Texas Ballet Theater dancer Lonnie Weeks won the junior division silver medal at last month’s Helsinki International Ballet Competition. But the fact that he beat out more than 70 dancers from 25 countries isn’t really all that shocking — the 18-year-old has been on a steady climb up the dance food chain. In 2005, he and his family left Chicago – where he was on full scholarship at the Faubourg School of Ballet – to come study under TBT Artistic Director Ben Stevenson. The next year, he became the company’s youngest ever full-time dancer at 15. And in 2007, he won the bronze medal at the Shanghai International Ballet Competition.
So while he says his success in Helsinki was “a big surprise,” a look at his blossoming career shows a dancer who seems to be right on track to accomplish whatever he sets his sights on.
During a phone conversation earlier this week, he discussed his experience in Europe, why he’s excited about the upcoming TBT season, and where he sees himself down the road as part of the Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: As you were preparing for the Helsinki competition, did you have a goal in mind?
Lonnie Weeks: Well, of course I wanted to do well. That was always in the back of my mind. But I think it’s really important when you’re going to one of these competitions that your biggest goal should be to improve yourself. Going to one of these competitions really pushes you into the next level.
A&S: Did you watch many of the other competitors when you were there?
L.W.: I was able to watch a few. I really didn’t want to watch too many just because of nerves. Luckily, I was chosen to be competitor No. 1, which is something that I was a little nervous about at first. But it turns out that it worked well for me, because I didn’t really have to watch anyone before me. Like have someone do perfect five pirouettes and be like, “Oh no. I have to go on after that?”
A&S: What was your reaction when they called out your name as the silver medalist?
L.W.: I was really happy. You never really know what’s going to happen, especially in this competition. A lot of times you’ll kinda hear beforehand what you might get, but they kind of saved it to the very last moment, and it was definitely a big surprise.
A&S: How did you celebrate?
L.W.: I went home and probably slept for 10 hours. I never really got used to the time change.
A&S: Do you plan on going back now to compete in the senior division?
L.W.: Hopefully I will. It will be kind of hard going back as a 19-year-old in the senior division. I’ll be the youngest one in the division, so I might wait a few years and see how I improve.
A&S: How did you get started in ballet in the first place?
L.W.: I was always home schooled by my mom. And she wanted to find some form of P.E. for us, and she picked dance. I have three brothers and one sister, and she put us all in dance. I was really the only one who stuck with it. Nobody else enjoyed it really, but I loved it right away.
A&S: How many hours a day do you focus on ballet?
L.W.: I dance from 9 to 5. Just like anyone else at their normal job.
A&S: The upcoming TBT season has a Russian focus. For casual observers of dance, how does Russian ballet differ from ballet from other countries?
L.W.: I actually started out doing Vaganova ballet, which is the Russian style. It’s very big, it’s very bravura dancing. We do a lot of Royal Ballet influences because of Ben, and the Royal Ballet is very elegant, very calm, very placed. The Russian style is very out there, very outgoing.
A&S: The last 12 months have been a wild ride for TBT – how do you feel now that the company is on solid ground financially and about to perform in a brand new building?
L.W.: It’s nice to be able to take a breather. For a while we were all really involved in our campaign, Get Behind Your Ballet. That was a new experience, because I had only ever had any experience in dance. And to try and learn how to raise money at the same time – which is usually what all of our people on the other side do – it was a real experience. It’s nice to be able to just get back to dance again. As far as the Winspear, I’m really excited. It will be really exciting to dance in a brand-new venue. Not many dancers have had that opportunity.
A&S: You still have your whole career in front of you. Have you thought much about what you would like to accomplish?
L.W.: I’d love to just go as far as I can. I know that Europe really appreciates dancers, so you never know. Maybe one day that’s where I’ll end up? Or, Texas Ballet Theater has a bright future ahead of it. So I think I just have to wait and see.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.