Dancing to Success

Dara Holmes, one of the top 10 black ballerinas in the world, was discovered in 1999 at the first outreach program of the Wilmington Ballet Company (WBC). WBC was formed with a vision to make classical ballet accessible to the whole community, to bring professional ballet to Wilmington, and to create world class ballet productions locally. The once fledgling non-profit is slated to open the first ever professional ballet company in Wilmington this fall. Over 23 ballet dancers are moving to Wilmington from all over the globe to dance in this debut season. The dream is being realized! ~ Elizabeth Hester, Director of Wilmington Ballet Company

For a young person from a small town who aspires to be an actor, a writer, or a dancer, the world can seem so vast; dreams may feel unattainable. But with hard work and conviction, any person can rise above circumstances that aren’t ideal. The path to success can begin anywhere—ballerina Dara Holmes is living proof of this. Now a soloist for the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, Holmes’ career had humble beginnings at a small studio in Wilmington. Her story is the story of how a small company and a young girl with potential were able to rise to the top and show that despite any setbacks they face, they remain highly capable of success.

“When I was three, I went to the encyclopedias, grabbed the “B” encyclopedia, and saw ‘ballet’,” reminisces Holmes. From that point on, she  knew she wanted to be a ballerina. The actualization of her dream began when the Wilmington School of Ballet did an outreach program in collaboration with Head Start, and  Dara’s mother signed her up for the program. By the end of the workshop, owner Elizabeth Hester had seen Holmes’ potential and her unusual gift, and she immediately knew that she wanted her to attend WBC.  “After I saw her, I offered her a full scholarship,” remembers Hester. In fact, Holmes was the WBC’s first scholarship recipient.

Now, Holmes is practically living her dream as her gift has been recognized and she has been able to make a career out of her passion. However, being a professional ballerina is not easy. As far as her daily schedule goes, Holmes says, “Usually we start class at 9:45 a.m., and there’s a fifteen minute break between that and the rehearsal day. Our rehearsal day is usually from 11:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., with an hour lunch break in between. Depending on what you’re needed for, there are slots to do whatever is needed. There are days when I don’t have rehearsal at all, but usually by the time we get to performance time, its six hour days. It just depends.”

Despite having such a demanding itinerary, Holmes admits that her biggest obstacles seem to be within her own head; at times she struggles with finding her identity as a dancer. She explains how it can be difficult not to compare herself to other dancers; and of course, constantly putting in maximum effort can be a struggle for anyone, ballerinas included.

When asked whether or not it’s harder to be successful coming from a small town such as Wilmington, Holmes asserts, “It’s all based on you and what you’re willing to put out. I feel like anyone can make it out of here if that’s what they really want to do. You will work hard for what you want; that’s what I did.” To those who have a similar dream of making it big, Holmes says, “Work hard; you’re not entitled to anything. That’s a lesson that I had to learn, too.”

“I’m still working,” Holmes emphasizes. Despite some of the struggles that go along with being a professional ballerina, she states that she is currently “just trying to find joy in the moment” instead of focusing on the negative. After all, although her schedule is filled with dance classes, rehearsals, and performances, there are other areas in her life that need attention as well. One of these facets is church, which is something Holmes says she’s become more involved with lately. Having such a demanding career has made Holmes truly appreciate “just finding the time to be quiet—with God. I’m always approved of by the one who made me. That gives me peace, which in this profession is hard to come by.”


Written by: Sara Beck | Photography by: Kelly Starbuck Photography

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