Married couple John Welker and Christine Winkler perform with the Atlanta Ballet. Winkler gave birth to the couple’s first child, Lucas, on April 6. They’re one of several couples who seek to make romance work while working together at the ballet.
Photo: Kim Kinney
Photo: Kim Kinney

Love in Motion: Romance behind the curtain at Atlanta Ballet

There’s nothing more romantic than the ballet.

If there are any doubts, the Atlanta Ballet’s upcoming program “Love Stories” — a compilation of some of the most romantic dances from its repertoire — should put them to rest.

Fans will watch dancers perform their passionate roles on stage; but what is less known to viewers is there’s often real romance behind the scene. The company has seen six members from its relatively small troupe of 21 pair off and marry in recent years, with hints of more nuptials on the way.

“One of the reasons dancers date each other is because they understand the pressures of the job and the discipline it takes,” says Atlanta Ballet Principal Dancer John Welker. He married Christine Winkler, also a principal dancer with the company, in 1999.

“For a lot of people who are maintaining relationships outside, it’s very hard. We spend so much time in the studio rehearsing.”

Still, the studio with its relentless hard work is an unusual place for romance to blossom. Even things that look romantic on stage often aren’t.

“Kissing on stage is not as romantic as it seems,” says dancer Christian Clark. “You’re sweaty. It’s not enjoyable. It’s technical. You’re counting. That’s not romantic.”

And couples in the ballet often have to watch as their partner dances a love duet with someone else.

“It’s not jealousy in the traditional sense, but jealousy in the sense where I want to be the one partnering with her,” says Welker. “You want to share that moment.”

In spite of the quirks and challenges of romance within a company, dancers often do find their relationships moving from the professional to the romantic.

“We had known each other for a long time, but things started romantically when we toured with ‘Peter Pan,’” says Clark about the relationship that began to develop between him and former principal dancer Naomi Jane Clark about twelve years ago.

“When the tour ended, we started dating.” Clark ended up proposing among the Mayan ruins of Tikal at sunrise on a vacation to Guatemala. The two danced together in the company as husband and wife until 2007 when Naomi retired after a total of 15 years. I really miss having her here and not being able to see her in the studio every day,” says Clark.

Pedro Gamino and Abigail Tan-Gamino are recently married Atlanta Ballet dancers who still see each other in the studio every day. The two first met when they danced for American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey in 2009.

“I didn’t like him at first,” Tan-Gamino says. “I thought he flirted too much with everyone. But then we started partnering for the ‘Nutcracker,’ and we got along.”

The two started dating, and made the move to the Atlanta Ballet in 2010.

Gamino decided to surprise Abigail by popping the question during a curtain call for the “Nutcracker” in 2011 in front of 2000 people at the Fox Theatre. Keeping a secret in such a close-knit company was a challenge.

“It was hard not to tell people because we are all so close,” says Gamino. “We are such a family.”

“During bowing, I noticed everyone was watching really intently,” says Tan-Gamino, who had no idea what was coming. “Then I saw him walking towards me with the mic.”

“I was nervous,” he says. “I said everything in one breath. The best advice came from Christine. I was thinking about this long speech, but she said: just keep it short and quick.”

The answer: a resounding yes.

It seems that Atlanta Ballet dancers are as good at creating romance off the stage as as they are at creating romance on it.

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