Married To Normal Folk

How four ballerinas and their non-dancing husbands make it work.
Published in the February/March 2011 issue.

Robert Patman and Houston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler dance at their wedding.

Photo courtesy Hassenboehler

Romances between dancers feel natural, almost inevitable. You’re cloistered with your fellow company members all day in the studio, rehearsing swoon-y ballets, so why not marry one of them? Relationships with “civilians,” however, seem more complicated: Figuring out scheduling is stressful, eating habits can differ and one partner probably can’t tell a tendu from a tour jeté. Yet many dancers have found that dating a non-dancer keeps them grounded in the real world. At the end of the day, the things these couples don’t have in common are more of a blessing than a curse. Pointe spoke to four dancers about the special chemistry they feel with their regular guys.

Houston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler and Robert Patman, executive director, Texas Oncology
Hassenboehler and Patman were next-door neighbors before they became husband and wife two years ago. “I stalked her,” jokes Patman, an executive at Texas Oncology. It took a while for him to win the ballerina over. “She always had a friend with her for the entire first year that we dated,” he remembers.

 

Though Patman had never been to the ballet before meeting Hassenboehler, she finds his eye for dance just fine. “He gave me the best compliment ever when he thought someone else danced Odile during a performance of Swan Lake,” she says. “I was aiming for two completely different characters.”
Patman is fascinated by the difference between his job and his wife’s. “The business world is about construction,” he says, “while the arts are more about deconstruction—there is so much critique involved in the process.” And his wife’s schedule can prove a plus as well as a minus. “She works on Saturdays, which means I get to watch all the football I want.”

 

The couple, expecting their first baby in May, come together on selecting pieces for their cozy home. “We love strolling through art festivals and galleries in search of things that will work in our house,” Hassenboehler says. “And I’m guessing he’ll have some decorating tips for the baby’s room!”

 

Ultimately, they find that it’s their differences that create balance. “I’m a cut-and-dried person,” Patman says. “Mimi adds that creative spark.”

 

Hassenboehler is a huge fan of her husband’s achievements. “I admire the way he thinks; he’s so genuine and compassionate,” she says. “He’s my rock.”

New York City Ballet principal Jennie Somogyi and Brian Fallon, New Jersey police officer
You might think a ballerina and a cop would make an odd combination—until you visit with Jennie Somogyi and her husband, Brian Fallon, a New Jersey police officer.

 

The couple met through a mutual friend. Somogyi has long prided herself on living a balanced life. “I’ve always had a lot of non-dancing friends,” she says. “I’ve never dated dancers. I like that I can come home and leave what happened at the studio there.”

 

She has, however, converted Fallon to ballet. “I never watched ballet before Jennie. I appreciate it more and more,” he says. “Although, story ballets, not so much. They make me sleepy. I like abstract pieces.” In fact, Fallon’s whole office has fallen for dance. “It’s so funny to see a bunch of cops reading about
ballet,” Somogyi says.

 

When it comes to aches and pains, the two have very different standards. “He doesn’t always understand just how badly my legs hurt,” Somogyi says. “He’ll come back after a run and ask me to rub his calves.” Fallon counters, “She has no idea how demanding it is to be behind the wheel of a car all day.”

 

The most difficult part of the busy couple’s life? Scheduling, which has gotten even wonkier with the addition of their 2-year-old daughter, Madeline. “One is coming while one is going,” says Fallon. “But we call and text when we are apart,” Somogyi adds. “We even run errands together when we can.” 

 

Ballet Memphis dancer Liliana Muhlbach and Kyle Griffiths, operation analyst, Encore Senior Living
Liliana Muhlbach and her fiancé, Kyle Griffiths, an operation analyst at an assisted living company, met way back in high school. “It’s great that he’s not part of ballet,” Muhlbach says. “Drama at the studio doesn’t follow me home.”

 

But the fact that Griffiths is outdoorsy while Muhlbach is indoorsy gets a bit sticky—especially when the subject of fishing comes up. “It’s not what I want to do with my free time,” admits Muhlbach. Griffiths, who grew up in a ballet-free part of Alaska, is also into extreme sports. But because Muhlbach doesn’t want to risk injury, she isn’t able to join him on his wilder adventures. “As a dancer, she’s not allowed to do some of the things I want to right now, like skiing and mountain climbing,” he says. (Muhlbach plans to try skiing when she retires, but makes no promises about fishing.)

 

Food is another touchy subject. “He’s the health nut!” says Muhlbach. “True, I am an elitist,” says Griffiths. “This is a no-Twinkies household.”

 

The couple has come to terms with the fact that they see each other very little during performance season. “I’m on my own around here,” says Griffiths, who works from home. But Muhlbach does come home to grab lunch when she can—and Griffiths welcomes the break from spreadsheets. “It’s refreshing to be a part of the arts,” he says. “Watching ballet with a live orchestra lets my brain relax. And I always love to watch Lana dance.”

American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles and James McCullough, CEO of Exosome Diagnostics
James McCullough proposed to Michele Wiles while the two were stuck in a traffic jam in Central Park. “It was so spontaneous,” Wiles recalls. The couple also met through a mutual friend, who had been trying to get them together for years.

 

“We both went into it with no expectations,” Wiles says. “But then we had such a fabulous time.”

 

The newlyweds—they were married last October—have adapted relatively easily to life together. Their travel schedules haven’t posed a problem: McCullough, a successful medical marketer who can control his own schedule, follows Wiles on tour. “He’s the CEO, so he can work from anywhere,” Wiles says. It’s sleeping schedules that cause the most tension. “Dancers love to sleep in,” says Wiles—especially after late performance nights. McCullough, who prefers to get up at about 6 am, has learned that lesson the hard way. “Rule number one of being married to a dancer: Do not wake the sleeping ballerina,” he quips.

 

While it would seem that a dancer would be able to teach a non-dancer a thing or two about diet, it’s actually McCullough, a health foodie currently training for a triathlon, who has stepped up Wiles’ nutrition big time. “He cooks me whole-wheat pasta and makes me eat lentils and organic foods,” she says. “We try to watch our sodium and sugar, too. But we’re both always hungry, so it’s often a fork fight for the last bite of food.”

 

McCullough believes that their all-or-nothing vocations bring them closer. He says, “I’ve learned to love ballet almost as much as my own job.” Though it’s hard to put a finger on how, Wiles feels that her experiences with McCullough “translate to more expansive dancing.” She says that being a married to a non-dancer makes her world a bigger place. “James has exposed me to things I’d never experienced,” she says. “I come home and there are scientists in our living room! He’s opened my eyes.”

Nancy Wozny is married to a normal guy. She writes about health and the arts from Houston, Texas.