; and how to be a ‘duck,’ who while may be furiously peddling beneath the water, presents as calm with a smile to the public. Equally important, dance taught me how to have fun. A good dance party is still my favorite way to cut loose to this day.” – Claire Hicks

“Dance gave me the patience and commitment for any endeavor, poise and grace under pressure, and the ability to overcome fears in life.” – Tim O’Keefe

“By spending my childhood in a dance studio, I developed a deep appreciation for performing arts. Attending any kind of performance is one of my favorite things to do, especially dance and musical theater. I also learned the importance of discipline and determination – there was no better feeling than finally getting something right after lots of practice, and that’s helpful when trying anything new or challenging in life. I also learned the value of being strong and taking care of your body, always reminding me to be proud of what a body can do, not wishing it looked or worked differently. Finally, it led me to the career I have today. My love for dance led me to TBT!” – Mary Ashley Ray

“Everything we do in dance from the discipline of getting to class on time to doing hard work (rehearsing or practicing over and over again to get it right), all is part of the ‘real’ world. Everyone needs to have discipline, to work hard, to be determined, to persevere, to get back up when one has been punched down; everything learned or experienced in the dance studio pertains to real life. Dance is a microcosm of the real world and from my experience, dancers make some of the best workers out there. Former professional dancers have gone to school while having a career in dance and later have become doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners and so much more. Former dance students have gone on to do the same, because they all learn the basic tenets of holding a job and being part of a group (corps de ballet or team) from their first class to the last one they take. They learn so much in the studio that pertains to all life.” – Kathy Warakomsky-Li