Ballet used to be boring for Carolyn Judson, who quit lessons as a child and only took it back up, begrudgingly, when her jazz teacher recommended ballet to improve her technique. But it wasn’t until she saw “The Nutcracker” that she realized she not only loved the dance — she wanted to perform for a living.
The dream came true — Judson is now in her 16th season performing with Texas Ballet Theater in “The Nutcracker,” playing at Bass Performance Hall throughout December. It’s one of several dream roles she’s checked off her list, which includes performing as Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” to Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake.”
And while it is a dream job, Judson admits that life as a ballerina can be, well, a little nuts.
Q. What’s your daily schedule like?
A. We have class starting at 9 a.m., and we get there a little before that to start warming up our bodies. Then we have three hours, we have a 15-minute break after class, then we have three hours of rehearsal, one-hour lunch break and then three more hours. So, we finish at 5:45.
Q. What’s the most challenging part of ballet that most people don’t see?
A. Sitting in the audience and looking up at the stage, you don’t see as much of the sweat, you don’t hear the heavy breathing, you don’t see the men’s muscles as they’re lifting women over their heads. These are amazing feats, but we do our best to camouflage those and make it look fluid and effortless. That’s the other thing — we work, we perform on stage and then you go into the wings, and that’s where you die. [laughs]
Q. Have you ever dealt with injury, and if so, how were you able to tackle it?
A. The worst injury I had was a lower back injury that nobody could pinpoint. I ended up almost taking an entire season off for it to rest and heal, which is actually how I found Gyrotonic. It helped me rehab and made me fall in love with it. That’s actually why I teach it today. It was because of that, that I was able to change the way I moved and change my technique to prevent that back injury from happening again. I haven’t had a problem since.
Q. What’s your favorite moment during “The Nutcracker”?
A. This is difficult because “The Nutcracker,” as a whole, means so much to me. I remember watching it as a child myself and thinking, This is unbelievable! The dancers, the costumes, the sets, the Christmas — it was like everything wrapped up into one beautiful, sparkly ball. So now, getting to be on the other side of it, I feel that warmth and excitement that all the children are experiencing in the audience every time we step on stage.
Q. You have a 2-year-old daughter of your own, Evelyn. Has she seen you dance yet?
A. Sort of … She does not sit still. Just last weekend, I performed at my sister’s — my sister is a director at a ballet school in Houston — and I guested for it, and Evie was in the audience for the first time with Justin [Carolyn’s husband, who’s also the company manager at Texas Ballet Theater]. As the lights came on, she said, “Mama!” Then when I left, she said, “No go, Mama!” Then, when I talked to Justin, I was like, “So, she sat and watched me?” And he was like, “No.” She was apparently running, but she was taking it in, right?
Q. What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you onstage?
A. In “Romeo and Juliet” one time, the very beginning of the iconic pas de deux, where they fall in love, my partner drags me back and he tripped on my foot and we both fell onstage. It was absolutely horrible because then you have to get up and keep going. You can’t be like, “Can we start over?” You have to go and continue feeling love and hope that everyone forgot by the end.
Q. Whenever you have a job like being a ballerina — one of those jobs that many young people dream about but not everyone gets to do — what does it take to be able to make it?
A. You have to give up a lot of things. You give up a lot of your social life — what are the consequences of me staying out too late? I have to work tomorrow. I have to be physically active. I have to be able to produce in the studio every single day. If you don’t 100 percent really love it, then those sacrifices are going to be harder to make.
So I would say that, number one, and just being open to how you fit into that world. This ballerina, Janie Parker, she is stunning; she is the most amazing ballerina. I will never look like her; and I think there is a moment when you think, That’s how I want to be, that’s how I’m going to be if I work hard enough, I will look like that. And then you realize, well, my legs and feet weren’t shaped that way ... I have to find my own way. That’s really important because, otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for disappointments. We’re all unique, and we can all be special in this world. You just have to find your own path.
1. Peppermint essential oil. Carolyn says she uses essential oils for everything. Peppermint, for example, helps you wake up.
2. What to Expect the Second Year by Heidi Murkoff. Comes in handy as Carolyn raises a 2-year-old.
3. Sugar Plum Fairy dress.
4. Family photo. Carolyn with her daughter, Evelyn, and husband, Justin.
5. Pointe shoes.
6. Hair pins. Carolyn has a full compartment box of them.
7. Leg warmers. A present from her sister.
8. Sugar Plum Fairy tiara.
9. Wedding and engagement rings. Carolyn’s husband is the ballet’s company manager.