Long-time ballerina retires from Sac Ballet

Photo by Keith Sutter

Photo by Keith Sutter

Sacramento Ballet dancer Montana native Isha Lloyd has announced her retirement from her first career. Spending nearly seven years with this “incredible family of professional artists”, as she describes her fellow dancers, Lloyd has unfortunately accumulated an incredible amount of injuries that have caught up with her, ending a memorable career. “(The injuries) are finally physically preventing me from enjoying or being able to perform,” she told Valley Community Newspapers.
The first dancer in her family besides her grandfather who was a can-can dancer, Lloyd said she is not sure where she got her passion and dance ability from, though she said she got the ballet bug when she was little.

Forced into ballet when she was 3 years old, along with baseball, soccer and swimming, she hated it until she was 9 and started taking classes in Montana. One of the few states with a residence in ballet program, Lloyd “absolutely loved” ballet. She quit track, swimming and all of the other sports she played up until then.

At that young age, Lloyd began her ballet regimen of dancing six days a week and that drive was an impetus for her to graduate early from high school. But days before the commencement ceremony (as well as her prom and SAT examinations), she got into a terrible, life threatening car accident. Her doctor said she would never dance again, but she proved otherwise within weeks, despite being in a coma for three days and suffering brain trauma, a broken pelvis and leg. Doctors put a titanium rod in her femur. Her first goal toward dancing again was to walk across the stage at graduation. Because she knew if she put herself on a recovery fast track, she would be more likely to fulfill her prior commitment to the Seattle Pacific Northwest Ballet Company, where she danced prior to joining Sac Ballet.

“I made it a goal to walk at graduation. I ditched the crutches. My brother was there to catch me if I fell, which I didn’t do. Getting back to ballet was hard,” she said. That’s when she took Pilates seriously. Her dance teacher in Montana was certified in Pilates and came up with a regimen and brought her back on her feet. Time passed quickly from then on, starting in Seattle where Carinne Binda Cunningham of the Sacramento Ballet happened to watch a random Saturday class. “She picked me out and offered me an apprentice contract. I said why not? I was going to be a ballerina. I am so glad I did it. I spent seven years here. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

During Lloyd’s first month of dancing for the Sacramento Ballet, she contracted mononucleosis. “I started on the wrong foot, but they stuck with me,” she said. And, despite being injury prone, the company embraced her talent and passion, giving her leads in such productions as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker.

Because of the surgery, she can felt the cold weather coming during Nutcracker season. “I feel old. My bones get stiffer. It’s harder to move the hip joint and I have a harder time warming up. But Pilates have helped me get warm.” For Lloyd, this additional physical work became “muscle memory” but it was something that made her feel a lot better. “When I don’t do it, I can notice a difference,” she said.

Photo by Keith Sutter

Photo by Keith Sutter

Having a lead in the Modern Masters in the spring, Lloyd decided to dance through her pain, warding it off with pain killers and holding off on a surgery until three days after the final production. Lloyd has decided to stay in Sacramento and focus on her education toward a second career in Sports Medicine hopes to organize the Sacramento Ballet into a better dance health care program.

She also teaches a Pilates class at Pipeworks, where she took up rockclimbing and met her boyfriend. “Ballet dancers make for the perfect rock climber,” she notes. “Your legs are strong. You’ve got the muscle memory and are smart enough to know the choreography of the route. I use that to my benefit. It’s a different kind of release and you are connected by a rope. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a good transition from pretty, pretty ballet to climbing up rocks. I am lucky to find something out of ballet that makes me so happy.”

Earlier in the day when Lloyd sat down with this publication on Nov. 8, she had taken a ballet class at the Sacramento Ballet. Depending on who is teaching the class, she said, it could be anywhere between 1 to 3 hours long. Considered the warm-up class for the ballet company, Lloyd said she has been told by the Cunninghams that she is always welcome to come by, though she has retired.

It’s because she cannot give up the art completely. Realistically she commented on how quickly one can get out of ballet shape. “We have a joke in ballet that after missing one day of practice, your body feels it, two days off your boss knows it and after three days, everybody knows it,” she said.

Asked how many performances she has done for the Sacramento Ballet, Lloyd tried to add it up aloud. “Normally we do three ballets per rep and there’s about five reps per year. And then there’s four … I would have to look at my resume to see.”

A few of her colleagues wrote VCN accolades in tribute to Lloyd. Gabriel Williams said: “It was wonderful watching Isha grow as an artist over the years I was fortunate enough to work with her. Her enthusiasm, work ethic, and drive were highly valued at both the Sacramento Ballet and Black Rock City Ballet. I was always happy to have the chance to work with her.”
Said Ilana Goldman, “Isha was extremely focused and driven in the studio. She would often volunteer to understudy or learn extra roles so that she could challenge herself and gain exposure to new movement styles. Isha was not just a force in the studio and on stage, but she was pro-active in helping Sacramento Ballet have a presence in the community as well. It was a pleasure working with her as a dancer in the company and also as a choreographer.”


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