Though inching perilously close to senior citizen status, Robin Welch still moves with the grace and agility of a young prima ballerina, which of course she once was.
Welch came to the Midlands in 1985 as principal dancer for Ballet Omaha, continuing an upward trajectory in ballet that can only be described as meteoric. Previously, she had won a full scholarship at age 15 to train with the Harkness Ballet in New York City, where she was born. Her talents won her a permanent spot with the company and at 17 she jetted off to Monaco.
“Our company was based in Monte Carlo,” she recounts. “Princess Grace would invite us to the castle. We’d swim in their pool.”
The company danced all across Europe, where Welch met or performed with the greatest ballet legends of the era, including Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Yes, everything was beautiful—until Rebekah Harkness decided to close the company she had founded. Welch returned stateside to join the Connecticut Ballet. It was in New Haven in 1978 that a photo of her was taken and used on a postage stamp—worth a princely 13 cents—as part of the Postal Service’s USA Dance series.
The call to Omaha actually came from her then-husband, artistic director Robert Vickrey, who brought his wife and their young daughter, Rachel, with him to develop Ballet Omaha. After Robert’s departure in the early ’90s (the couple had divorced by then), Ballet Omaha collapsed, and Welch retired as a dancer.
The curtain rose again in 1999 when The Rose Theater offered to house a new school and company, Omaha Ballet Theater, which Welch founded. After 11 years at the helm of Omaha’s only professional ballet company, she was stunned when The Rose decided to sever its ties.
“It was draining to see it disintegrate before my eyes,” says Welch of her ballet school.
But she was born to teach. Welch gathered her strength, her money, and her daughter—an accomplished ballet artist herself—and in 2010 opened Robin Welch Dance Arts, home of Heartland Youth Ballet. Welch’s gift of unfettered, joyous movement now shines in her young students.
“I have worked with children trained by Robin,” says Ernest Richardson, Resident Conductor of the Omaha Symphony. “They come consummately prepared. They’re disciplined, respectful, and they know how to work with the orchestra. She’s an amazing woman.”
Accolades from her peers sustained Welch after she thought her life’s work had ended. When the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards presented her with their Lifetime Achievement Award two years ago, she broke down in gratitude.
“I had felt isolated until that point,” she admits. “But [the award] made me feel like I was part of the community again. It came at a great time.”
With Heartland Youth Ballet now soaring, Welch’s story adds another en pointe chapter—this one with a happy ending.