A San Marcos attorney shares her passion for ballet.
Interview by Jillian Beck
Photograph by Lil Viv Design.
Practicing law can be like performing—perfecting just the right presentation of the facts for a judge and jury. Such preparation and production comes naturally to San Marcos attorney Charmaine Wilde, who trained as a ballerina before her days as a litigator. Wilde, who danced throughout her childhood in Salt Lake City, Utah, fell in love with the beauty and elegance of the art form and joined her college’s classical ballet group at Southern Utah University. She was drawn to the ability to communicate without talking. “It’s different from being a lawyer, where we tend to say the same thing three different ways to make sure people understand,” Wilde said. About eight years ago—just before starting at Baylor Law School in Waco, where she commuted from San Marcos—Wilde opened Gateway Ballet, a studio that caters to children whose families can’t afford expensive classes. She offers instruction for free or up to $5 a month and provides low-cost costumes for recitals, and she hopes to expand the program to reach more dancers. “In this way, I am able to share the beauty and joy of ballet with those who may never get to dance.”
What attracted you to ballet?
Ballet is elegant and beautiful. I think that’s why I chose it over other styles of dance. Once I got in those classes, I learned it was really hard and challenging. I stuck with ballet because it wasn’t easy, but it looks that way. I like the idea of something being complex but looking so seamless.
Wilde leads a practice last year with one of her students, Annabelle
(left), and her daughter, Phoenix. Photograph by Russell Wilde.
Why do you enjoy being an instructor?
I love when dancers recognize for the first time the difference between point and flex and when they finally get a complicated movement and make it look effortless and I get to say, “You have it, now try not to show how hard you’re concentrating in your face!” It’s a fun moment where the dancer laughs and feels accomplished.
How does teaching ballet compare with practicing law?
In ballet, you spend endless hours in rehearsal to perform beautiful—and what seems to be simple—movement for an audience in a fraction of the time it takes to prepare. It’s the same in law. I study, prepare, and work out a complex problem in the office and go before a judge to explain and argue my case in a fraction of the time it takes to prepare. If you do it right in ballet, the audience doesn’t see all the time it took to practice. If you do it right in law, you’ve answered the judge’s questions before he or she has asked and you don’t have to explain away the nuances of your case.
What is the most challenging part?
Ballet is all about the structure and form. It’s not flashy. You don’t master a grand battement—a type of kick—until you manage to keep your posture, turn out your leg, and hold your arm in a graceful fifth position. It’s not one thing and done. Ballet is about control and form to make all parts of the body look beautiful and graceful—even the parts you’re not focusing on in the movement.
Tell us about a memorable moment from your teaching.
In 2011, I was teaching while pregnant with my first daughter, Phoenix, and also in law school. I wasn’t due until January 2012, but I went into preterm labor and my daughter was born five days before our ballet recital. My dancers and their parents jumped in and helped pull off the performance. It was comforting to take a break from the neonatal intensive care unit and the stress of becoming a new mom to a struggling baby and see my students master their art and perform beautifully.
Are you able to make time to dance
Yes. Not as much as I’d like to, but I can’t keep away from it. In a way, teaching keeps me dancing—I have to choreograph. I do yoga, which feels like a dance, regularly. Someday I plan on performing with my students, but it hasn’t felt right yet to do that.
What have you learned from being a ballet instructor?
Patience. To not take on more than I can handle. I’ve gained a depth of identity in myself at a stage in life when many women feel they are singularly defined. I’m not just a wife, or lawyer, or mom, or ballet instructor. I am all of those things. I’ve learned that having them all in my identity makes me happy. So I guess I’ve learned to be happy. TBJ