Professional dancer starts her own dance company
In the summer of 2014, Darcy Harrington was in a bad place emotionally. She’d struggled with depression before, but this time was particularly difficult. It had been nearly a year since she and her husband relocated from California to Texas, yet Darcy still hadn’t yet found work as a professional dancer.
The fact that she’d just turned 35 didn’t help matters, either. In a profession similar to modeling in that people commonly retire when they hit 30, Darcy found that each birthday stirred up more stress than joy.
Since she wasn’t dancing professionally, Darcy was taking class at Ballet Austin, where other professional-quality dancers go to make connections and keep in shape. There, she was struck by the large number of quality dancers who, like her, weren’t landing roles.
“For every professional dancer, there are so many more waiting in the wings,” says Darcy, who started dancing when she was three. “It makes me mad that you can be good but not even have a chance at a job, and it turns out that a lot of other dancers feel the same way.”
Slowly, a tiny seed of an idea sprouted: What if she assembled her own team?
Excited by the prospect, Darcy made a pact with herself: If she didn’t have a season contract lined up by October, then she would produce her own Nutcracker ballet in December.
“I thought to myself, ‘I may be older for a dancer, but I also know I’m a really good dancer,’” Darcy recalls. “‘I’ve danced professionally for several small companies in corps de ballet roles, and I know I have principal potential. I’m not done. I will do these principal roles, and if I have to cast myself, I will,’” recalls Darcy.
October came around, and Darcy made good on her promise, founding Georgetown Ballet with her husband, Tim. Last season, they put on two shows: The Nutcracker in December and Sleeping Beauty, Act III in May.
Last year’s Nutcracker was a barebones show with five dancers—including Darcy—compared to the 20 to 25 typically cast. “But we made it work!” says Darcy, telling how one dancer, Grace, became the “quick-change queen” of the performance. “Since there were so few of us, we’d run off, throw another costume on, and get back on stage. But Grace got the short end of the stick. Since we had to cut one of the divertissements, she had only 10 seconds to change, plus five seconds of applause, if we milked it.”
They resolved the issue by dressing Grace first in her Waltz of the Flowers costume and then covering it with her Mirlitons costume, which was in turn covered by her Chinese costume, says Darcy. “The tricky part was getting the headpieces to stay.”
With ballet costumes ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, Tim offered to help cut costs by learning to make them himself. The couple owned a sewing machine they’d never used, and Tim, a software engineer, was confident he could teach himself.
“One of the first things I ever made was the Chinese jacket for The Nutcracker,” says Tim. “I found a pattern and proceeded to follow the instructions. “But I’m a perfectionist, so 50 hours in, I just had to make myself stop. Since then, I’ve learned to go faster and cut corners. It’s a costume; it’s not street wear clothing.”
Since then, he’s constructed about 10 costumes, and contributed to Georgetown Ballet in a variety of ways, including handling the sound engineering, building the website, and designing programs.
“Since we started Georgetown Ballet, I’ve felt a lot happier,” says Darcy. “I love doing this. It’s like all of my talents have converged to what I’m doing now: marketing, public speaking, dancing. . . . I find myself thinking, ‘Wow! I was born to do this!’”
Each of the shows Darcy and Tim have produced has been greeted with a larger turnout than the last, and while the growing attendance hasn’t exactly put them in the black, it has done a lot to boost their confidence that Georgetown is, indeed, ready for its own ballet company.
“It’ll never be about making money, and if we have to lose a little bit of money for the rest of the time, then that’s fine,” says Tim. “It’s a lifestyle choice. It’s not about the money; it’s more about creating life experiences and providing opportunities for local dancers to perform. . . . Some people spend their money on vacations. One of the ways we choose to spend our money is by doing this.”
This year’s Nutcracker ballet will take place on December 5th and 6th at 1:30 p.m. in the Sun City Ballroom. Tickets will be available online starting in mid-October and at the box office one hour prior to the show. For more information, visit www.georgetownballet.org.