A longtime dancer from South of South hangs up her ballet shoes after a final performance with BalletX.
On Nov. 11 Tara Keating, at age 39, will hang up her ballet shoes from a career that began 36 years prior when she began her first dance lessons. The BalletX founding member will perform in the company’s upcoming “Fall Series 2012” before she heads into semi-retirement.
“I’ll remain with BalletX. I’m currently the artistic coordinator and then I’ll also be the ballet mistress, so I’ll still be in the studio all day long teaching them class,” the four-year South of South resident said. “I’ll still be greatly involved, but physically I’m taking myself out.”
This, however, is not exactly true, as her duties as ballet mistress will include warming up the company daily and assisting choreographers that bring in new works, which she will learn to be able to teach new dancers should the company wish to perform it again.
“This is a very demanding art form. I’ve been dancing full-time very, very hard for many, many years. My body has taken a beating, as well as mentally,” Keating said. “I’m just in the right state to crossover to the other side. A lot of people in the last few days have asked how I feel about it. I feel more excited than anything. I’m looking forward to the next phase.”
To usher her over, longtime friend and Ballet co-founder Matthew Neenan will feature Keating in a tango duet in the Philadelphia premiere of his work, “Switch Phase.”
“It’s a very intimate duet and it’s four minutes long. For the first half, my partner and I don’t touch each other at all. We’re creating this tension,” Keating, who has danced in almost all of Neenan’s works since the company was formed, said, adding she will be dancing in the series’ two other pieces, which also are world premieres. “This show really goes from dancing to theater to dancing. It’s something people can relate to.”
With the company sure to honor her bid farewell, Keating also expects some close friends to be on-hand for the final bows.
“I saw a lot of friends [recently] and we all danced together at the Pennsylvania Ballet and they knew about my retirement. They are going to be at the show,” she said. “I’ve known them for 15 years. We just have a connection that is really special to me and I’m looking forward to them being there.”
Learning moves at age 3 in western Massachusetts, Keating was a fan of jazz and tap, along with ballet, as a young dancer.
“The first competitions, and I did that for many, many years initially, was for tap dance. I thought that maybe I wanted to be on Broadway. And then at one point my mom took me to see the New York City Ballet and I fell in love with the ballet dancer,” Keating said.
She realigned her focus to ballet, spending anywhere from two to five hours in the studio after high school classes, which put her on track to matriculate at New York City’s The Juilliard School.
“I had all different dance forms there. They don’t specify a ballet [bachelor’s of fine arts] or modern,” Keating said. “That’s when I was first exposed to modern dance. I really hadn’t had any up until that point. I really embraced it.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be into modern dance. At Juilliard, though, I thought I was going to be a modern dancer. I was enjoying it so much. It was great because I could have both things there. It made me the dancer that I am today. I learned so many different forms of modern that I incorporate in my classical dancing, as well.”
While in school, Keating also took advantage of large companies’ auditions that were held weekly near her dorm.
“At the time, they were free classes that were great, so I’d just go. It was great experience. Sometimes I got cut right away, sometimes I made it down to the last five people. I never got offered a job, but I’m glad I did that,” she said.
Nearing graduation and worried she did not have a professional opportunity lined up, Keating was lucky to audition for American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey and was hired on the spot. After two years with the company, she received a major break.
“I went on to dance with Twyla Tharp’s company for a year. It was a pickup group at that time. There was a call from the Pennsylvania Ballet that they were looking for extra dancers for ‘The Nutcracker’ and someone recommended me,” Keating said. “I decided it was something I wanted to do so I came to Philly and they hired me as a guest dancer. Halfway through the run of ‘The Nutcracker’ the artistic director, Roy Kaiser, offered me a contract.
“I was elated. It was one of the top ballet companies, so I decided to take the job.”
Joining full time in 1998, Keating danced with the Pennsylvania Ballet until 2007. Two years prior to leaving the company, however, she had began working with former co-dancers, Christine Cox, of 21st and Catherine streets, and Neenan, of Gerritt and Dicksinson streets, who both had left to start BalletX.