Thursday, February 28, 2002

Next Wave/Who's up and coming: Overachiever steps into a different life

By Carol Norris
Enquirer contributor

        His high school credits read: student government president, debate team, swim team, choir, advanced placement classes in physics and calculus II, voted “most likely to succeed.”

        Dwayne Holliday was an admitted overachiever.

        He envisioned a future in politics after law school, something in foreign relations, maybe an ambassadorship. That was before he discovered dance.

        Days away from signing an agreement to attend West Point Academy during his senior year at Baton Rouge (La.) High, Mr. Holliday decided to become a dancer. He says the decision both simplified and complicated his life.

        “My mom disowned me,” the 23-year-old Cincinnati Ballet apprentice said recently over a glass of wine at a Clifton cafe. “She was one of 14 kids, had been a single mom with three kids and not a lot of money. West Point was a quarter-million dollar education waiting for me.”

        Mr. Holliday says it's been a long haul since those high school days when only one friend understood and supported him. Today, his family has come around and enjoys seeing him perform, but Mom still asks: “When are you going back to school?”

Gym class full

        West Point might have happened if a phys ed class he'd signed up for senior year had not been full. He picked a ballet class to fill the hour “because it was air-conditioned and there were girls.”

        He liked the class and teacher (Sharon Matthews, whom he calls his “second mom”), but says he wasn't crazy about ballet at first and struggled to “find the beat.” It wasn't until he saw a production of Nutcracker that he became hooked. “I had no idea that's what a ballet dancer could do,” he said.

        Last year, he visited Elyse Johnson-Wolf, an old-flame from Baton Rouge. An oboist, she's a performance major and master's candidate at University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He decided to try to dance here.

        Starting at Cincinnati Ballet as an apprentice means life at the bottom of the heap, with a base salary of $300 a week. His roles thus far have been unglamorous: a gypsy in Don Quixote, part of the male tribe in Beyond Innocence, a pirate in Peter Pan.

        But he's happy. “Not content, but happy,” he says. “I'm always working to get better.”

        He went with the company to Portugal for Peter Pan and looks forward to more touring. He recently learned that he's been promoted to “new dancer,” a step up the ballet ladder at about double the salary. But it's not roles or money he's after — it's the experience of doing it.

        “If I were going to be a phenom I would have been one by now,” he admits. He just wants to dance. “I love the way it feels. I love that moment you forget where you are and you get lost in the movement.”

        What does he do for fun? “I take Elyse out dancing.”


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