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Maggie Weirich ('09)
Originally published in spring 2016 FAIS Magazine.
 
Age: 21
Years attended FAIS: 1996-2009
High School: Catlin Gabel School 
College Acceptances: Stanford University, Princeton University, New York University at Tisch
Employer: San Francisco Ballet
Job Title: Corps de Ballet Member

 

In what ways did your experience at FAIS prepare you for what you’re doing today?
I think FAIS taught me to find something I loved and encouraged me to pursue it. As a child FAIS allowed me to explore the unknown, challenge my curiosities, and discover genuine passions—whether that meant diving deeper into a subject I was passionate about or taking a project in a different direction. I remember asking my teacher in kindergarten if I could teach everyone to make paper volcanoes, so she gave me a whole morning to be the “teacher”. Again in 3rd grade I remember asking if I could write a whole book for my French project instead of an essay and I was given the blank book to work in. I think the freedom and encouragement I received from teachers at FAIS pushed me to follow my dreams. I took my first ballet class at FAIS with my best friend and remember the exhilaration of performing in the gym in front of our parents. FAIS gave me the confidence and freedom to choose what I wanted to do and go for it no matter the challenges.

 

What is your dance background prior to the San Francisco Ballet?
I danced in Portland throughout elementary, middle, and high school with the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre. I grew up and developed into the dancer I am today because of the teachers at that school.

 

How did you balance ballet and school throughout middle and high school?
The quality of work expected at Gilkey set me up for success at Catlin—I learned how to effectively manage my time while dedicating myself to academics and ballet. I was dancing three or four times a week in middle school, while participating in Gilkey sports and seasonal performances with the ballet. I always expected the best out of myself and I strived for excellence in every assignment given to me. That hardly stopped when I entered Catlin Gabel and started dancing six days a week. However, the beauty of a liberal arts education is the communication between teachers and students and their genuine care for their students’ well-being. I started to realize this at Gilkey, but in high school I developed a sincere relationship with my teachers. I could talk about my schedule and my difficulties and I realized that they understood and were willing to work with me individually on material. It was definitely a balancing act that kept my parents on their toes, but I knew with the support of my teachers that I could manage it. 

 

Tell us more about your decision to (at least temporarily) pursue dance over college. Do you see any downsides? When you envision going to college, how and when do you think that will be? Would it be possible to attend college AND dance?
My senior year at Catlin, I was already transitioning into the professional world of ballet, and I’m not sure I knew it. I became part of the pre-professional division at SOBT my senior year which entailed somewhere close to 40 hours of dance a week. I worked out a schedule with Catlin where I could dance in the mornings, go to school for the second half of the day, and return to ballet until 8 o’clock at night. Only to come home and finally start my homework and make up work for the classes I had missed while dancing. My decision ultimately stemmed from the offer of the San Francisco Ballet School to be a part of their highest level. I applied to colleges along with the rest of my senior class and looked at schools with dance programs, but I never wanted to dance in school. I knew a ballet career was a big dream, but I thought now was the time to go for it. So when acceptances came I knew I had to choose a school that would allow me to defer (or take an extended leave of absence)—Stanford let me take two. After my year in the school I was noticed by San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director Helgi Tomasson and was offered a contract with the company as an apprentice. The next year I was promoted to the corps de ballet. The downside of course is putting my education on hold, but for now I’m okay reading books to keep my mind occupied. I think being part of the San Francisco Ballet is almost a dream come true and I’m happy to pursue it as long as I can.

 

What languages do you speak, and are you using them in your current position with the SFB?
I speak French and Spanish. My first summer as an apprentice with SFB I travelled with them to Paris where we took part in a three-week festival “Les étés de la danse”. As one of the few French speakers in the company, I acted as a sort of “tour guide” or “translator” for a lot of my fellow dancers.

 

What do you see in your future? What are your hopes for your dance career, and a potential career beyond dance?
I fell in love with ballet, not only because I like the technical aspect of learning to make my body do something beautiful, but also because I love the exhilarating feeling of performing for an audience. I think as long as I love performing and my body allows me to, I’ll keep dancing. Of course I miss academics as I have a genuine interest in science and medicine, but I know I’ll go to college someday. Right now I believe that I can go to school later, this amazing opportunity presented itself to me and this is the only time I have to take advantage of it.

 

Is there anything else about your FAIS experience that you would like to share? 
I think the arts programs that FAIS offers are invaluable and were crucial to my development as a student and artist. They helped me not only express myself creatively, but taught me how to express myself in my schoolwork—write a creative essay or go about a math problem differently. I think the variety of art classes at FAIS are amazing and whether I knew it or not as I child, they encouraged me to continue pursuing ballet as an outlet for my creativity.