By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
Samantha Hope Galler had been a rising star in the ballet world, a talent identified not long after her first recital. She was 9 years old.
At the Boston Ballet School, she had been singled out as among the best in her class. She won a scholarship and, transported from her sleepy town of Bedford, Mass., she found herself on a track to become a professional dancer before she left her teens.
Then she got to graduation, the moment she was to find out if she’d have a job with the company afterward. “Actually,” she recalls them telling her, “you’re not what we’re looking for. You’re too athletic, you’re too short, you’re just not right for us.”
It would have been less crushing if they had just told her that she was not good enough or she needed to work harder – things she could have worked on, because she’s never been afraid of the work. Instead, Galler found herself – on what was supposed to be the first day of her professional career – starting over.
Now, at 29, Galler begins a new position this winter as soloist for the Miami City Ballet, the pinnacle of a dancer’s career. To get there, though, she’d take steps down and sideways and learn painful, tearful lessons before climbing back up.
After her rejection in Boston, she spent a year at the Cincinnati Ballet and then five years in the Alabama Ballet in Birmingham. Throughout, she kept wondering how she could overcome what she had been told were limits of the body she was given.
Things changed for her during the Alabama Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet. During practice, she was going through the motions of the death scene, feigning to agonize over her lover’s suicide. She was on the floor, pretending to cry, when her instructor told her it was obvious Galler was faking it.
She channeled all that emotion she had built up in the years since the dismissal in Boston. She thought about her best friend from high school, who had died in a car crash right as Galler was starting her career. Tears filled her face. The real ones.
“They brought that out of me in Alabama,” Galler says. “That’s the moment when I found what the ballet was all about.”
By then, Galler’s path seemed too divergent to get to the top. Most of the best in ballet begin with a company as a kid and learn a specific way to dance from the start. Galler, in her early 20s, was already a journeywoman. “My path is so divergent because I had already been to three places before I got here. It’s almost unheard of.”
Maybe because of that uncertainty she’s had for her whole career, Galler has also always thought about what she’ll do afterward. At nights, she earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Phoenix. She’s considering a master’s, something that’ll help her in her goal to someday become, of all things, a park ranger.
As a dancer, Galler’s athleticism – what she had been told was her shortcoming – became her strength, allowing her to do the jumps and twists required of a soloist. Even today, she spends half her lunch hour doing crossfit exercises, on top of six hours of practice.
Galler joined the Miami City Ballet as a member of the corps in 2014 and danced her way to a top position for the 2018-19 season. She’s relishing her new role as soloist. “This is my dream company, so to be a soloist here, it’s a dream come true,” she says.
Every time she dances, she remembers the lesson she learned in Alabama. Before walking on to stage, she absorbs the emotions she needs to make her performance real. This season, the company will tackle two shows she’s most looking forward to, Dances at a Gathering and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare’s story takes place in Fairyland, with a wedding under moonlight, a tragic love triangle and a cruel death – a perfect setting for a soloist who found how to dance with emotion.
IF YOU GO
Miami City Ballet
Company B begins the season Oct. 19-Nov. 18, along with two George Balanchine masterpieces, the Concerto Barocco and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.
The Nutcracker returns Dec. 7-30 with costumes by the renowned duo Isabel and Ruben Toledo.
Dances at a Gathering, from Jan. 11-27, features two works by Jerome Robbins and the company premiere of Brahams/Handel.
From Feb. 22-March 15, Heatscape includes the romantic Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux, two Balanchine works and, inspired by Miami, Justin Peck’s Heatscape.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is reimagined by Balanchine in this performance of the tale of love and tragedy, March 29-April 14.