By Sherida Mock
On stage, Aara Krumpe dazzles in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker. In fact, during this native Texan’s 15 years with the company, she has danced numerous roles—Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute—but the role that requires the most balance and flexibility is that of mother and wife. Recently, she sat down with us between rehearsals to talk about pregnancy, dancing and oh, yeah—that amazing costume.
AF: Tell us about your family.
I have two boys, a husband, Ambrose, and a dog named Lola. Leo is six, and Lucas is four and a half.
AF: What are the benefits and challenges of being a dancer and a mother?
We work 34 weeks out of the year, so I have summers off. I’m able to be with my kids more then. And when we’re in the theater, we work at night and not during the day, so I can visit my son’s school.
Ballet Austin has a nursery. Some dancers are able to handle that situation well. I found that I needed a separation. You wear so many hats when you’re a mom, and I found that I was able to take my kids to day care and say good-bye to the “mom” part of me and transition into a dancer.
Thanksgiving is my last weekend with the boys until Christmas, which can be difficult. But my husband steps in and becomes Super Dad for the month of December. Afterward, I’m able to be with them full-time for two weeks. It’s nice. We all need it after The Nutcracker.
AF: What’s it like to be pregnant as a professional dancer?
That is probably the craziest experience I’ve ever had. As a dancer, we’re so in tune with our bodies. You get bigger and your balance gets crazy; you can’t jump.
I waited until I was at 12 weeks to tell my boss, which happened to be in the middle of The Nutcracker. I was very, very busy that first trimester, which was crazy. The dancers knew something was up, because all I could eat was bagels and mustard. [Laughs]
That was my last performance, and I was lucky that they needed help in the studio. I helped Artistic Director Stephen Mills and different people who were creating works in the apprentice company. I would take class every morning and then switch into a front-of-the-room role, where I would do the music and write down notes and help the dancers get ready to go on stage. I learned so much, which really helped my dancing. I came back a better artist and dancer.
I danced en pointe until about 34 weeks, and then we went on break for the summer. Eight weeks after I had Leo, I was back dancing.
AF: Do your boys ever see you perform?
They do. [Laughs] They’re boys, and they’re young. They don’t quite get it, but it’s important for them to see me perform. I’m 34, so I have a few good years left, but that’s the thing about this career: your body can only last so long. It’s important for them to see their mom up on stage. It’s something that I’ve worked hard for all my life.
AF: When did you decide you wanted to dance as a career?
I had been dancing since I was three, doing flamenco and folklorico dancing. Then I took ballet and fell in love with it. I’d watched a video about Russian schools, and I just knew that I wanted to go to a good school. So I started out at the best schools in Corpus Christi, and when I was 15, I went to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and ended up staying there for my sophomore, junior and senior years. Then I went to the Richmond Ballet as a trainee. After my year at Richmond, I came to Ballet Austin. I’ve been here since I was 19.
My husband did the standard route; he went to college and then graduate school. But I never went to college. I like the fact that my kids have two different examples of what to do with your life.
AF: Tell us about your costume.
We have two Sugar Plum Fairy tutus. They were made for us last year by the costumers for the Royal Ballet in London. I get goose bumps thinking about it—having such a beautiful costume made just for you doesn’t happen in everyone’s career. It’s all hand-stitched; it’s gorgeous. It’s a little heavy, and you have to make sure it fits perfectly; otherwise, it can shift and slow down your turns.
We usually only wear it once in the studio, because you want to make sure it doesn’t bunch up, and everything lies smoothly. But it’s important for us to always wear a practice tutu. I don’t want my dance partner to see my legs, because he needs to support me by feeling my balance.
AF: And what about your shoes?
We are given 35 pair a year, and they cost about $100 a pair. It’s a big part of our budget. I have them special-ordered, tailored to my feet. One year they gave me an upgrade I didn’t ask for. I always cut off the tip of the satin so the shoe doesn’t slip—the fabric underneath is more matte, like canvas. But one year they added some padding so that when you land it’s quieter. So when I cut them off, all this stuff was flying out. We had to send all those shoes back and I got in another batch just in time for The Nutcracker.
This year, the shoes are a little softer. It’s just the way they made them; they put a little less glue in them and that makes for a slightly different balance point. So I usually wear them once in class, and after I break them in a bit, I use super glue in the box so that it maintains that shape for as long as possible.