Q&A: Carolina Ballet dancer talks dance, motherhood, 'Cinderella'
Posted May 10, 2015
Updated May 11, 2015
Nearly a decade ago, Carolina Ballet premiered artistic director Robert Weiss' version of Cinderella, featuring an orphan, a fairy godmother and a pair of glass slippers. In the role of Cinderella was Lilyan Vigo Ellis, a founding member of the company.
Fast forward a few years and Ellis is now an award-winning dancer. She's created principal parts in new works including Weiss' "Firebird," "Swan Lake," "Beauty and the Beast," along with "Cinderella." She also is the mom of two young boys.
The Carolina Ballet will perform "Cinderella" again, with shows this Thursday through Sunday at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in Raleigh.
Ellis won't be in this production, but she is staying busy, working on other pieces and running after her two sons. I chatted by email with Ellis about motherhood and dance. Here's our conversation.
Go Ask Mom: Tell us about your dancing career. How old were you when you started? What do you love about it?
Lilyan Vigo Ellis: I started dancing at the age of three and have not stopped. I left home at 14 for boarding school to dedicate myself to dancing. I attended hard conservatory for two years and then left to attend and graduate from the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. I wanted to join a company quickly so did my sophomore year and senior year in one. I did correspondence while in school and graduated early. Talk about a crazy hard year. I love everything about dancing and the joy and fulfillment it gives my heart and soul and spirit. So all the sacrifice I have made in my life for dance, it all pays off every time I get to create and rehearse and perform.
GAM: How old are your kids? How long after giving birth did you get back on the stage? How did you get back in shape?
LVE: My sons are Patrick, 5, and Brandon, 8 months. After Patrick was born, I returned to the studio after 6 weeks and was performing on stage after 3 months. Brandon was a home birth - the best experience of my life. I took 8 weeks before returning to the studio (LOL, I was much older) and was performing on stage 5 months after birth. I breastfed Patrick for 5 months and I am currently still breastfeeding Brandon, which helped both times to get back my figure. I kept a very healthy and regular diet and, I would say I exercised, but I didn't have time. I was running around after boys and dancing all day. I don't know how to stay still so I am constantly moving and do take long long walks with my boys. I believe in everything in moderation, so I make a choice to eat healthy. But when my body calls for sweets or a pizza or a huge fried meal, I eat it.
GAM: Has having a child or children changed the way that you think about dance or express yourself through dance?
LVE: Becoming a mother made me a different kind of person, woman and dancer. I never knew I would be a mother because I never knew how to put my career on hold (selfishly) to have a baby. But now I am better at my dancing because of my kids. The time I did have to take off, I missed dancing so much I couldn't wait to get back. And when I did, I just knew you can't do anything in life half way. Being a mother taught me to give 100 percent at all times to everything and all the time. I realize that being a mom takes 100 percent and being a dancer takes 100 percent and being a wife takes 100 percent and being a daughter and sister takes 100 percent, so having my kids made me try harder at being better at everything ... including dancing.
GAM: Where will we see you next? What are you getting ready for?
LVE: Cinderella was choreographed on me and it was a great creative process working with [artistic director] Ricky Weiss and Karl Moraski, the pianist who plays the live music. It was a great memory also because, while choreographing "Cinderella," Dance Magazine wrote an article on me, which was one of the greatest honors. I am not performing it this time around, but I worked with Ricky on Spartacus pas de deux, which is a dream come true to dance to the beautiful music.
GAM: What's your advice for aspiring young dancers (and their moms who are carting them to countless rehearsals!)?
LVE: Never give up and believe that it will all pay off when you are driving your kids around, tired and running around like mad. Dancing is not only beautiful, but it also provides discipline, passion, thrive, grace, coordination, and the contribution of art to this world. Being a mother and a dancer are God's gift to me. I am fortunate to have both.
"Cinderella" is on stage Thursday through Sunday. Tickets start at $35. See our ticket deal for a discount off some tickets for the Thursday and Friday shows.
Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.