At 33, Ian Hussey has been involved with the Pennsylvania Ballet for most of his life: 15 years as a professional dancer, 24 including roles he danced as a student.
But in May, the beloved principal dancer will take his final bow with the company before going on a long vacation and moving to New York City.
Retirement is not a transition any dancer looks forward to. Ballet is a short career known for being hard on the body — most dancers retire around 40. It is said dancers die twice: when they retire and again when they pass away. But Hussey decided to go out on top.
“My dreams came true,” said Hussey, who grew up in Westmont, N.J. “I got to dance with the company I grew up idolizing. My mom sees every program. She never missed one.”
Hussey danced every role and ballet he ever wanted to perform. He played the lover, villain, village idiot, and performed modern, classical, and character roles.
“Every dancer that I’ve ever spoken to said, ‘You’ll know when you know’ ” it’s time to retire, Hussey said. “I just kind of knew.”
But on Monday, he was emotional before he even started talking about the transition.
“We lost my teacher, Marcia Dale Weary,” Hussey said, sniffling. Weary was the founder of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle and trained many legendary dancers. The school announced her death Monday morning. Weary has an excellent track record: Another of her former students, Jonathan Stafford, last week was named artistic director of the New York City Ballet. “I wouldn’t have had the career that I had if it weren’t for her and her school,” Hussey said.
Hussey started ballet at 9, after his mother took him to see the Pennsylvania Ballet dance Nutcracker. That summer, he started classes at the Rock School, which was then affiliated with the Pennsylvania Ballet. By December, he was one of the children dancing on stage in the Nutcracker party scene. After that, he was the Prince for four years and then a mouse another few years. (He has since danced many of the principal roles in that ballet.) His parents drove him to and from the school every day before he moved at 15 to Carlisle, where spent his final three years of training.
But even when Hussey was still a student in Carlisle, former Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Roy Kaiser would hire him to fill out the corps for large ballets.
“I wasn’t that kid who was crazy talented,” Hussey said. “I had to put in my time to really improve myself. I have pride and gratitude for my parents and teachers — and for myself — that I was able to accomplish that.”
Hussey said he was eager to finally live with his husband, Adam Scher, a multimedia artist in New York whom he married last summer. Five years of long distance was enough. “The desire to build a life and a family with him definitely plays a factor” in his retirement, Hussey said.
He also wanted to retire before his body asked him to.
“I look at all my contemporaries and my colleagues. I’ve seen people get injured and have to leave the dance world. I’ve seen people get fired," Hussey said. "It’s not very often that a dancer on their own terms, doing the work that they want, in the time that they want get to write their own history. I’m still dancing well and feel I have a lot to give as an artist. But it’s the right time to make a change in my life.”
The most special moment of his career, Hussey said, was when he was a young corps de ballet dancer and debuted as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Arantxa Ochoa, his childhood idol, was his Juliet. At the end of the performance, Kaiser promoted him to soloist on stage in front of the audience.
Hussey liked this season’s ballets for his final bow. His final program — and the company’s season finale — includes DGV: Danse à Grand Vitesse by Christopher Wheeldon, a choreographer whose work he’s enjoyed dancing over the years. The Pennsylvania Ballet will present the company premiere of Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins, another of Hussey’s favorite choreographers. The program will also include a world premiere by Jorma Elo.
As for the future, Hussey is finishing up a bachelor’s degree through an extension program at St. Mary’s College that caters to professional dancers.
He also plans to remain in the dance world as a coach, stager, or rehearsal director.
But “Pennsylvania Ballet is still going to be a part of my life forever,” he said. “I know we’ve gone through a lot of change and turmoil, but I love everyone.
"I’m married to this place.”