Next Halloween might find Ballerina Regina Willoughby in a brand new role: handing out candy to trick-or-treaters instead of frightening Columbia’s audience as Lucy, a vampire in Columbia City Ballet’s annual production of Dracula: Ballet with a Bite. In a recent interview, I asked her about balancing family and holidays, even Christmastime, which in the ballet world is synonymous with Nutcracker season.
“We were never really big on Santa,” she said. “We gave gifts and did a tree. It was a mad dash during the last week.” For years, Regina relied on her biggest fan: her husband Jason, who works in law enforcement and is currently teaching at the criminal justice academy. Their two daughters are now in college (though one also dances in the company as an apprentice). Regina remembers Jason escorting his girls dressed in homemade Halloween costumes. One year there was Tomb Raider Lara Croft. Another year, Pippy Longstocking. Once Jason had to call from the hospital when a daughter had appendicitis. Regina never missed a show.
This coming year will be different. Regina retires after Saturday’s two performances of Cleopatra. The shows are at 1:30 PM and 5:30 PM Saturday, March 24, 2018. Plenty of family will be in attendance, including a few aunts, uncles, and cousins coming from Texas and Colorado. Some have never seen Regina dance.
We talked about how exciting this weekend will be but also about special moments in her career and her future plans.
Regina favorite ballet costume was worn portraying Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She felt regal in its flowing green chiffon. She’s not a big fan of the classic short tutu, though she owns one. It was especially made for her to dance as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. Costumes aside, Regina’s best day on the job was the lead in Romeo and Juliet. To describe her magical time in this tragic role, Regina said, “The music started and I blinked my eyes and the curtain went down. The music carried me throughout.”
Dancing enchanted roles for so many years came with sacrifices. Too many friends got married at weddings she couldn’t attend. There was little time for gardening and travel. Regina is looking forward to these things, but also to skydiving and snow-skiing, risky activities that might have jeopardized her career. She has already signed up for summer sailing lessons. Yet, the biggest change can be summed up in a single word: Saturday. The life of a professional ballet dancer at Columbia City Ballet generally includes Saturday rehearsals from 11 – 7.
Of course, Regina isn’t giving up on dance. She opened a dance studio ten years ago and will continue teaching most evenings. She hopes to find more performing opportunities for her students and will consider character roles for herself, parts that don’t require pointe shoes. She will also have more time to reconnect with dancers and friends who have retired before her. I reached out to some and asked for well wishes and fond memories. The responses are below and in the comments.
“Regina is the epitome of beauty and strength. She completely immersed herself into each role she danced. It was so inspiring to work with her every day. A wonderful example of a Prima Ballerina.” Laura Lunde, Ballet Tucson
“Regina is an absolute professional on stage and in the studio. She possesses a certain level of integrity and warmth that every dancer in the studio couldn't help but admire.” Emily Carrico, Atlanta Ballet
“It was a pleasure sharing the stage with Regina for several years! Notably our performance of Cleopatra was an unforgettable process and I am honored that I had that awesome opportunity early in my career. Love you dearly and I wish you the best in your retirement! Love, William Moore Jr.” Former soloist with both Columbia Classical and City Ballets and former dancer with Rochester City Ballet
“I had the amazing privilege of working with Regina Willoughby in 2011 when we performed as guest artists for Carlos Agudelo at Ballet Spartanburg. It was an opportunity to not only witness Regina's incredible physicality and work ethic but her humbleness, joy, kindness, and enthusiasm in the studio and on stage. Working with Regina pushed me artistically and inspired me greatly at that time. I felt I needed to work much harder to achieve what she did/does so effortlessly. Regina embodies movement and delivers exquisite soul-filled performances. Since that time I have not worked with a more open, generous and pure spirit. Thank you Regina for all of your years and investment. Our time together was truly memorable.” Carolyn Bolton, Rambert Dance Company, London England
“If there’s anything I can say about Regina is that her talent it’s only matched by her wonderful and kind and loving personality. The last time I danced with her, I asked her to join me for a Nutcracker guesting appearance in Florida. We had absolutely amazing time. She’s incredible in every way and a beautiful person in and out.” Norbert Nirewicz, freelance dancer