Real Life

A leap into the unknown ballet dancers Katherine and Joseph Skelton’s next move

After bowing out, Katherine and Joseph are on the hunt for exciting new talent

It’s the dream of every young ballet dancer to one day be a soloist in a ballet. They dedicate their lives putting in the blood, sweat and tears to have the opportunity to perform for

an adoring crowd.

No one knows that feeling better than Katherine and Joseph Skelton, two of the longest-serving stars of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. But after 13 years, the pair have made the difficult decision to hang up their shoes and start a new chapter.

“It was very nice over the weekend to go watch a ballet show and not be a part of it,” laughs Joseph. “It was so nice being a spectator and not having to think, ‘If someone goes down, I have to run backstage and get into costume.’ I could just sit down and enjoy it – I’ve never had that in my life.”

When the Weekly chats with the happy couple over Zoom, they’re sitting in their new home in Napier. While they made the most of life on the road, getting to see the world while touring with the ballet, they always knew they would end up in Napier, where they have lots of family who live just around the corner.

Ballet plays an important role not only in Joseph and Katherine’s lives, but also their love story. They first met when they were 16, competing against each other at a dance competition in Tauranga. They gravitated towards each other and became instant friends. But those around them could see there was something more between them.

“I remember watching Joseph on stage,” tells Katherine. “My dad looked over at me and said, ‘Uh, oh.’ I don’t know if I sat up in my chair or something, but I think he could tell.”

Not long after, Joseph moved to London for four years to study at the Royal Ballet School. Despite being half a world away from each other, their friendship endured and Joseph visited Katherine whenever he came home.

When he returned for good in 2011, he joined Katherine at the RNZB and their close friendship easily turned into a relationship.

“We were always hanging out, so it was almost like, ‘Why are we not together? What are we waiting for?'” recalls Joseph, 32.

In 2016, they got married in an intimate ceremony in the backyard of Joseph’s parents’ house. While some couples might struggle to work and live together, the pair found it helpful having a partner who understood their uniquely demanding work.

“We clearly like each other a lot because we spend a lot of time together and we don’t get annoyed with each other very often,” jokes Katherine, 33.

The fact their relationship had been built during their time at the ballet only made the decision to walk away even harder. It is something they pondered for years, wanting to make sure they had no regrets.

“It’s harder as you get older,” reflects Katherine. “You need to be doing a lot more to your body to keep flexible and stay strong. We’ve done a lot, so we felt like we’d achieved our goals.”

In 2018, they took a sabbatical from the ballet to see if they were ready for life in the outside world. Joseph took a job in construction, but at the end of the year, they knew they weren’t quite ready for their final curtain call.

“We knew it was too soon to leave,” shares Joseph. “We missed it and we wanted to keep going. Doing that test was good because we knew it wasn’t right. So, this time we knew it was – the feeling was

so different.”

On their final day with the company, they did one last performance of their pas de deux from Giselle and it was the perfect way to close that chapter of their lives.

“It was bittersweet,” admits Katherine. “The last time we ran the pas de deux, I thought, ‘I really do love this art form.’ There were definitely some emotions, but it wasn’t overly sad. We knew it was a good thing and we enjoyed giving everything we could to that last dance.”

Adds Joseph, “It felt more like a celebration – it was a congratulations on two great careers, which made it easier.”

Performing together in Coppelia in 2014.

While they may have left their professional careers behind, they have remained en pointe when deciding what to do with their post-ballet life as they are now the proud owners of the Hawke’s Bay Dance Centre.

“We had nothing planned when we left – we just moved to Napier and were going to see what happened,” tells Joseph, who also works as a realtor at Bayleys Napier. “Then Heather, the previous owner, contacted us. It all worked out.”

As they look to the future, Katherine and Joseph are excited about using their talents to help raise the next generation of ballet stars.

“We’re looking forward to handing over everything we’ve learned from different teachers all over the world and giving that back to our students,” enthuses Katherine.

Continues Joseph, “It’s going to be really rewarding to come at it from a different angle, and really see these kids grow and help them become the best dancers they can be.”

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