Ballerina Wendy Whelan comes to OCC

Former New York City Ballet principle dancer Wendy Whelan spoke recently to aspiring dancers at Orange Coast College.

Preparing her pointe shoes, putting her ballerina bun up and high, and putting on an iconic body suit are all things that came to an end when Wendy Whelan retired from the New York City Ballet five years ago.

Whelan was appointed as the ballet’s associate artistic director alongside the new artistic director Jonathan Stafford in February. The ballet’s former artistic director Peter Martins resigned after accusations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse.

Whelan is the first woman to have a permanent leadership role on the artistic side at the ballet. Considering that ballerinas are more prominent than male dancers, it’s shocking that the ballet has never had women in artistic leadership roles.

Whelan came to speak to aspiring Orange Coast College student ballet dancers and admirers on Oct. 20 at the Robert B. Moore Theatre.

I grew up pliéing and studying the beautiful art form of ballet, so I practically pirouetted out of my seat when I heard Whelan was coming to OCC. I had to be there in the front row, soaking up all the wisdom she has.

The artist talk was set up as if you were watching Ellen interviewing guests, two seats across each other, table set in front of them with waters. Whelan spoke and was interviewed by OCC Dance Chair Rachel Berman.

Whelan answered previously submitted questions from audience members, however the audience was also able to ask live questions.

Whelan is considered one of the world’s leading dancers and spoke of the trials and tribulations she had growing up dancing and throughout her ballet career.

As a child Whelan was diagnosed with scoliosis, which is the sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. Whelan said that being in full body casts didn’t stop her from dancing.

Whelan credits her former ballet teachers who pushed her to keep coming to dance class even if she couldn’t move a finger. With this drive, Whelan was able to push through her condition to become the amazing dancer she is.

Whelan went on to speak about her successful career dancing and how working with top choreographers has been a dream come true. She’s gotten older and has retired from dancing for the ballet but isn’t anywhere near stopping, with the 2016 release of the “Restless Creature” dance documentary on Netflix and a current dance tour with very few days of rest.

Whelan had been in Los Angeles performing on Oct. 18 and 19, came to chat at OCC on the 20th and left immediately for New York where she had performances scheduled next week.

I was truly in awe of this inspirational woman who not only has pushed past the adversity against her but is leading the way and opening doors for other women.

Whelan said she has hired the New York City Ballet’s first-ever black woman choreographer and while she refused to spoil the goods, Whelan said to keep our eyes open for her debut in March.

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