Hope always springs eternal, a dancerly philosophy, but the body doesn’t always concur. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal dancer suddenly announced that she was retiring just prior to the opening of the company’s “Nutcracker” season.
But it really wasn’t so sudden.
For those of us who watched Erin rebound from two pregnancies better than ever each time, it might come as a shock that she has also long been coping with hip issues, which, given ballet’s emphasis on turnout, might come as no surprise.
“My hips have always been a weak spot,” the modest ballerina admitted over the phone. But following an MRI in 2006, she found that she had torn cartilage in both and set on a diagnostic regimen of cortisone, therapy, Pilates and Gyrotonic to keep up her strength.
Erin also changed the way she worked, but continued to lose mobility. After last year’s “Nut” run, she found herself in a lot of pain and elected to have another MRI because “things were getting a lot worse.” Cortisone was the only option and it had lasted well the first few times. But that one didn’t work as long because the damage had intensified.
“It was a case of being aware of being more careful,” she says. “There was no abandon at that point. I was just being precise.” She also wanted to be able to run and play with her sons Aidan and Leo.
Unable to perform the Sugar Plum Fairy role one final time, even with choreographic adjustments, Erin officially announced her retirement in early December. But just as she had always been prepared for her roles, Erin was again prepared, better than most, for life after ballet.
She had started doing Pilates to build strength and get placement and definition. “I loved it,” she says. So during her second pregnancy, she would sit for “hours and hours and hours,” watching people teach at a local studio.
Erin got her certification and was able to teach. Now she occasionally takes a little bit of a barre (mainly because she misses seeing her PBT family on a daily basis), although she doesn’t lift her legs that high anymore. But she does Pilates every day for 45 minutes or so “to stay equally strong.”
The new excitement in her life is coming from a burgeoning teaching career. During that especially difficult period in November, PBT artistic director Terrence Orr suggested that she teach some classes at the company school. “It was very tiring focusing on the injury,” she recalls. “So it was refreshing to go into the studio. The students were eager to listen, learn and improve. They’re like sponges.”
She moved around to the various levels — adult open class, the grad students (pointe, variations, technique) and full-time and part-time high school classes. From all accounts, the students themselves are thrilled.
So what can Erin bring to them? “I’m trying to figure that out,” she says. “It’s always a process and probably every day there’s something different. But one of the things I pay attention to is the alignment because I’m fixated on it.”
That means standing on the feet properly, using the whole foot. Then the porte bras and epaulement are important,too, to bring the technique to life. She concludes, “Everything, pretty much everything.”
Those of us who witnessed her Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty” can still recall how she drove the Benedum Center audience wild with her pristine technique, capped by mind-boggling balances and blinding turns. A stunning achievement among her many other roles over the years.
She says that former PBT ballet master Roberto Munoz gave her the key to those turns, telling her that her “spot has to be faster. Make sure you are on the music and divide it equally. Push your head faster if you want to do more turns.”
Accommodating as always, she says that the PBT teachers all bring something different into the classroom. And she will not only draw on people like ballet master Marianna Tcherkassky and PBT school staff like Marjorie Grundvig and Pollyanna Ribeiro, but others who have contributed to her career in the past.
Like Patricia Wilde. Erin gives a perfect vocal imitation of her former artistic director as she jokingly instructs, “Cross your tendu. Shape the foot. Shall
we work on our entrechat six?”
And of course, husband and ballet master Stephen Annegarn. She might say, “This could be in your audition class,” because she knows what he looks for — a beautifully positioned and weighted dancer.
In Erin’s eyes, there’s a lot of dance still to be made with her new audience of students. “You just hope you can pass on something,” she says. “And, if nothing else, give them a love of moving.”
I also did an article on Erin’s achievements over the course of two decades for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Was it only last year? Click on Erin.