As a ballet couple prepares to take their final bow, they’re sharing how the good and the bad that comes with the industry is symbolic to their love story.
Will and Caitlin Smith are Principal Ballet Dancers with the Roanoke Ballet Theater and have been for several years.
“This artform is a form that only lasts for a second,” Will said. “It is kind of like a flame. It can be very beautiful but once it is out, it is out.”
The passion for the art-filled dance started when they both were children.
“I had a friend who did ballet, and she would show her combinations off so I started taking classes and fell in love with it,” Caitlin said. “Though I tried so many things in school, ballet remained the constant for me.”
Will’s story started with an accident.
“I was in Karate,” he said. “They told me if you take ballet it will help you be more flexible and get better at karate. I wanted to be the best, so I took it on. But during the tournament, I kicked a kid in the face and broke his nose and he was bleeding everywhere. I got disqualified. It was a whole thing. After that, I was like I am going to stick to ballet because I don’t hurt people in ballet,” he laughed.
As the two got older, they realized that the industry was a lot challenging in multiple aspects.
“My brother said it best,” Caitlin said. “He was like, ‘If there is anything else you would rather do in your life, do that because it is going to be easier in life.’ He’s an artist too and plays clarinet so I knew the life of an artist was going to be difficult. I knew I wanted to be a dancer and I wanted to go to college and further education more.”
She said auditioning was very hard.
“The ballet world is a very difficult world to get yourself into. Women come one in a million,” she said. “It is very difficult to get a job and you get so many rejections that sometimes you sit there and wonder, ‘Am I good enough? Will I ever get anywhere?’ So, you have to keep working every day towards it hoping and praying that eventually you are going to get in somewhere and hopefully it is going to be your home.
Will said the personalities in ballet can be an obstacle.
“I had to work for a lot of crazy people,” he said. “You think, ‘Ballet world! Everyone has it put together!’ and almost nobody does. It is difficult working with different temperaments and personalities. I had a director throw a chair at me because I was off a count by half a count. You must work with all these personalities. You have to have a thick skin. That was hard for me because I was such a shy kid and I think ballet helped me because it can be so individualistic too.”
While navigating the industry young adults, Will and Caitlin were introduced to each other through a mutual friend.
“I was dancing in a company in Northern Virginia,” Will said. “It is always good to have a constant partner to work with and I didn’t have one, so I had a friend from college who was possibly looking for a job. I thought she was great and that we could partner. That girl happened to know Caitlin.”
“So, she ended up deciding to stay where she was and she told me that she knew this guy in Northern Virginia and they were looking for someone so I went and auditioned and was able to get a job there. Two weeks in, we met and then started dating.”
They say it was early on when they realized that they were partnering with the love of their lives.
“He was very kind,” Caitlin said. “I know that is probably weird to say but in the ballet world, that is hard to come by and just being there, everyone knew Will and how friendly he was. That is a very good quality for someone to have.”
“She was a very strong individual and I can appreciate that,” Will said. “Sometimes in this industry, it can beat you down but with Cait, she is just so strong. The first time we were sitting in her car together, she was playing country music. I hate country music with a passion, and I told her. And she said, ‘Well, I’m driving.’ For some reason that was the most attractive thing someone has ever said to me and I kind of knew from that moment on.”
The two ended up getting married in 2015 which intensified the love they both had for ballet.
They even had a child in 2020 right as the pandemic hit.
They said being so closely linked helped them during their partnering performances.
“Having someone in your life who knows exactly what you are going through every day is what really helped us connect because we could really understand exactly what the other person’s day had been like,” Caitlin said.
“The more we work together and live together, I know when she is having a bad day and there are things, I might do to help her in rehearsal,” Will said. “We know If our three-year-old woke one of us up in the middle of the night how we need to push the other. It is an amazing thing to be able to do this line of work and then go home and be together.”
“We’ve definitely had our moment,” Caitlin said. “If you have had a bad rehearsal day, you want to take it out on your partner, and it is easier when your partner is your husband because you don’t have to be as polite. You are like, ‘What was that!’ But as we have grown in our relationship, we have learned to hold back and treat each other like partners in a friendly way and work together in that type of relationship.”
Will and Caitlin have made a major impact in the Commonwealth’s performing arts community. They have performed together in countless shows and even demonstrated how to balance a life of ballet with life as parents.
“When I was pregnant, I would still rehearse,” Caitlin said. “It was scary for me at first because I was the first ballet momma. I was in a way paving the way for other mothers who we currently have now. There were a lot of unknowns of how long you can dance and then come back. Ballet is very physical, and our body is our instrument. Still to this day, our daughter comes with us twice a week, but it has totally changed our way of life.”
“Having a kid very much so put you outside of yourself,” Will said. “Ballet is a huge part of our lives, and we are very happy to dance. Our daughter brings so much happiness to our lives. She is even taking her first dance class which is terrifying because I don’t know if I can handle that,” he laughed. “She’s adorable.”
“I think it helped us appreciate dancing even more,” Caitlin added. “It brought us so much joy. I know I changed the way I dance.”
Like several ballet dancers, Will and Caitlin both have picked up extra jobs to afford a living.
Will owns his own tree removal company and Caitlin works as a Pilates instructor.
They would say balancing all of that, life has not been easy.
“You go through a lot of ups and downs,” Caitlin said. “One of us is dancing more than the other or one of us doesn’t dance as much as the other. It brought a lot of challenges, but those challenges have made our relationship better.”
“Ballet equipped us with a lot of the tools to make this relationship work,” Will added. “We practice ballet every day. and a relationship is the same. You have to practice being a husband and wife. And it is very imperfect. We make it work. We roll with the punches because the show must go on.”
The couple said it is all more than worth it.
“It brings us so much joy and we just want to share that with our audience to feel what we are feeling and as a couple and partnership we excel in that,” Will said.
“We are husband and wife it makes it easier for us to connect and share with the audience and it brings us some of the greatest joy,” Caitlin said.
For one last time, the couple will be able to share that joy with their audiences June 10 at 2:00 p.m. at the Jefferson Center before they take their final bow as lead roles in Gisselle.
It is a decision they made together and one that didn’t come easily.
“We just knew we wanted to end on our own terms rather than a director or someone telling us that we should stop dancing,” Will said. “I feel like we are at the top of our careers at this point.”
They do expect the experience to be more emotional than any performance they’ve ever done before.
“I and expecting a lot of tears but joy too that will come with it,” Caitlin said.
“It will be grieving part of ourselves we won’t have again,” Will said. “Our identity is so wrapped up in this. People at church look at us as the ballet couple. Who will be after this? I think that brings some joy because we get a second chapter and second chapter at who are we going to be, and we get to make that story up as we go.”
The next step for the Smiths is to spend more time being a family with normal lives.
“Do what brings you great joy with the person who brings you great joy because you will have what you need in life,” Caitlin said.
“Love is a choice, and it is a choice you make every day. It takes work but the work is worth it in the end because you can make a great show.”