Artistic practice has a centering effect of artists of all disciplines and all skill levels. This month, let’s get to know ballet dancer Carrie Cassidy. Carrie shares with us how ballet has served as a balancing force throughout her life- during her time in ROTC and active duty Air Force, as a military spouse, and now as a new mother…
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a member of the Air Force, as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Carrie Cassidy: Well, let’s start at the beginning….I grew up in Los Angeles, CA and eventually spent my high school years in the Washington DC area. In 2005, I commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force after completing the ROTC program at the University of Arizona. My husband and I met while in school and went through ROTC together. We were friends and colleagues together for many years before getting married, however. I completed Undergraduate Navigator Training and began flying in C-130 cargo aircraft. I’ve been on several deployments and lived in San Antonio, TX; Little Rock, AR; Albuquerque, NM; Destin, FL; Montgomery, AL; and most recently North Carolina. My husband and I got married in 2012 and spent 3 years flying together before I separated from the Air Force in 2015.
MilspoFAN: How did you become a dancer and what role does dance play in your life now?
Carrie Cassidy: I actually began dancing at a young age but eventually became interested in other activities and sports. When I was in school at the University of Arizona, I found a local gymnastics class where I could do tumbling. I had always wanted to tumble again after quitting gymnastics. I was so excited about it HOWEVER, the next day I couldn’t stand up because my back was in spasm. So, my roommate Jamie who was a classically trained ballet dancer said “Honey, I think you’re done. Your body is telling you that you’re done with gymnastics.” She suggested that I come to ballet class with her since it would be a great way to cross train for all of the physical activity I was doing in ROTC. I fell in love with ballet all over again. Not only was I able to really build lean muscle but I was also building stamina.
For many years, dancing became my outlet. While I was active duty and flying all of the time, it was something that I would look toward to break up the monotony of the week. Ballet is also such a different activity from my everyday life. When I would get to the studio, put my pointe shoes on and start my first barre combination, I actually felt like I could explore a side of myself that I didn’t often get to because of the nature of my job.
Flying the type of missions we flew made you have to steel yourself against a lot of factors; the heat, hunger, fatigue and emotional stress to name a few. Being able to attend class was a way that I could let my personality soften a little bit. Now, that Is not to say that dancers do not have to compartmentalize pain, fatigue, etc…but it is in a different way. Eventually, I plan on going back to school to study physical therapy and focus on dancers and athletes.
MilspoFAN: Tell us about your artistic style and your work in dance.
Carrie Cassidy: After separating from active duty, I was so fortunate to find opportunities with The Montgomery Ballet Company in Montgomery, Alabama. In addition to teaching, I was able to train and take class with the professional company, and eventually, I became the operations manager for the professional school associated with The Montgomery Ballet Company. What an experience! As an older dancer (i.e. I’m not 20 anymore) I was able to learn so much about living life as a professional dancer. I was even on contract to dance for a few months during Nutcracker season. It was such a challenge but I learned so much from the Artistic Directors and other dancers about what it really takes to be able to perform 6 shows in 3 days. It’s exhausting and I only experienced a small glimpse of what dancers go through when they are performing 120 shows in 6 weeks.
Additionally, I was really able to learn a lot about myself as a dancer. I am a firm believer in hard work, discipline, and tenacity when training in ballet. It is an art that always chases perfection but I believe the beauty and artistic value is in the imperfection. It is also a lifelong pursuit…like with any style of art, dancers work hard to constantly refine their skills.
MilspoFAN: When you were active duty were you still able to pursue dance?
Carrie Cassidy: Moving around the country was a challenge in itself. I was fortunate to find a place to dance at every duty station. I have danced in Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, Maryland and North Carolina. Some of the classes were not as challenging as I would have liked, or the studio was small but I learned that it did not matter. As long as I was in class and working hard, I found that I could find different ways to challenge myself despite the difficulty of the class.
MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
Carrie Cassidy: Most of the time, it’s just luck. I meet other dancers usually through the schools where I take class. Meeting other adult ballet dancers is definitely a challenge but I have been able to meet some wonderful new friends who are also dancers, parents of a student or even just patrons of the arts.
MilspoFAN: Let’s gush a little bit about your baby! What impact has new motherhood had on your dancing?
Carrie Cassidy: Oh he is a cutie. Motherhood is such a wild ride so far. I was able to dance until I was 8.5 months pregnant but oh it was a challenge. Luckily, one of the principal dancers at the Montgomery Ballet was also pregnant at the time, so she was able to give me great advice about how to modify certain steps. I figured out very quickly how your body changes during pregnancy and how easy it can be to overdo it.
After our son was born, I was very eager to get back to the studio. It was tough to start slow since I was so excited but it was necessary. My body just did not work in the way I was expecting and it became a big source of frustration. I was also battling scheduling issues. During the first few months, I was able to bring my son to company class and he did so well! He just slept in the corner and I was able to get through barre and most of center just fine. He would start to fuss before grand allegro but I suspect that was because all of the jumping woke him up..haha. After he became more mobile it was just not feasible to bring him to class anymore. The Montgomery Ballet was very accommodating by allowing me to bring my baby to class, but after a while, I felt unable to concentrate so I thought it best to attend class when I had childcare available.
Since then, I have taken about a 5-month break from class. Our family has PCS-ed, purchased a new house, unpacked and gotten our lives together at this new duty station. While the break was not ideal, it really gave me some time to be comfortable in my post-baby body and I am looking forward to getting into the studio this weekend!
Carrie, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us. I wish you the very best in your new duty station, your new baby, and your dancing. I can’t wait to hear what you do next!