I grew up in a household full of four-legged friends. My parents were both animal lovers, so my siblings included: two sisters, one brother, two dogs, two cats, a tank full of fish, and at times a turtle, rabbit, and other critters.
I would often try to mimic their movements, hoping that I could communicate with them on some primal level. I liked pretending I was “The Beast Master” — my first childhood dream was to one day become a zookeeper. As my interest in dance grew, I realized that I was mentally comparing dance steps to the movements of our pets. I was literally thinking to myself, “plié, like a cat” or “sissonne, like a rabbit.” The movement of animals actually inspired my interest in dance and motivated me to better understand my body. I was like the Karate Kid, learning to master kung fu by watching tigers, cranes, and bears.
“The movement of animals actually inspired my interest in dance and motivated me to better understand my body.” —Ben Needham-Wood
Beyond the study of movement, caring for a pet has helped keep me grounded amidst the stresses of life and work. I adopted my cat, Apollo, from the Humane Society in Louisville, KY back in 2011. I named him after a pas de deux I was choreographing at the time called “Apollo and Daphne.”
His needs have always been very simple: food, water, a clean litter box, and a little love. The great thing about coming home to Apollo is that he reminds me of what’s important in life. It’s a big world, and it’s easy to feel lost without a friend by your side. Friends help us navigate our struggles and celebrate our successes, and there is nothing more fulfilling than a shared smile. Apollo always reminds me of these things, and at the end of a long rehearsal day at Smuin Ballet, I’m lucky to have a four-legged friend to greet me when I come home.
** Written by Ben Needham-Wood
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