Little dancers may have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, but for Courtney Connor Jones, that vision is her reality. As a principal dancer with the Oklahoma City Ballet, Connor Jones has portrayed leading roles on stage including the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and Juliet in Romeo & Juliet. Off stage, she is wife to fellow OKC Ballet dancer Sam Jones and mom to 4-year-old daughter Gwyneth. Balancing her busy dance career with the demands of family life keeps Connor Jones on her toes, literally.
Becoming a Ballerina
Born in California, Connor Jones began dancing at the age of 3 and continued when her family moved to North Carolina when she was 5.
“Around age 14 is when it all really clicked for me and I felt that ballet was my path; this is what I have to do,” said Connor Jones.
She completed her training at the prestigious University of North Carolina School of the Arts and started her professional dancing career with the Cincinnati Ballet at the age of 18. It was at the Cincinnati Ballet, where she danced for 11 seasons, that she met her husband.
Moving to OKC
“We had our daughter in Cincinnati and really needed a change as a couple,” recalls Connor Jones, about their decision to move to Oklahoma. “We sent our stuff all over the place and went to auditions. It was a perfect fit with Robert [Mills, OKC Ballet’s artistic director].”
The couple joined OKC Ballet in 2017. Working with her husband at the same company has its pros and cons.
“It can be hard to get dance jobs as a couple since what companies need can vary so much,” said Connor Jones. “But it’s nice to be on the same schedule and see each other, especially for theatre weeks [when the company is performing] since you are in the theatre until 10 p.m. or so. Sometimes we may have different rehearsal schedules so we alternate who picks up Gwyn from daycare.”
A Dancing Family’s Typical Day
The Jones have a pretty early start to their days at their home just outside of Warr Acres.
“We’re not normally morning people, but with a kid, you have to get up early to do anything!” laughs Connor Jones.
Her husband typically wakes up around 5:30 a.m. to walk the dog or go for a run, while Connor Jones wakes up around 6 or 6:30 a.m. to work on her side gig of jewelry making.
The family leaves the house around 8:30 a.m. to take Gwyn to daycare. Daily ballet class is held from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and the rest of the day can be packed with rehearsals until 5:30 p.m. After work, the family heads home, does housework, preps dinner and works on jewelry orders.
Like many parents, Connor Jones finds it challenging to leave her work behind at the studio or theatre in order to be present to her daughter when she gets home.
“As a principal dancer, every role I have now can be very emotionally intensive,” describes Connor Jones. “This last season, I performed in Dracula and Romeo & Juliet and it was really hard. I had to come home and be myself and not be ‘Juliet’ anymore. You go through all these emotions all day long and then you come home to your child who needs attention and wants to play. It can be mentally a lot, but you get home and try to turn it all off and be a mom.”
She notes that motherhood has shaped her as an artist, allowing her to let go and improving her well-roundedness as a dancer.
“When I first had Gwyn, I always worked hard in the studio but there was shyness in my performance,” recalls Connor Jones. “I don’t know if it was a lack of confidence or because I hadn’t done these huge roles yet. After having her, it opened up a part of my brain that I hadn’t used before. I started to see the world differently. It lifted a weight off of me and I became more comfortable emoting.”
Coping During the Pandemic
Like many families these days, the Jones have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and have sought ways to adjust. COVID-19 forced OKC Ballet to close its studios back in March and end its performance season early, though the school has since reopened for classes.
“As dancers, we’re so used to having a schedule every day,” said Connor Jones. “It’s really hard to suddenly not have that, so we made our own schedule as a family.”
This challenging time has presented her with an opportunity to teach Gwyn about perseverance.
“Gwyn witnessed me taking many ballet classes in the kitchen and stretching and doing Pilates-type exercises out of necessity,” describes Connor Jones. “When we were allowed to come back into the studio for short times, she was able to see me struggle and continue to push and work hard through the bad days to try to get back to where I was in March.”
During their downtime, the Jones family enjoys going to Lake Hefner or the Myriad Botanical Gardens to feed the fish, run around and look at the flowers. Connor Jones also enjoys gardening and working on her jewelry line.
“I taught myself jewelry making and have been doing it for the past eight years,” said Connor Jones. “It’s a great outlet and stress relief for me.”
Advice for Young Dancers
Connor Jones notes that a dancer’s life is wonderful but also filled with long hours of hard work and dedication. She urges parents who are thinking of enrolling their child in dance to go in with an open mind.
“For younger kids, they won’t learn so much ballet [technique] at age 3 or 4, so it’s more about developing listening skills, creative movement and recognizing music,” said Connor Jones. “But if you think that your child has talent or the desire, enrolling them in ballet younger is better since it takes a lot of years of training and fine tuning to get to the professional level. You really develop discipline.”
Because of COVID-19, schedules for the Oklahoma City Ballet’s 2020-2021 performances season and/or their classes may change. Find more at their website okcballet.org.