Worthy Convos: Carolyn Judson on Retiring
Often described as bringing magic to the stage, company dancer Carolyn Judson is hanging up her pointe shoes after 19 years with Texas Ballet Theater.
What started as a typical after school activity unexpectedly turned into a journey that led Judson to train at the Houston Ballet Academy before securing a spot with the reputable TBT. Though she has performed in numerous coveted roles throughout her almost two-decade career, Judson is looking forward to focusing on her favorite role: being a mom of two. The ballerina’s final performance will be A Midsummer’s Night Dream, May 6-8 and May 20-22, where she will play the beautiful Titania, queen of the fairies. Patrons are invited to celebrate Judson’s reign. Tickets are available for purchase online.
You lived out every young girl’s dream of becoming a ballerina when you grew up. How did your life in dance come about?
I know! I’m so lucky! I joke that saying I’m a ballerina is like saying I’m a unicorn. It just doesn’t seem like a real job! My mom put me in ballet at age 3, but I didn’t last long- I got bored! In 3rd grade a friend wanted to take jazz classes with me so I did that and enjoyed it. My jazz teacher suggested I start taking ballet to help with my jazz skills and when she moved away, I continued with ballet classes, but never really saw myself doing it for any other reason than an after-school activity. After seeing kids in the Sacramento Ballet’s Nutcracker, I realized I had more of an interest, and I wanted to audition the next year. I got cast as Clara and that will forever be one of the best experiences I’ve had on stage. I started training more and more after that and went away for summer intensives and even ended up completing my senior year of high school remotely as I trained year-round at the Houston Ballet Academy, but I still was pretty sure I’d go to college and get a “real job” after that. It wasn’t until I met Ben Stevenson while training in Houston and saw his ballets that I decided to audition for professional ballet jobs, and specifically, for Texas Ballet Theater where Ben Stevenson moved after working for Houston Ballet. Nineteen years later, I can say with certainty that that was the best decision I’ve ever made.
What has dance taught you?
Dance has taught me so much. How to push myself; how to be disciplined. It’s taught me that I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be and it’s made me take risks that have led me to see new places in the world, make the deepest friendships, and even meet and marry my husband! As an introvert who is naturally socially pretty awkward, dance has given me a way to communicate with others and even find myself without having to speak. I’m so lucky to have found this artform. I can’t imagine who I’d be if I hadn’t become a dancer.
Looking across your career, is there a particular moment or performance that defined you?
Honestly, maybe The Nutcracker! It was the ballet that sparked my interest in the first place, and it was the ballet that I got my first opportunity to dance a principal role at Texas Ballet Theater. My first performances were not great! But, every year since then, I’ve gotten to perform The Nutcracker and every year I’ve gotten to improve upon the previous year. I feel like I’ve grown with every opportunity to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy. It’s a very special role to me.
Some people see retirement as an endless vacation and others see it as a time to pursue another interest. How will you approach it?
I hope that when I’m in my 70s and 80s I’ll see retirement as vacation! It’s funny that dancers “retire” at relatively young ages and most of us are left with this hollow feeling of “now what?” Dance has been not only what I do, but also my identity for most of my life. Even though I’ve made this decision to retire, I’m terrified about what I’ll be or who I’ll be when I’m not a professional dancer anymore. But I’m really looking forward to my next chapter, which will revolve around my kids. For about 6 years I’ve been juggling my awesome job and my awesome kids and while on the one hand I could say I’ve got it all, on the other hand I was just never in either place as much as I wanted to be. Now that my oldest is going to kindergarten, I’m looking forward to getting to pick her up after school, help her with her homework, have time with my youngest while he’s still so little and then teach Gyrotonic and be a health coach on the side so I can keep my other interests going. And so that I can talk to adults sometimes!
What advice do you have for young dancers?
I think the hardest part about being a dancer is trying not to compare yourself to other dancers. We’re surrounded by mirrors all the time, taught to critique ourselves and, in turn, we all start critiquing others and then the competition starts, no matter how friendly that competition is. It’s so important to step outside of the ballet bubble and see our own worth and our own truths. I hope that in the work that the world is doing for mental health, we can continue to encourage ourselves and our friends and co-workers to find our own authentic selves. To dance more genuinely and more confidently, and with so much joy and gratitude.
Is there anything you won’t miss?
Oh goodness, I need to make myself a list so that I can read it when I miss ballet. Yes!
- Foot pain from wearing pointe shoes
- Pain in general and having to push through it to be able to rehearse or perform
- The stress of not being able to go to work and be there for my partners because one of my kids is sick
- Telling family and friends that I can’t be at their weddings or graduations or funerals because I have a show
- Trying to pirouette – haha!
Although she prefers burnt orange to purple, Hannah Bush is happy to call Fort Worth her new home. She began freelance writing a few years ago to break up the monotony of her 9 to 5, and to prove to her parents that she’s making good use of her journalism degree. When she’s not hanging out with her cat, Hannah can likely be found on a patio with her husband, talking about her cat.