February 10, 2021
By Mary Ashley Ray
At age 7, Leticia Oliveira enrolled in a professional ballet school in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Little did she know that someday ballet would become her career, take her around the world, and lead her to inspire students just like herself.
Oliveira is the Principal at Texas Ballet Theater School – Fort Worth. She manages faculty and student needs including curriculum, repertoire, scheduling, and performances, and teaches classes of her own. She took the role in 2017 after a 23-year professional ballet career, 10 of which were spent at Texas Ballet Theater (TBT). The road from Brazil to TBT was a long one with many stops along the way.
This journey began at age 13, when Oliveira realized she wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. “At that moment, I remember thinking I would not be happy doing anything else,” she said. “With no artists in my family, my mom was supportive, but also concerned about my choice.”
After years of training, Oliveira left Brazil at age 18 to attend Joffrey Ballet’s Summer Intensive in New York and join their second company. The opportunity was both exciting and scary, she says, moving to the Big Apple all by herself and speaking very little English. That same year, she was offered a company contract at Joffrey Ballet and made another move to Chicago to join the main company. Oliveira toured with the company, giving her the opportunity to see new parts of the world.
The next stop on her journey was Houston Ballet, where she danced for six years. It is here where she met her now-husband, fellow dancer Carl Coomer, as well as then-Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson, O.B.E. Stevenson moved to TBT in 2003, and Oliveira and Coomer followed him to North Texas in 2007 and joined TBT’s company.
Around this same time, Oliveira started teaching ballet. “I was excited to share my knowledge and understanding with my students, and also help them experiment and figure things out for themselves.”
Educating the next generation of dancers is an opportunity to not only teach the fundamentals of ballet, but foster the qualities that are important both in dance and in life. For Oliveira, those qualities are honesty, perseverance, and hard work. “I also try to teach them to enjoy the process and attempt to become the best version of themselves, without comparing themselves to others,” she says. “We all have different gifts.”
Helping students discover their unique gifts was a natural transition from Oliveira’s professional dance career. After 23 years, she had a wealth of knowledge to share with young dancers – but in the same way she encourages her students, she wanted to be the best she could be in her new career. She completed a two-year program and earned her Dance Teaching Diploma from the Royal Academy of Dance in London. “I wanted to make sure I could deliver my knowledge in the best way possible,” she said.
That knowledge includes practical technique and fond memories of her days on the stage. Oliveira’s favorite roles are those from love stories, including Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Swan Lake, and John Cranko’s Onegin. She believes that professional ballet experience sets dancers up for success in a variety of careers.
“Most dancers are dedicated, determined, and diligent human beings; they will always strive for perfection,” she said. “These are all great qualities that translate well into any other profession.”
For Oliveira, it’s been a rewarding transition from performer to educator. “My students inspire me and teach me new things every single day.”