March 1, 2019
With thousands looking upon them, the ballet dancers gracefully glide across the stage to the mellifluous music. They have been working their entire lives for this moment, practicing their art for years to reach their dream of performing under the bright lights of New York City. Faces in the audience display a spectrum of emotions, transforming from sadness to joy as the performance progresses, watching keenly as the dancers portray a dramatic, dreamlike story. This is the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center, and this is where Miriam Miller’s dreams came true.
As a child, Miller was fascinated by the world of dance. Starting at age three, Miller became heavily involved in tap, jazz and ballet. However, she ultimately decided to focus on ballet at the age of eight.
“I didn’t really see myself dancing jazz or tap professionally. It wasn’t something that I enjoyed as much,” Miller said. “[Ballet] brought out a different emotion in me that all those other types of dancing didn’t necessarily do.”
Miller worked with different ballet groups in Iowa City, dancing at the University of Iowa’s Dance Forum for eight years and then with City Ballet of Iowa for six years. There, she met one of her most influential instructors, Sarah Barragan, a faculty member at City Ballet of Iowa, and discovered her true dream of becoming a professional dancer.
“[Barragan] introduced me to this dance world and encouraged me and made me feel like it was possible and that it was something that I could actually attain,” Miller said. “She inspired me a lot as I was getting involved with it.”
As Miller developed her technique and movement, Barragan noticed significant improvement in her dancing and observed her dedication. She realized Miller had the potential to become a professional dancer.
“She was the fastest study that I’ve ever had. She was able to pick up and apply all the corrections I was asking from her immediately,” Barragan said. “I’m really proud that she’s caught on to the details, because it’s not just learning the correct step or how to recite it; it’s the feeling, the energy, the emotion or the projection you present with your portabra, with your arms and with your fingers.”
However, Miller’s commitment to ballet often prevented her from having a typical high school experience, limiting her time at West to only her freshman year.
“I missed a period during the day to go to ballet class. They allowed for that schedule change, which helped me because I wouldn’t have been able to train for the dancing that I was doing,” Miller said.
After years of training, Miller felt ready to move to the next level. She auditioned for summer courses in Chicago, and later, the School of American Ballet in New York. After a string of successful auditions, Miller found herself closer to her dream, receiving an offer from the prestigious school. At the same time, she enrolled in the Professional Children’s School, a private institution, to study various subjects like any other high schooler. The transition to New York, however, was much different than she expected.
“West was where I felt like I was a normal high school student. I think that if I didn’t have that experience, it definitely would have molded me maybe into a different person,” Miller said. “I’m just very thankful that I had that experience and feeling like a real high schooler and a real teenager was important just for my well being. Even getting to go to football games and all of that was nothing that I did in New York.”
Less than three years after attending the School of American Ballet, Miller earned a spot in the New York City Ballet. With rehearsals during the day and shows at night, she eventually found herself in a featured role as Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream, just four months after beginning to work for the dance company.
Later in her career, she had the opportunity to perform back in Iowa City at Hancher Auditorium during a nationwide tour.
“Being able to share my part of the world and have all of my family get a glimpse of New York City Ballet and to be able to bring that to my hometown and share the art with everyone, it was just really special because not everyone can come out to New York,” Miller said. “[I wanted to] try and inspire younger dancers that might not know what the dance world is about and that it’s nothing beyond anyone’s reach.”
Barragan, in particular, was thrilled to see Miller return to Iowa City.
“It’s amazing to see her grow and mature in her artistry, in her work, and her ability to be versatile to do contemporary ballet and classical ballet,” Barragan said. “Having a young dancer that had the talent like Miriam comes around once in your lifetime. It’s amazing that I got to have that opportunity. It was an honor to work with her.”
For Miller, performing ballet in New York was no longer a dream. Her passion and commitment towards the art was unprecedented, becoming the only ballet dancer in the state of Iowa to dance with the New York City Ballet. Because she acknowledges that the opportunity to become a professional dancer was quite rare, Miller wants to keep sharing the art that she loves with every performance while it lasts.
“Knowing that all eyes are on me is just something that I could have never imagined for myself, and having that realization in the moment on the stage was pretty special,” Miller said. “Being able to evoke some sort of emotion to them is something that I really enjoy doing.”