The Dreams of a Dancer… season 1

dancer

Tom Becka: Hello. Welcome to another podcast at TomBecka.com, where everyone is exceptional and everyone has a story to tell. This story…I am a sucker for a story like this.

I am a sucker for a story of anyone that is following their dreams, anybody that is trying to make something happen against very difficult odds and, boy, Erika is following her dreams and making thing happen over some very difficult odds.

First of all, she is a ballerina.

How many young girls dream of being a ballerina, but are never able to make it their career, never able to make it their life. Erika has been able to take that dream into her adult life and make it a living as a ballerina, but not only that!

She has started her own dance company with Ballet Nebraska because the previous ballet company had folded, they couldn’t pay the bills and so they shut down, and Erika said, “I have big eye. I can do a better job. I think we can this happen. I think there is a market for this kind of dance.”

Through a lot of hard work, perseverance, knocking on doors, she put together her own ballet troupe which has, after four years, become more and more successful.

Yeah, there were roadblocks along the way and not everything goes as planned but she’s been able to make it work and performing ballets now in front of thousands of people, each and every performance.

Let’s find out just how somebody like this goes and follows their dreams and how they make it happen. Where does it all begin?

Erika: You know, I’ve always loved dance and I started taking lessons formally when I was six. I didn’t realize until I was a teenager in high school and kind of trying to decide what was going to happen, what I was going to do.

I knew I wanted to dance and continue dancing, but I looked back and even from kindergarten, that’s what I said in our newspaper interview or whatever it was. I said I was going to be a ballerina or dancer.

Tom: Yeah. How many other girls in kindergarten, “I want to be a ballerina?” You did it.

Erika: Yeah. [laughs]

Tom: OK. It’s cute. I’m looking at this now. I’m trying to think of your family. “Oh, it’s so cute. It’s so cute. She wants to be a ballerina.”

Then you get into high school and going into college, and it’s like, “Oh my God! She wants to make a living as a dancer? No! Be a doctor. Get a career. Nobody can make a living as a dancer, right?”

Did your parents try to talk you out of it or did they support you?

Erika: Well, my parents are very supportive and to this day, they’re very involved in the ballet now with the company. My mom actually ended up making a lot of the costumes for where I studied growing up and now she’s the costume designer for Ballet Nebraska.

Tom: So, you parents were encouraging of that?

Erika: They were, mm-hmm.

Tom: OK. Did they have an art background? Were they involved in dance in any way?

Erika: No. By trade, my dad is a dentist. My mom is a dental hygienist.

Tom: Is anybody in your family involved in the theatre or involved in the arts in any way?

Erika: Well, my aunt was a dance teacher, so she was encouraging.

Tom: That was it, too. Now, you are studying to be a ballerina and you realize you’ve got some talent for this and you can do this. But, where do you go? How do you make a living as a ballerina?

Erika: Well, you now, you have to have a perseverance and thick skin. If it’s what you really want to do, you just have to go after it. If you’ve got the talent but also the drive and the passion for it, then that’s how it happens.

Tom: But, there are a lot of people with talent and drive, right? I mean, it’s got to be very difficult to start getting that first break.

Erika: Mm-hmm, it is. It’s competitive. I went to the University of Utah for school. And then, like a lot of my classmates, you kind of go travel all over auditioning, trying to get a job, trying to get in somewhere and it is really competitive.

Tom: OK. Where did you go then after you go to school in Utah to be a ballerina and you do that, and now it’s OK, graduation is final, OK, I’ve got to do something. You try to get a job.

Erika: I got a job. [laughs]

Tom: Where did you get a job?

Erika: In Montgomery Ballet.

Tom: Montgomery, Alabama?

Erika: Yeah.

Tom: When you think of ballet, Montgomery, Alabama isn’t the first name that comes to mind. You’ve got Moscow, Paris and Montgomery. I mean really, Montgomery, Alabama?

Erika: Yep.

Tom: For ballet?

Erika: Yeah.

Tom: Well, that ought to be a culture shock for you going from Nebraska to Utah, now to Montgomery, Alabama.

Erika: Well, I’m originally from Iowa, so from the Midwest. Yeah, I love to be south. I loved Salt Lake, love it here.

Tom: OK. What was it like? Were you an intern in Montgomery because that’s sort of how it works, too, right?

Erika: Yeah, usually.

Tom: Hierarchy?

Erika: Usually, you start off getting an apprenticeship at first and then you’re hoping to get a company contract.

Tom: So, you started out as an apprentice and you worked you way up.

Erika: Yep.

Tom: OK. So, you’re an apprentice in Montgomery, Alabama. I don’t know, I’m guessing it doesn’t pay real well.

Erika: No. [laughs]

Tom: So, you’re doing other side jobs to make ends meet?

Erika: Yeah. I taught dance a lot, which is what a lot of ballet dancers do. You are doing it professionally. It’s your full-time job. It’s really hard to get that job and you’re lucky to get it. But then I taught dance.

Tom: You got to pay rent, so you teach dance.

Erika: Yeah.

Tom: From there, then you’re doing Montgomery and you’re doing that for a while and you build yourself up. You end up back in Omaha, or were there other steps along the way that you were doing ballet before you got back to Omaha?

Erika: No, pretty much next I came to Omaha. I did some dancing in Birmingham, Alabama and then came to Omaha.

Tom: What happened is that there was a dance company in Omaha before Ballet Nebraska that you founded. There was a dance company in Omaha that was doing ballet and they went under. Were you dancing with that company prior to forming Ballet Nebraska?

Erika: Yes, I was dancing with them for six years. I was also choreographing a lot and eventually became a resident choreographer. That was fun. [laughs]

Tom: OK, a resident choreographer. What does that mean? I just saw, not saw, I was a part of “The Nutcracker.” When you choreograph, is that a situation where…if I’m going to play an instrument, I’ve got all the notes in front of me. I know what the notes are. This is what I do and I can interpret it in some way, but these are what the notes are.

If you’re choreographing a presentation like “The Nutcracker,” is it just “He brings the toy solider onstage and do whatever you want?” How does that work?

Erika: No, it’s pretty much planned, all the little details, even angling of the body and the timing with the music. Sometimes when you’re choreographing and working with professional dancers, you can have some freedom to say “I don’t know. I want to see some sort of lift and make sure she’s turning into it when you grab her.” You can experiment and they can try stuff.

But usually, when it’s choreographed, it’s pretty set.

Tom: There is a set, whether it be, and again, my knowledge is so basic, whether it be “Swan Lake” or something like that, it’s pretty much “Here are the steps you do. Here is what you do and you can maybe improvise a little bit here or there, but this is what it is.”

Erika: You mean already existing?

Tom: Yeah, using the sheet music is an example here, where these are the notes. But do they say “OK, here she does a high step and stands on her toes,” again, I don’t know what I’m talking about here.

Erika: I know what you’re saying now. For certain ballets that are in the classical repertoire, like Petipa choreography, there are variations that are known and set and a certain standard that gets passed down.

But for things like “The Nutcracker,” I choreographed it. For the majority of it, it’s what I made up. Then there are a few elements, like the sugarplum variation, that is classical. Some people reinterpret it and do whatever they want. We used the more traditional variation.

Tom: But it’s pretty much all you. In other words, if I was to stage “The Nutcracker,” first of all, nobody would come to it.

Erika: [laughs]

Tom: But if I were to stage “The Nutcracker,” it would be entirely different. Because I know what the plot is, I know about the party and the toy and the nutcracker and the sugarplum fairies and all of that, but I could do with it whatever I wanted.

Erika: Right, that’s the interesting thing about “The Nutcracker.” If you do do a ballet like “Swan Lake” or another classical well-known ballet, there is, for the most part, a standard, traditional choreography that you would use. But for “The Nutcracker,” even though it is a story, the plot is there and the music and it’s well-known, every version is going to be different up to the imagination of the choreographer.

Tom: OK. Do you enjoy that as much as dancing?

Erika: Yes, I do. I love it. [laughs]

Tom: OK. You’re a dancer now, with the old ballet company here in Omaha, Nebraska. They go under. They can’t make it work. They can’t pay their bills. They can’t make ends meet. You think “Oh, I can do better.” What made you think that you could put together a ballet company and make it succeed where others have failed?

Erika: [laughs] I thought you might ask me that. I don’t know how to answer because I don’t know exactly what it was. I just thought that it was such a shame. I thought that there should be a ballet company here. I thought “Well, somebody should try. I could try. What’s the harm in trying?” [laughs]

Tom: [laughs]

Erika: Then it has just continued from there.

Tom: OK, so you say, “Hey, I want to put on a ballet company. I can try.” You’ve got to talk to other people — what were they saying? Were they supportive and saying, “Yeah, Erika, you can do it,” or were they saying, “What are you, nuts? Didn’t you see what just happened to the old troupe?”

Erika: I would say both. Yet, people that would say, “That could never work,” or, “That’s way too hard,” I can understand that, because it is really hard. It’s a big challenge. But, there were people that were like, “You can do it, we’re behind you.” So we just did it.

Tom: How do you go about starting a new ballet troupe? For one thing, you’ve got to bring in dancers, and they’ve got to be pretty skeptical, too, to come to Omaha and want to do this, right?

Erika: The process of everything coming together and starting, it was a tricky and scary time. We knew we needed to start an organization, so we filed incorporation papers as a non-profit, had to get a board, had to figure out about that — I didn’t know any of that stuff at the time. I’ve had an incredible education over the last few years leaning all aspects of running a non-profit.

We started there, and started fundraising right away, because we can’t contract dancers until we’ve got some funding behind us. Once we thought, “OK, we’re going to make this a go,” we offered contracts to the dancers.

Tom: How do you go about fundraising? Who do you go to to fundraise for something like this? Do you find hoity-toity rich people that want to support the arts? How do you go about getting the money for something like this?

Erika: When we first started, we went to people that we knew or that knew us, even friends and family, and it was more of a grassroots thing with people sending in donations. Once you start getting a bit more established, you can start writing grants.

Even that, you have to develop — I don’t know if reputation is the right word — you have to develop yourself to where the grant makers know that you’re going to pull through.

Tom: That you’re for real, and not just some flaky dancer?

Erika: Yeah, making that happen, and not just going, “Hey, we’re going to have a company, isn’t that great? Give us money.” They have to see you, for real, doing it.

Tom: You’ve got to start off small, I’d imagine?

Erika: You do. In a way, but yet, we knew by the time we started our opening production, artistically, what we’re about, it was something serious and of value and of quality.

Tom: You start getting the funds, and you start getting support. Little by little, you develop a fan base, an audience base, and it starts growing.

Erika: Yep.

Tom: What about some setbacks along the way? There had to have been some obstacles you had to overcome. It’s not just, “OK, we got some money, we got some dancers, now we’re being successful.” There had to be some obstacles along the way to get to where you are now.

Erika: I would say the biggest challenge in starting the organization is that there’s only a tiny amount of people and a lot of work to be done. It’s just having enough time to do everything.

I really enjoy all the different aspects — dancing, choreography, all that kind of stuff — but also, the marketing stuff is interesting, the grant writing, the fundraising.

I think it’s amazing that people really do care about what you’re doing and will write you a check and say, “Hey, you’re doing a good thing, keep doing that.” I think that’s really cool that what we do inspires people to support us in that way.

Tom: I feel the same way about this podcast, actually. I’d really appreciate that, yeah.

Erika: [laughs] I enjoy all those things, it’s just a challenge to have enough time to do it all.

Tom: Now, when the average person thinks about ballet, they think “snobs.” I’m not trying to be rude or anything.

Erika: No, that’s interesting for me to hear, because I’ve grown up in ballet, so I might have a different perception.

Tom: That’s it. It’s the same thing with classical music or something like that, they just have a perception of, “Oh yeah, that’s somebody else.” When I was a kid growing up, you had shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and Ed Sullivan would have ballet dancing on there.

What’s a male ballet dancer called?

Erika: A professional ballet dancer.

Tom: OK, I thought because there’s “ballerina,” is there a male equivalent to “ballerina”?

Erika: Danseur.

Tom: Danseur, OK. So, he had Nureyev, a Russian ballet danseur, that was very famous and made movies and everything. Now, in hindsight, I think the only reason he was famous is because he was Russian during the Cold War. I couldn’t name another famous danseur or ballerina since then in pop culture.

Are there ballerinas or danseurs out there that are incredibly famous and popular that me and my insulated world just don’t know about?

Erika: Yeah, I would say. Of course, my perspective is that’s what I’m really interested in.

Tom: Who are they? What are their names?

Erika: Gosh, I don’t know.

Tom: In New York, would there be a big name, ballerinas or danseurs that people would flock from all over to go see? Or do they do it, much like how it is now in Omaha, where you’ve got a great dance troupe and people just go to see the performance as opposed to seeing the performers?

Erika: I think it’s probably a mix, but I’d say that whether it’s an internationally known company with stars that are known around the world, or a really great company that’s in any city, people do tend to follow certain dancers.

Even here, we have people that have watched our dancers dance from year to year and are interested in who’s playing what and see them do different roles. There’s a little bit of that.

Tom: You have a fan base here? People that are actually paying attention to who the dancers are and what they’re doing?

Erika: Yeah, which is cool.

Tom: It is very cool! Again, it’s not in my world. From this podcast, I was asked to be part of “The Nutcracker.” I was asked to do a walk-on part. I basically played a rich aristocrat with a hot trophy wife at this party, and I just walked around and acted rather pompous — it was typecasting, I just walked on stage.

I was amazed by the people that I met. I had this image of ballet being, again, snooty, perhaps. Everybody was just so genuine and so nice and so down to earth. I’ll admit, I was surprised in that.

Erika: I’m really happy to hear you say that, because I know in our company, we love what we do, we have a great time, we work together. It’s fun, we work hard.

Tom: That was the other thing — I was expecting petty jealousies, backstabbing, I was expecting that sort of thing. Like, “Oh, look, she got that part, but she’s not that good. I can do that better.” Or there’re are pretty snide remarks behind the scenes that either I just didn’t hear them, or they were covering them up pretty well, or they just weren’t there. You know? From what I heard and saw, everybody did seem to be very supportive of everybody else.

Erika: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things I really like about our company is I feel like the, I guess, the culture of our company we really…I think part of it comes from we are so grateful that it’s succeeded and that we’re here and that a lot of the dancers that we have are here from the first year. We’re also happy that it’s all happening, and that everybody just likes each other.

Tom: That’s good! Now, you talk about your first time in Birmingham and how you’re making no money starting out and so you teach dancing on the side and pay the bills and make ends meat. A dancer in a troop in, let’s say Birmingham, or Omaha, or a troop like that of a similar size, if you’re one of the lead dancers, could that just be your job, or do you also have to supplement with teaching or you know, working at Burger King or whatever might be to help pay the bills?

Erika: Well, typically, a dancer has a seasonal contract so you also have basically layoff periods so you definitely need to find work during those times. So, most people are picking up other jobs, at least during that time.

Tom: Is a seasonal contract universal? In other words, the ballet season in Omaha runs from August to May let’s say, but somewhere else it might run from February through October or whatever, or is it pretty much the same season when people will go to see the ballet?

Erika: Pretty much. I would say most of them would run more like the school year kind of like you said — August or May or something like that, and then the summer would be the off season typically.

Tom: Once a dancer starts with a troop — whether it be the one here or anywhere else, do they tend to stay with that troop, or is it a situation that’s like, “OK, I’m doing well in Omaha, I want to see now if I can get with a bigger market. I want to see if I can do the Saint Lewis ballet, or if I can do the Chicago ballet,” or something like that. Is everybody trying to get better jobs or do people tend to find themselves, “You know, I’ve got a nice gig here, I’m enjoying this,” and stay here.

Erika: Well, it probably depends on the environment that they’re in. Certainly, dancers sometimes will have one job, and if they’re looking to move somewhere else, they might audition and move on. But with our company, I think it’s been really cool. We really have had mainly the same people that want to stay and continue and be a part of it. I think when you have a good think going you don’t want to give that up!

Tom: Good, good. What is it about dance that speaks to you? You know, you say that you’ve enjoyed it since you’ve been a kid, but what is it…

Erika: It’s so fun, Tom! It really is.

Tom: No, I’ve tried to dance. It’s not, it’s painful, it hurts, it’s awkward.

Erika: You don’t like to dance?

Tom: I’ve got the white man’s overbite, you know? If you try to do anything coordinated, I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. I’ve tried, I’ve failed miserably.

Erika: I know what you mean because most ballet dancers do train in a lot of different styles of dance, because you should be well rounded and able to be versatile. But if you’re in a class that is over your head in a technique that you’re not so hot at, it is intimidating and uncomfortable. So I can see that if you don’t have enough experience how it can be that way, but for me, and for all of us in our company, ballet is like another second language to us.

Tom: Is that your favorite dance? Or would you rather be doing jazz or something or some other form?

Erika: Ballet is sort of the foundation and it’s definitely a favorite, but I like other styles too. That’s probably the primary one that I work with but a lot of times in my choreography — I mean not so much for the nutcracker, that’s more toward classical ballet — I like to do barefoot stuff, a little bit jazzy stuff. I tend to like jazzy music.

Tom: Because you also preformed with another troop. Some animal thing I saw. What is that?

Erika: Oh, that’s party animals! That’s the new ballet I’m working on. It’s really fun. It’s all 60s music and all animals from the African Savannah, and their kind of 60s, like out for the night, going to the lounge, club. It’s fun!

Tom: I though ballet was all classical stuffy stuff, no?

Erika: No, yeah! That’s what you were going to say too about the whole snooty thing, right?

Tom: Yeah! By the way, I also know friends of mine who play in the Omaha symphony and they are not snooty or snobby either, but I’m just saying the impression is that.

Erika: Yeah, so a lot of the stuff we do is pop stuff, fun stuff, funny stuff. It can be really entertaining. So if you’re interested or curious to go to ballet, you should try it out because I bet people will be surprised to find out it’s impressive like the athletic stuff that people can do, but also the music and there can be humor and a good story.

Tom: How long can you do that? You talk about the athleticism and athletes only have a certain lifespan — what’s the lifespan of a dancer?

Erika: Depends. [laughs] I would say most people would at least retire by the time they are 40, but some people retire in their twenties or thirties, so it kind of just depends on your life course.

Tom: Your ability and your desire to keep on doing it.

Erika: Mm-hmm.

Tom: Because I would imagine that, like an athlete, there is some pain involved. I would imagine that stiff muscles, torn ligaments, injuries, thinks like that too, right?

Erika: Yeah, there is. It’s not all gruesome and horrible, but there is a certain amount of pain that you just tolerate and put up with, but you also have to be smart and take care of things, take care of your body.

We have a physical therapist who comes and works with us every other week and sees people to try to treat things before they get too far gone because you always have a little something bugging you.

Tom: Sure, yeah. Now let’s talk about this. I just had this weird thought which is not unusual for me. Right now, you’re married and everything, and got your family, but when you’re single and you tell somebody that you’re a dancer.

Erika: Well, you can’t say that. [laughs]

Tom: Yeah, that’s just it! I mean it’s like you’re in college, “Hey what are you?” “I’m a dancer.” “Oh really?” What do you mean you can’t say that?

Erika: Most people, I would always say I’m a ballet dancer.

Tom: Because otherwise they would think you’re working the pole.

Erika: Yeah.

Tom: Yeah, so you’d have to qualify to begin with.

Erika: Mm-hmm.

Tom: Just to make sure they understand. Are there other things? Do people say strange things when they find out you’re a ballet dancer? I can imagine somebody just coming up to you and saying, [indecipherable 0:25:23] , “Oh, I wanted to be a ballerina” or something like that. Do strange things happen as a ballerina dancer?

Erika: I wouldn’t say strange things. There are certain questions we get a lot, like, we’ll do certain performances and do a Q&A after and everybody wants to know what we eat. We always get that one, and people ask how old you are, and I think, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

Tom: Yeah!

Erika: “How old are you? What do you eat?”

Tom: That must be part of it all too though, no? The diet and everything has probably got to be a part of it because you don’t think of fat ballerinas. You’ve really got to watch your figure and your body, right?

Erika: Yeah, you just have to stay in good shape, but if you’re dancing professionally, you’re dancing pretty much daily, so you take class every morning — that’s an hour and a half — then you rehearse all day, and then likely you teach or do something in the evening so you’re burning a lot of calories.

Tom: Does it get tedious? I mean, you say you dance an hour and a half a day working on it. Does it get old and tedious?

Erika: You know…No. Really, it doesn’t. I mean, for me, now, because I have a lot going on too running the company, classes…Unless it’s one of those days where I’ve just got to go out and make a phone call or check for something, it’s the only time of the day where I can focus on class, doing the steps and it’s nice, it’s like the only break I get.

Tom: Is it like a spiritual experience for you to be doing that?

Erika: I don’t know. It’s just something you do as professional dancer as a part of your daily routine. In class, you’re warming up your body and preparing it for the rehearsal day, but in dance, you’re always trying to get better, always trying to improve your technique so you never are just going through…

I mean hopefully the motions, even though you know what’s going on and everything else, you’re always trying to just tweak things and get better, and always watching other dancers, not to say, as you were saying, who is better and this and that. I mean you can watch someone and say, “Oh, God, they have a great jeté,” and say “What are they doing that makes that look so good?” “Oh, I think they’re doing this. I want to try that!” You know, so, kind of a process like that.

Tom: What the hell did you just say? Jelte?

Erika: Jeté. It’s a leap, you know? If someone has a really stellar leap and then you say, “What are they doing that makes that leap so…?”

Tom: Wait, now you see that’s where the whole snooty image comes from. You couldn’t just say leap, you’ve got to say “jeté.”

Erika: Well, the vocabulary of ballet is French.

Tom: I barely speak English so, yeah.

Erika: Really we just saying bend, stretch, leap.

[laughter]

Tom: Jump. OK, cool. What is next for dance itself? Every industry right now is dealing with a changing environment with digital and everything, people’s entertainment, they do it differently. Does that affect dance, or is dance so classical that you don’t have to worry so much about technology, and digital age, and new ways of doing things?

Erika: I think for any industry like you said, there is a lot of competition for peoples time and interest and stuff, so there’s a lot of options out there for people, but I don’t think anything is just going to replace dance.

That’s the neat thing about live theatre, when you go in person and see someone live right in front of your eyes pretty amazing, whether it’s playing a violin solo that you’re like “there’s no way I could ever do that” or you know, a dancer like a girl lifted up above someone’s head and you’re like “Wow, could I do that?” You know?

So, there’s something about it bring together the live audience and the performers and making it all happen in that moment in time that’s pretty cool.

Tom: So, you’re not noticing a change in people’s attitudes like: “I’ve got a high definition TV — I’ll just watch a satellite feed” or something of it? There is still that desire to see it live?

Erika: I know for me, if I watch a video of ballet and I like it, then that’s pretty good, because in person, I would say it’s about ten times better than it is on a video. If you watch a video, it’s going to be relatively boring, in my opinion, compared to the real thing.

Tom: I would agree with you on that. I find that of a lot of things, you know? Completely different sport but women’s volleyball. If you watch it on TV it’s ‘whatever.’ But I’ve been to high level college female volleyball matches and the athleticism and the energy and the activity, it’s an amazing event.

Hockey is the same thing. I love to go to a hockey match, but not watching it on TV. Baseball too, to a large extent. So, you’re saying the same thing — there’s always going to be that need to be there live and see it local?

Erika: Yeah, I think it’s way better.

Tom: I think so too, but I just want to know if you’re noticing any change in the audiences over the years as people end up staring at their cell phones for eight hours a day?

Erika: I don’t think so, as far as that. I think the thing that you hit on — I think, for us, part of my mission is just to share with people that wouldn’t naturally know, or that think, like you said, that it’s some high-brow thing, that it’s actually for everybody.

Tom: Here’s how we’re going to finish this up. Talk to me about this. Right now, someone might be listening to this that has never gone to a ballet, never had the desire to go to a ballet, never really thought about going to a ballet at all. Or, if they did, it was, “Well, it’s Christmastime, my kid wants to see ‘The Nutcracker,’ sure, we’ll go.”

Talk to this person now about what they’re missing by not going to see more dance.

Erika: I don’t know, Tom. That’s a good one. [laughs]

Tom: Well, that’s why I ask the good questions.

Erika: I think it can just be so beautiful. It’s like making a visual, beautiful artwork. I’m not being very eloquent here.

Tom: [laughs]

Erika: What am I trying to say? I don’t know. It brings together the music, the costuming, the lighting, the choreography, the energy of the people. It’s almost like painting the music. I feel like, when I choreograph, bringing that music that you’re hearing to life and you can see it.

Tom: What you’re saying is like looking at a great work of art or painting or something, somebody else might get something else out of it that you don’t get, but it should speak to everybody on some level.

Erika: That’s the cool thing about it — you don’t have to know and have some preconceived notion or understanding. It can speak to you or mean something to you. You can get out of it what you want to get out of it.

Tom: Knowing what you know now, having put together your own ballet company, with all the stuff it took to finally make it successful now — and you’ve been doing it for four years, right? You’re making money at it, or at least, breaking even, you’re not going in the hole.

Knowing what you know now, though, was it worth it?

Erika: Oh, yes! [laughs] Absolutely, but I’m sort of glad I didn’t know exactly what all was in store, because it would probably be too intimidating. I think that’s why we did it and it happened and I didn’t even know exactly what I was in for. But it’s totally worth it.

Tom: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Erika: Yeah! [laughs]

Tom: “Oh, come on! We need a ballet company here in Omaha! Fine, sir, the last one failed!” What do you think you’re doing differently this time than they did the last time?

Erika: That’s a good question. The important thing, the thing that reaches people, is the art. The dance is what inspires people. In order to be able to do that, you have to run the business very well, be very careful with funds and the budget, make good collaborations and connections. I just try to be very thoughtful and careful with all of that.

Then, take a lot of opportunities. We’ve taken a lot of opportunities. People have an idea to collaborate or have some idea, and it’s like, “Well, that’s going to be a lot more work,” but you’ve just got to do it. Don’t let any opportunities pass you by. You’ve just got to jump on those.

[music]

Tom: There you have it, the story of a young woman following her dreams, trying to make things happen, and starting her own ballet troupe. It’s not an easy task, but one that she does enthusiastically and very gladly.

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