Ballerina Profile: Renée O’Neal

Dancer PoseWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?
January 2014
Did you ever take lessons as a kid?
When I was about 9 years old, I used to have a coloring book called “Betsy Takes a Bow.” It told the story of a little girl named Betsy who takes ballet lessons and eventually dances the lead in Swan Lake. The best part, for me at least, was that the studio in the book was called “Renée’s School of Dance.” (I’m fairly certain that’s the reason that I never wanted to be a professional dancer – I wanted to run the show and own my own dance studio instead.) Anyways, the book had some pretty awful pictures of ballet positions and steps, and I tried to imitate them as best as I could. Even though I was a bit of a tomboy, my mom signed me up for ballet lessons (thanks, Mom!). I studied classical and contemporary ballet for many years, and I danced with two companies, the Tallahassee Ballet and Renascent Dance Theatre. After about 13 years, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore, so I stopped and went on what became an extended hiatus.
Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?
I moved around a bit over the years (Maryland, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia), and I would occasionally take a class here and there. Even though I loved ballet, for one reason or another, I found it difficult to commit to anything on a regular basis. I tried some other activities, specifically yoga and fencing, and it was because of those outside interests that I met a wonderful man, got married, and had a baby girl. We relocated from Richmond to SW Virginia a couple of years ago so that he could work on his PhD, and being a stranger in a new town, I once again found myself longing for the community of pink tights and pointe shoes. As a 40-year old mother of an adorable toddler, I knew that my post-baby body, my post-hiatus abilities, and my adult perspective would make for completely different dance experience. I researched the local studio options and spent a few months debating on whether or not I really wanted to “go back”. It was during this time of indecision that a chance encounter at a coffee shop settled the matter. I met an amazing dance teacher, Carol Crawford-Smith, and after speaking with her briefly, I took it as a sign that I should get myself to a barre ASAP! Within a week, I found myself in one of her adult classes and completely in love with ballet once more. Ever since then, I’ve taken classes at two studios, performed as a Court Lady in a production of Cinderella, became a member of the Ballet Project at Virginia Tech (BPVT), danced as the Mouse Queen and a Flower in the Nutcracker, and served as a costume designer and stage manager for BPVT’s spring show. It’s been an amazing year.
Where do you take classes?
When time and money permits, I drop in for adult classes at two studios – the Center of Dance and Little Leapers.  I also enjoy the free open-level classes offered by the Ballet Project at Virginia Tech.
What is your favorite and least favorite part about ballet?
There’s no single thing about ballet that I love more than anything else. The leg warmers, the tights, the shoes, the smell of the marley flooring, the music, the sweat, the balances, the turns, the jumps, the aching muscles, the rehearsals, the stage, the performance. I love it all.
What I find the most interesting is how my preferences and abilities have changed to accommodate my older, post-baby body. Back in the day, I loved turns, especially combinations across the floor. However, I now find that turns are more of a challenge because my inner ear just doesn’t want to cooperate. It doesn’t matter how well I spot, if I try to do too many in a series, I get really super-dizzy. I’ve talked to an Audiologist and an ENT doctor, and they both said it’s most likely age-related. It’s a bit of a bummer, but I don’t let it stop me.
I’ve also noticed that my attitude (no pun intended) toward jumps is different. Petite allegro was never my forte, but I’ve found that I have more fun with it now than ever before. I also used to be fairly ambivalent about grande allegro, but now I look forward to leaping and soaring across the room.
Who/What is your ballet inspiration?
I’m inspired by anyone that works hard at what they do and enjoys doing it. I love to watch dancers that are willing to try every step, and even when they are overwhelmed, they still manage to smile, laugh, and keep going. There’s a girl that occasionally shows up to one of my classes, and she always puts in extra effort, repeating combinations in the corner, over and over, even after the music stops. Whenever I see her, I am inspired to keep going, to work harder, to try that combination again. Once more with feeling, indeed.
What motivates you to keep dancing?
It varies. The reflection in the bathroom mirror reminds me that I need to stay active. As a returning dancer, I’m fascinated by what my body can –and sometimes can’t– do, especially after having had a baby. Every class, for better or worse, is an opportunity to discover something new about myself, and I always feel an amazing sense of accomplishment when it’s over. Plus, I love that my daughter identifies me as a ballerina, so that’s a powerful motivator to keep dancing. When I come home, and she asks me in her sweet little voice if I had a good dance class, I just melt. 
Do you take any other dance classes?
Living in a small town means that there aren’t as many chances to branch out, and having a husband in grad school and a toddler in day care means there isn’t a lot of time and money available for anything other than one or two ballet classes a week. Whenever possible, I try to participate in any opportunities that come my way. When the Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet came to town last year, I was lucky to be able to attend their master class. It was an awesome experience, and I learned so much.
What are your hobbies outside of ballet?
I enjoy crafty things, especially knitting, and I also enjoy playing board games. When the weather is nice, I love spending time outdoors with my husband and my daughter, which usually involves spotting airplanes, picking flowers, and looking for bugs.
What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?
Don’t worry what anyone else thinks. Have fun with it. Just dance.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think I’ve probably said enough, but I will add that I am grateful for this opportunity to share a bit of my dance experience with everyone.

Local Motion Studio

2377 S Dove St
Alexandria, VA 22314

A yoga/pilates studio that offers open level ballet classes on Sunday at 10:45 am and Monday at 6:45 PM.


The level and size of the classes changes from week to week. The instructors even welcome adults with little to no ballet experience.

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3443 Carlin Springs Rd.
Falls Church, VA 22041

They offer a 4 week Intro to Ballet workshop for adults who have little to no experience with ballet. They also offer adult pointe classes for those with 2+ years ballet experience.

Metropolitan School of the Arts

5775 Barclay Drive Suite 4
Alexandria, VA 22315

9601 Ox Road Building W-4
Lorton, VA 22079


Adagio Ballet and Dance

4720-E Lee Highway
Arlington, VA 22207

(703) 527-8900

Description via website: “Our Adult Dance Program and Adult Fitness Programs have a lot to offer you with several different types and levels of classes. Our Adult Programs offer small classes with qualified instructors and convenient online enrollment.”

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