Is there anyone out there who doesn't enjoy a good love story? Crickets, right? So gather 'round dancers. Do we have a great one—one that's worthy of a TSwift love song—for you.
You may know Julie Diana, one of our favorite writers around here, as a leading authority on dancers' health trends and ballet technique. She's also a former Pennsylvania Ballet principal, who met her husband, Zachary Hench, while dancing with PAB. The rest, as you'll see in the cutest chocolate commercial ever, was history.
Just wait till you get to the part about his onstage, post Romeo and Juliet curtain call proposal—adorbs. But grab a tissue before you hit play...you'll need it.
Happy Saturday, lovebirds!
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Are you wearing pink? Are you eating chocolate? Are you surrounded by flowers? And teddy bears? And heart-shaped cards?
(Am I on a sugar high? Maybe! When it comes to VDay sweets, the DS staff DOES NOT MESS AROUND.)
In honor of the year's most romantic holiday, I thought I'd round up some photos of adorable real-life ballet couples dancing my favorite swoontastic ballet: Romeo and Juliet. Ready to feel the love?
First up: Royal Ballet principals Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg. So happy!
Next: Pennsylvania Ballet principals Julie Diana and Zachary Hench. Heart-clutchingly romantic!
Third: international superstars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. Literally swoony!
Switching things up a little: Royal Ballet principals Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares rehearsing R&J. The sweetest!
And finally: OK, I'm cheating a little. This is a photo of National Ballet of Canada principals Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté rehearsing Nijinsky, not Romeo and Juliet. But just suspend your disbelief for a moment, alright? Because the cuteness. THE CUTENESS.
Have a lovely Valentine's Day!
You know the story: A beautiful young woman meets a charming young man. They eye each other shyly from across the stage. He asks her to dance. She says yes. Three acts of pas de deuxing later, they are getting hitched and the audience is applauding wildly through 10 curtain calls. (Extra points if he’s a prince, of course.)
Onstage, love is a many-splendored thing. But offstage, for some dancers, life is equally as romantic. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are a few of our favorite real-life love stories.
Julie Diana and Zachary Hench, principals at Pennsylvania Ballet
Where they met: It was the year 2000. Julie Diana and Zachary Hench were both dancers at San Francisco Ballet. The moment they set eyes on each other, they were infatuated. When the company took a tour to Barcelona, Zachary decided it was time for a first date. He chose the Temple of the Sagrada Family—a gorgeous landmark by architect Antoni Gaudí that Julie adored.
When they fell in love: “I’ve always loved Zach,” Julie says. “He has an amazing sense of humor. He’s charming and charismatic and a lot of fun.” Says Zachary, deadpan: “I just thought you were hot.”
The proposal: In 2005, Zachary got permission from Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Roy Kaiser to do a special curtain call after a performance of Romeo and Juliet, which he and Julie were starring in. “Julie has always been a Shakespeare fan. She was an English major,” Zachary says. When the curtain came down, one of Zachary’s friends snuck him the engagement ring. He and Julie were onstage lying on the tomb, where their characters had just committed suicide. Julie had no idea what was going on—she suspected nothing.
The curtain rose to thunderous applause, and she and Zachary stood to take their bows as usual. But then Zachary knelt on one knee and offered her the ring. “I forgot I was onstage and wrapped my legs around his torso,” Julie remembers. “The audience wasn’t sure what was going on, so I held out my ring finger and pointed to it, and everyone went nuts!” The couple still gets letters from fans who remember the show. “Zach is not big on public displays of affection, so to do this in front of 3,000 people—he got points for that,” Julie says.
The wedding: In the summer of 2006, Julie and Zachary tied the knot on a beach in Hawaii, surrounded by 40 of their closest friends and family members.
Anna Trebunskaya and Jonathan Roberts, competitive ballroom superstars
Where they met: Eleven years ago, Jonathan and Anna were both in need of new ballroom partners. Jonathan had seen Anna in competitions and was amazed by her. He managed to score a tryout with her in NYC—but it was a total disaster. “We were coming from different approaches,” Anna explains. “I was born in Russia and he was born in California. He thought I was a cold-hearted Russian and I thought he was a stuck-up American!” For Jonathan, it was incredibly disappointing. “I had practiced for that tryout because she was a much better dancer than I was. But after five minutes, she said she didn’t like my posture and didn’t like my feet. She was very direct.” In spite of the frustrations, Jonathan and Anna had two more tryouts together and eventually decided to give it a shot—and a glorious professional partnership was born.
The first date: Anna and Jonathan never went on a “first date.” Rather, they found themselves having dinner together after practices to talk about their progress. Conversations became more personal and meaningful. Pretty soon their artistic partnership blossomed into a romantic one.
The proposal: On Valentine’s Day in 2002, Jonathan took Anna to lunch. Afterward, he brought her to a park bench. It was a very muddy day, but Jonathan insisted on getting down on one knee. “I was nervous,” he remembers. “We spent so much time together that I felt like she would say ‘yes,’ but you never know what might happen. That’s what a guy has to do—put himself out there.” Anna had no idea Jonathan was planning to propose that day, but there was no doubt in her mind that he was the man she wanted to marry. She said “yes” immediately.
The wedding: That same year, the couple wed in Jonathan’s hometown in northern California. Jonathan’s dad officiated the intimate ceremony in front of just 12 guests. The next day they held a large reception with 150 friends and family. But Anna says it wasn’t anything fancy. “Everyone expected us to do a big production, but I just wanted to look pretty on my wedding day,” she says.
Sarah Ricard and Seth Orza, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Where they met: These lovebirds met at a School of American Ballet summer course in NYC when they were 13. It was the summer romance teenagers dream about. “Seth was my first kiss,” Sarah says. “Then we parted ways.” They attended the same summer course together for two more years and remained friends until 1997, when they both stayed for SAB’s year-round program.
When they fell in love: Seth was hanging out in the lounge of SAB’s dormitories after Thanksgiving break when Sarah walked in. “She came in and I just knew I was in love with her,” he says. “I even remember what she was wearing—a blue vest, jeans, and her hair was very curly. She looked beautiful.”
For Sarah, there wasn’t one particular moment. “It was my first love and it continued to work between us,” she says. “Our relationship just kept growing.”
The proposal: By October 2006, Seth was dancing for New York City Ballet and Sarah had just retired from the company. Seth had been planning to propose for months. He made reservations at the River Cafe, a restaurant in Brooklyn with beautiful city views. He arranged for a Town Car to pick them up—but a mini-van showed up instead. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, this is not going to work out,’ ” Seth remembers. “But we got there, and I took her to the docks. Then everything was perfect, and I proposed.”
The wedding: A year later, Seth and Sarah got married in Napa, CA. As for the honeymoon? It was spent in an empty 300-square-foot-apartment in NYC. Sarah had come out of retirement and joined Pacific Northwest Ballet with Seth, and the two were mid-move to Seattle, where the company is based.
Jackie Sleight and Dave Carter, L.A. mainstays
Where they met: Dave never thought he’d be a dancer—it was just something he loved to do. But after college, he decided to give it a shot. He moved to L.A. from San Luis Obispo, CA. At the time, Jackie was teaching at Dupree Dance Academy and was one of the hottest teachers in town. “I was overwhelmed that this woman had all this power,” Dave remembers. “I said, ‘That’s the woman I want to take class from.’ I took her class and basically fell in love.” The two started dating in 1987—but kept it a secret from their friends for a year and a half. “We knew it was real, and we didn’t want it to seem ‘too L.A.,’ ” Jackie explains.
The proposal: Dave and Jackie had a very romantic courtship. Jackie sent Dave on scavenger hunts around L.A. They went to Disneyland. They wrote poems for each other. So when one of their friends showed up at Jackie’s door dressed like a mafioso and demanded she “get in the car” to go to dinner with Dave, Jackie didn’t suspect this date would be different from any of the other creative dates they had arranged for each other. But it was. That night at an Italian restaurant, Dave asked Jackie for her hand in marriage. She gave an emphatic “Yes!”
The wedding: Just like the explosive events at the couple’s competition/convention L.A. Dance Magic, Jackie and Dave’s wedding was the party of a lifetime. They tied the knot on October 6, 1990, and the wedding dance was a hit. Dave’s mom is a ballroom dancer, so the couple took ballroom classes in preparation and rehearsed quite a bit. (“We had a show to do!” Dave jokes.)
Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo, in-demand choreographer duo
Where they met: Tabitha and Napoleon met in college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 1992. At the time, Napoleon was impressed by
Tabitha’s maturity. But Tabitha found Napoleon shallow. “I thought he was a total jock player, but very attractive,” she says, with a laugh. What changed her mind? They sat next to each other on a flight and had their first meaningful conversation.
First date: Napoleon may have been a ladies’ man, but Tabitha was the first woman he took on a real date. “I took her to Red Lobster because I had no money,” he remembers. Dinner may have been modest, but Tabitha was smitten. The two start dating right away.
The (first) proposal: Napoleon saved his money and bought a ski trip for himself and Tabitha in 1994. He planned to propose during the vacation. But as soon as they took off, he knew she had figured out his grand plan. He decided the time wasn’t right and never popped the question. “When I went back to work, everyone was like, ‘Where’s the ring?’ ” Tabitha says.
The (second) proposal: One year later, Napoleon decided it was time to try again. He and Tabitha had a dance gig in Italy and decided to enjoy a mini vacation afterward. They took a train to Venice, where Napoleon planned to propose on a gondola. “But the gondola driver was so rude and everything was really stinking,” he says. The mood was killed, so Napoleon waited again. “For six days, I had this ring burning a hole in my pocket,” he says. Every time they went to the airport, the ring would set off security, and Napoleon would have to quietly tell the guard he couldn’t pull the ring out or Tabitha would see. Finally, in Rome, Napoleon took Tabitha to a fountain two miles from their hotel—but when they got there at midnight, it was packed with tourists, so they went to dinner instead. Would Napoleon ever find the right moment? Oh, yes.
Tabitha recalls: “We went to dinner, and he bought flowers from one of the guys walking by. Then we went back to the fountain. He told me to close my eyes and make a wish. While my eyes were closed, Napoleon placed the ring in the fountain.”
Napoleon: “What did you wish for?”
Tabitha: “That we would be together forever.”
Napoleon: “I wish we’d be together forever too.”
When she opened her eyes, he pulled the ring out of the fountain and got down on one knee. The tourists around them started clapping and cheering.
The wedding: One year later, the pair got hitched in Las Vegas. “We’re theatrical people, and we love to put on a show,” says Tabitha. “All of our friends are entertainers, so we made our wedding party do a little dance.”