Miami City Ballet’s Dawn Atkins Looks Forward to Her First Season as Principal Dancer

August 30, 2023

Over the course of her career, Miami City Ballet’s Dawn Atkins has come to value herself as a whole person, not just as a dancer. The recently promoted principal credits this shift to finding inspiration from within and developing skills outside of ballet.

Atkins spent her formative years as an artist at Boston Ballet, where she climbed the ranks for several seasons before making the leap to Miami City Ballet as a soloist in 2021. Pointe spoke with Atkins to learn what’s keeping her grounded and how finding the right company fit can make all the difference in a dancer’s career.

What prompted the move from Boston to Miami?

Actually, it was my husband’s finance career. The move to Miami made sense for him, and I felt excited to explore the work [artistic director] Lourdes Lopez was doing at MCB, so I reached out to the company asking for an audition.

After being so established at Boston Ballet, was it difficult to suddenly be in a new place?

Sometimes I still can’t believe I made the move—I do not like change! I definitely had to get out of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I did.

Figuring out where I fit into the company and how I could be an asset was a new challenge, because I had grown into my role at Boston Ballet. This was much more abrupt. Luckily, the people here are fabulous and welcoming.

How have you been adjusting to the differences in repertoire (and weather!) at Miami City Ballet?

Feeling the sunshine at some point every day does wonders for my mood. I do miss the seasons sometimes, but my day-to-day has improved quite a bit.

The camaraderie between the dancers at MCB is so great. We’re genuinely supporting each other and cheering each other on. That’s one of this company’s strong suits. We take the work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. There’s a lightness about it. We laugh a lot!

Dawn Atkins kneels onstage during a performance, looks up dramatically, and pulls her fists into her chest. She wears a tall white hat with red and black abstract designs, a short dress with a red bodice, pleated white skirt and long red cape, white tights and pointe shoes. The cape is draped around her left leg with the train piled in front of her. Behind her, two men sit onstage and watch her.
Dawn Atkins in George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Atkins.

In terms of the dancing styles being quite different, MCB has a much more diverse repertoire than I realized, which has been a cool surprise. The staff has been patient and gracious with me as I’ve adapted to the MCB’s slightly more Balanchine style. But that being said, [former NYCB principal] Margaret Tracey was the head of Boston Ballet School while I was training there, so I had a bit of that background.

Congratulations on your promotion to principal dancer at MCB! What privileges and responsibilities do you aim to embody as a principal dancer?

I think the privileges are super-evident and so surreal. It’s an honor to dance iconic roles in amazing ballets. I’m so grateful. As for responsibilities, you have to conduct yourself with integrity and honesty. It’s important to never settle and always realign yourself with your goals.

I would also love to be a positive light in the company. I want to be part of what makes this a great place to work by supporting my peers and inspiring younger dancers.

Has your career looked the way you expected it to?

No! I think as a young dancer aspiring to be a professional, you know it’s not easy, but you don’t fully anticipate the injuries and setbacks that will come up in your life. When I was younger, I don’t think I processed those very real possibilities. I didn’t foresee so many bumps along the way, but I’ve learned a lot from the challenges. I wouldn’t trade it, though, because I love where I’ve ended up. It’s all worth it.

Being here now, it’s like all the pieces of the puzzle fit. When you find a place where you’re surrounded by people who support and inspire you, you can be your best self. There are challenging times even in places you love, but if you can find that inspiration from within, you’re on the right track.

It’s important to find a good fit for all of the other parts of your life—your partner, your dog—as well. I think sometimes we forget that there’s a whole person attached to this ballet dancer. We can’t leave them in the dark. Dancing takes so much dedication, but it’s important to remind yourself to look past that and see your whole self.

Dawn Atkins takes a wide fourth position lunge onstage with her left leg in front. She reaches her right arm high and her left arm low and looks out towards the audience, smiling. She wears a yellow tutu with blue bows on the skirt and bodice, pink tights and pointe shoes, and dances in front of a black backdrop.
Dawn Atkins in George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15. Photo by Daniel Azoulay, courtesy Atkins.

On that note, can you tell us about your experience with higher education?

In 2015, I sustained a pretty serious knee injury. I realized then that I hadn’t developed any other interests outside of ballet. So I dove right in: I enrolled in college through the partnership between Boston Ballet and Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies, and four years later I graduated from Northeastern University with a BS in management. During that time, I also got my real estate license.

Exploring these interests gave me a sense of security and confidence, pride that I could achieve things outside of the studio.

Do you have any advice for aspiring dancers who dream of being principal artists?

Always work as hard as you can, and do it for yourself. Hard work won’t always yield the results that you want, but you’ll be making yourself proud. You’ll have a body of work, likely your own body literally, that you’re proud of. That’s worth something.

Also remember you’re human. I think most dancers get into this because we love expressing ourselves and connecting with the audience, so the more human you are, the more you will resonate with the audience. That’s special. Don’t be afraid to share yourself with the audience.