When Roberta Wong re-established her acquaintance with Elaine Bauer during Bauer’s recent residency with Butler Ballet’s Giselle, Wong simultaneously re-connected with coming to Indianapolis almost a quarter-century ago.
A third-year biology major at University of California-Davis, in 1985 Wong was exercising her other passion as an apprentice with the Boston Ballet. Coincidentally, a group from the then-Indianapolis Ballet Theatre traveled to Boston Ballet to watch Butler Dance graduate Elaine Bauer with Boston Ballet.
“They picked me out of warm-up and offered me a contract.”
End of biology degree, start of a career in ballet under IBT founder George Verdak and then under Dace Dindonis. After a severe injury in 1992, Wong enrolled at Butler to complete her degree in biology.
“I really thought I had quit [dance]. I gave all my dance clothes away. Then in 1994, I started taking classes with David [Hochoy]. In spring 1995 I was in his first Carmina Burana.”
Ultimately, Wong and Dance Kaleidoscope became synonymous as she moved steadily up the ranks to become principal dancer.
“You keep on moving until you find the right fit,” Wong summarizes in retrospect. This mantra resurfaced in 2003 when she decided to leave DK.
“I knew I needed a change, yet I had conflicted feelings about leaving DK because I felt I still had something left to give. I had plans, but not THE plan. It was an interesting choice to stay in Indianapolis. It’s never simple, but it is ‘give yourself time.’ It has taken five years to grow out of the leaving, trying to be accepted for [my] evolution. Artists do not remain static.”
Far from static, Wong toured nationally in 2004 with Weird Al Yankovich, in 2005 danced with Praise Gathering and continues to appear annually with Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Yuletide Celebration. Yet it is teaching where she is “helping to open doors and people are walking through them constantly.”
It’s her continuum of a multifaceted career that started with a chance encounter to prove herself professionally as a dancer.
“Now I’m teaching at four different places with four different populations — all challenging.”
Wong teaches ballet at Butler University Jordan College of Fine Arts and with the IU-Bloomington Contemporary Dance Department, and modern dance at Jordan Academy of Dance and Anderson University.
“Laurel Goetzinger, a faculty member in Anderson’s music department, recognized a need and had the vision to bring me to start dance four years ago. We started with a handful and now have a major with 70 students whose career interests include hip-hop ministry, musical theater and swing choir. Though Church of God affiliated I have seen nothing but support.
“It’s a whole new world to embrace for Anderson students.”
On reflection, Wong recognizes that “retiring” from DK equally allowed her to embrace an ever-changing creative landscape. “You keep discovering. But the big picture is not merely lateral, it is also deep.”