Amanda Weingarten is from Palm Harbor, Florida. She trained at SAB, the Classical Ballet Training Program, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Florida Ballet School. In 2004, she joined MCB as a Company Apprentice and was promoted to Soloist in 2010.
Q. Where did you train?
I trained at the Florida Ballet School. It was a small studio in Palm Harbor that was run by Ronnie Wright, Mary Devine and Daniel Deal. They were my three main teachers before I went to the Classical Ballet Training Program with Haydee Gutierez. Later I trained at the School of American Ballet in New York. SAB put the finishing touches on my dancing to make me company-ready.
Q. What years were you at SAB?
I was there from 2003-2004 and attended their summer program for three years leading up until then.
Q. You were the proverbial small town girl in the big city?
I’ve always loved New York and took in every square inch of it that I could when I was there with SAB. It was the first time I experienced a winter having come from Florida!
Q. When did you realize you wanted to be a professional dancer?
It’s a funny story really. I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer when I was three years old. I was in the audience with my mom watching George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker performed by Miami City Ballet at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater Florida. I saw the beauty of the dancers, how elegantly they moved and how one with the music they seemed to be, and that’s when I decided that this was what I was going to do. I would dance around my house trying to persuade my mom to buy me lessons for several years until finally, when I was five, she arranged for me to begin ballet lessons with a small studio nearby. I am so grateful for all of the wonderful teachers that I had the privilege to learn from and for the many scholarships and opportunities that were provided for me. Regardless of the talent a young dancer may have, it is the special attention of her instructor that has the potential to take an interested ballerina into someone who can pursue it professionally.
Q. What’s the most exciting moment for you as a dancer?
I enjoy especially beautiful music when it is paired insightfully with the choreography. That’s what I love about dancing. When you pair the music and the body as an instrument together and create something even more beautiful than either could be alone.
Q. What’s your typical day like as a professional dancer?
I wake up at 7:15, a couple of minutes before my alarm (always, unfortunately). I have my breakfast and devotional time before I arrive at work about an hour early to warm up. Class begins at 10:00 AM and is almost always taught by our Artistic Director, Edward Villella. Then I have rehearsals from 11:30 -2:30 and again from 3:30-6:30 after lunch. When we’re performing, Friday, Saturday and Sundays work out differently. We start a little bit later but also finish around 11:30 at night.
Q. How many shows do you do on a weekend?
I perform four shows per weekend (Friday night, Saturday matinee, Saturday evening, and Sunday matinee.) Sometimes, as with The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet, I perform five shows per weekend with an added evening show on Sunday.
Q. What’s it like on a Saturday when you do two shows?
“Double hitters” make our day really long! Occasionally, if there are different casts, I could perform one ballet in the afternoon and a different ballet in the evening but with a company the size of ours, I usually perform the same ballet in the evening. Now that we have live music, every show is different and unique. It’s always a surprise and keeps things new and exciting.
Q. What’s your biggest challenge as a dancer?
That’s a good question. I think one of my biggest challenges has been to not allow myself to be type-casted into a particular type of dancer. It’s a lot more fun to spend your career dancing all sorts of roles and not always the same general type of role. I typically am given the lengthy, elongated roles as opposed to the fast, turning girl roles because the elongated roles are more natural for my body. It’s a goal of mine to be able to do the quick, fast ballets that my body doesn’t necessarily do easily. But it’s something I have to work hard for.
Q. What’s an example of a fast turning role?
Right now the company is working on Tarantella Pas de Deux. It’s a ballet for just a man and a woman but it’s probably one of the most athletic ballets for a principal girl. Tarantella is a part that Id love to be able to work toward and prove to myself that I am capable of.
Q. What’s an example of a lengthy, long body girl role?
I was given the opportunity to do the Mauve Girl in Dances at a Gathering which is a beautiful ballet. The Mauve Girl has a lot of beautiful long, extended movements. Also the first principal part I was ever given was the Dark Angel in Serenade which was by far my favorite ballet to perform. I danced the Dark Angel on tour in Vail, Colorado at the Vail International Dance Festival. We were performing at an outdoor amphitheater and it was no more than forty degrees outside so we were all freezing! The Dark Angel gets to wear her hair down and do beautiful arabesque promenades, so dancing it feels so luxurious!
Q. But you’ve reached a decision to leave the ballet.
Yes, after spending seven years dancing professionally with the Miami City Ballet, I’ve decided to retire after our tour to Paris. There are so many things that I want to do throughout the course of my life and I feel that now is the right time. I’ll be attending Fordham University in the fall, beginning as a junior. While I’ve been dancing with the company I’ve been taking online college courses so I have a general idea of what the next couple of years will look like. I’ll be pursuing my undergraduate degree in social work and then I intend on going to law school. I will definitely miss my company and all of the incredible people and dancers I have met along the way. There’s a lot to miss.
Q. How did law school become a goal of yours?
I’ve had a lot of thought abut this. For the last two years I’ve been involved with several organizations that work to end human sex trafficking, a form of modern day slavery. This social justice issue has become a huge passion of mine even to the point of having a series of dreams related to this crime. One of the organizations that I volunteer for called Stop Child Trafficking Now needed help for their annual walkathon so I volunteered to be the Miami Ambassador and organized a walkathon in Miami Beach. This issue of ending modern day slavery is just so big and so dire that I felt that I just couldn’t continue living my life unaffected without being a part of it. I couldn’t rationalize living my life the same way, knowing all of the things that I had learned while organizing the walk, so it kind of took over. I’ve decided that studying law in order to be able to prosecute the pimps and johns is the best route for me to take. It is the way that I see myself making my mark on helping end the slave trade.
Q. Some people think the life of a ballerina is the life of a slave.
People do think that at times, but it’s a huge over-exaggeration. I love what I do and there’s so much glamour involved. Occasionally, there’s no glamour and only sweat and tears, but on stage with all the lights and makeup and everyone’s watching you, it’s clear that I’d be crazy to complain.
Q. Is anyone in your family a lawyer?
No, I would be the first lawyer in my family.
Q. How do you think your dance background will help you in your legal career?
I knew I wanted to be a dancer when I was three and here I am, seven years into my professional career having reached that goal. I’m very happy with everything I’ve accomplished and all the opportunities I’ve been given. I’ve experienced the process of taking something that is only still a dream and watching it turn into reality by perseverance and hard work, and I really feel that this is my next calling. I took karate when I was younger as well and I learned how to focus power and force and turn it into something honorable. Through ballet, I have learned discipline and perseverance, so I really feel like my background has prepared me for this next step in my life.
Q. There’s also the pressure aspect. Lawyers have to perform under pressure and as a dancer you’re certainly experienced with that.
I like that aspect of law. Some people go into practicing law wanting to avoid trial, but I think I’ll enjoy it because I know what it’s like to prepare for something of high intensity. If it were just spontaneous inquiries being thrown at me I think I may be a little intimidated but I will do my best to be completely prepared and create the best scenario for my client.
Q. Are you going to continue dancing in any way?
I intend on staying in shape and continuing taking class here and there. New York is such a great place to find ballet classes. I’m sure I’ll never be able to stop dancing entirely and I don’t really want to. Dancing has given me the ability to express myself artistically so I don’t’ want to just cut off that part of my life.
Q. Have you thought of going into entertainment law?
I want to go to law school because I want to achieve justice for victims. That’s the only reason. I never previously wanted to be a lawyer in my life. I really just want to work for justice for people who don’t necessarily have a voice or who are too afraid to say anything without legal counsel and protection.
Q. Here are some questions inspired somewhat by your legal aspirations—I understand that all ballet dancers are signed to one year contracts.
Q. When do you find out whether your contract is renewed or not?
The deadline is February 15th for us to receive our new contract. If anyone is not going to be rehired, they would know by February 1st.
Q. Is that very traumatic? Incredibly anxiety producing or does everyone just take for granted that everyone is going to be rehired.
Each company works a little bit differently and in our company, as this is the only company I’ve really known, you have a good idea whether or not you’ll be rehired even early on in the year. If a dancer feels that they may be let go, they can always go and talk to our artistic director about it or our ballet mistresses to see if there’s anything they can work on in order to improve.
Q. What does the person do who knows they have to apply for other dance jobs?
Dancers who are not rehired can start submitting their resumes and videos to all of the other companies that they like. On days off, they go and audition with those companies.
Q. As a subscriber, it’s always a little disturbing to come to the first ballet in the fall and open the playbook and flip through the pictures of the company and find some dancers are not there—without a word or a note. They’re just gone.
Unfortunately, there’s not usually a write up on a dancer that has been let go as it is not usually a very glamorous thing.
Q. Even dancers like yourself who are leaving on your own to pursue something else…How long have you been here?
Q. Maybe for some long time principal dancers, there’s a celebration. But for most, there’s nothing.
This is a professional business. All of us are very easily replaced. We have about 50 dancers in the company and we could easily replace all of us and create a brand new company. That’s the difficult thing about a ballet career. There are so many girls who want to do it and grow up working towards it. That’s where the real story is, I think. A girl who starts when she’s three and who trains every day, very hard, wanting to be a professional ballerina. If no companies accept her, then she has to start all over. She’s eighteen but in her mind she’s already failed at something. To me that’s more tragic than opening a Playbill and not seeing a dancer who you used to watch.
Q. Do any principal dancers have longer contracts?
No. Everyone has the same length of a contract.
Q. What do dancers do in those long breaks between programs?
In our company, we don’t usually have layoffs until the summer and during that time I’ll go home to see my family or now that I’m married I’ll spend time with my husband in New York. A couple of summers ago, two other dancers and I took a trip to Europe for three weeks and experienced France, Switzerland and Italy just for fun. At the end of the season, the dancers scatter to all over the world. They all tend to other aspects of their lives. I personally like to take ballet classes during the layoff to stay in shape in between studying for tests for school.
Q. I read in another interview, your inspiration during your ballet career was Jesus Christ. Has this carried over to law?
Yes, I have been praying about this life change for a good long year. I’ll be moving from a career that I’ve pursued and loved for over twenty years to something entirely different, but I feel peace from God and I feel called by God. I know that I’m not alone doing this and I know that the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, says repeatedly that God desires justice for the oppressed. He desires us to walk in his ways and his heart has always been about justice, so it’s not like I’m going out on a limb and trying to bring freedom to people by myself. I really do feel that God is behind this and he wants to bring people to freedom.
Q. Are you going to Paris this summer with the company?
Yes, Paris will be my grand finale!
Q. You mentioned that your husband is in New York City.
He’s a pastor in New York City. We met in 2004 after he had just finished his ministry training. We were attending the same non-denominational Christian church, Morning Star NY.
Q. If you could dance with any company, where would you like to dance?
I would want to dance anywhere Balanchine is danced. I love George Balanchine’s choreography the best. It is within his style that I have been trained and that’s how my body works and moves. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to be with the Miami City Ballet. It’s known for its strong Balanchine repertoire.
Q. What about European ballet companies? They obviously do Balanchine. Do they do Balanchine as much as American companies?
Not as much. In most European companies, the dancers aren’t trained under the Balanchine style so the way that they interpret one of his ballets may be different than what we do in Miami.
Q. Are you doing Balanchine in Paris?
Yes. We are bringing eighteen different ballets to Paris and about ten of them are Balanchine Ballets.
Q. Is it difficult to go to Europe and dance with a European company?
I would imagine it’s difficult. I have a handful of friends who have danced in American companies and then moved onto European companies. Usually, it takes a little adjusting and sometimes there is a language barrier. A dancer who takes this route would have to learn and adjust to the way their new company is run as it may be entirely different than an American company. I haven’t experienced that first hand but I would imagine it could be quite difficult.
Q. Some principal dancers seem to have a career not only dancing with their own company but traveling the world dancing with other companies. How does that work?
That depends on the company that the dancer is in at the time. I know in our company, Edward Villella has specifically said he doesn’t want to create stars. He wants to create a company that the audience comes to see as a whole. Other companies sometimes will elevate one or two dancers and turn them into stars and then those dancers have the name and reputation to go other places and represent the company.
Q, And do they make a bunch of money from that?
Usually that will provide a good income.
Q. Have any good motivational quotes?
Susan Pillar, one of the teachers at SAB, says “there’s plenty of time to rest when you’re dead!” I think of that when I’m getting really tired during a ballet. Remembering her saying this always makes me smile and helps me to keep going. Another source of inspiration of mine is Suzanne Farrell’s book Holding Onto The Air. I’ve underlined practically the whole book because so much of what she has to say is inspiring to me as a dancer. I had the privilege of being her assistant when she set Balanchine’s Don Quixote in Toronto in 2004. During the rehearsals, she would whisper to me all of her corrections and ideas for her dancers so that I could jot them down and quote them back to her later. It was such a beautiful and educational experience for me.
Q. Do you have any advice for young dancers?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it (not even yourself)! Work harder than you thought possible and soak in all of the good advice of your ballet teachers. Always be willing to improve and be true to yourself.
You can also check out Amanda and the other Miami City Ballet dancers on the Miami City Ballet website by clicking here: http://www.miamicityballet.org/dancers.php
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