Transitioning from Company to Retirement


Samantha Klanac Campanile is retiring from dance at the age of 33 after 15 years in Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. She reflects on what her career has meant to her, why she’s made the decision to retire, and how she’s grown over the years.


Where were you when you joined Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) 15 years ago?

I had just completed my first year at SUNY Purchase, a conservatory program outside of Manhattan. During my second semester, I felt that if I wanted to dance professionally, I needed to try now.

I started auditioning, and met Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe (J.P.) Malaty, the artistic directors of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, at the Joffrey studios in New York. They invited me to come to Aspen for the summer. I had just turned 19, and had no previous professional experience. After three months, I was cast in a new ballet, but still didn’t have a contract. They suggested I go back to school for the next semester. When I came out to Santa Fe to perform in the show, I was offered a contract. That’s when I became fulltime.

What have been some personal highlights during your time at ASFB?

Performing at the top venues – especially the seven times we’ve performed at the Joyce – has been really special. Wolftrap, The Kennedy Center, The Harris in Chicago…those are some of my favorite stages. All of the tours to Italy have also been very memorable. Another highlight was performing Jiří Kylián’s Return to a Strange Land. It was a really big challenge, but an honor to perform a masterpiece by Kylián.

Another bonus has been cultivating a second family amongst the company. My friendships with company members past and present, as well as with Tom and J.P., are so special to me. One of the hardest parts about retiring is knowing I will see these incredible people less than I do now.

How have you grown as a dancer over the past 15 years?

I started very green – I didn’t quite know what I was getting into. I knew I liked dancing and performing – I’ve always loved the feeling of being onstage and connecting to an audience – but when I started with the company, I’d only ever worked with a handful of choreographers before. Luckily, at ASFB we have the gift as dancers of being part of so many new creations. Learning to connect with choreographers has been an area of growth. I’ve also learned so much from my colleagues and from Tom and J.P. I remember in one of my first rehearsals, I was corrected on little nuances I didn’t even know were important at the time. The way Tom takes the time to perfect the little details is incredible. He has so much to offer to artists. Even now, I’ll crave a note from Tom because it helps me grow.

You’ve been at ASFB longer than any other company member. Was it a purposeful decision to spend your whole career with the same company?

Year after year, I evaluated and checked in with myself, and I always felt like I was still growing with the company and believed in the direction it was going. I connected with it. Of course, the career for a dancer is short, but every time I checked in, it was still a really good fit.

There’s also something to be said for a little bit of stability in a dancer’s life. If you’re switching companies, contracts and cities, it can be a lot of added distraction from your art. Having stability to grow was important to me.

1ts Flash Photo Shoot

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

What do you perceive is the value of having a ballet company in smaller cities like Aspen and Santa Fe?

I think it’s important to have art anywhere in any community. Both Aspen and Santa Fe have so much art and culture. In that regard, it’s only fitting those cities should have a ballet company. But the value goes both ways. As a dancer, I truly feel part of the community I’m representing. It’s special to go into the grocery store after a show and hear people say hi. Having the opportunity to see a dance performance gives people the chance to be turned on to something different. But that’s the value of art anywhere.

Because the company chooses to commission new works, has there been personal value to you in getting to work with so many choreographers?

It’s a pinnacle of the company’s mission, and I think it’s why many dancers and audiences are drawn to ASFB. New work is important; it pushes the art form forward. I have so much respect and trust in Tom and J.P.’s vision both artistically and in terms of business.

Why did you decide to retire this year, and what are you planning on pursuing next?

This is my number one question. I’m 33 years old, and I’m married to a very supportive non-dancer, Nick Campanile. Although he has become a dance fan and supporter of ASFB, he has been very patient but eager to have a fulltime companion. We have goals as a couple that we are excited to pursue. We’d like to start a family and spend more time together. The benefits of my career have also been a challenge; although an incredible experience, touring can be a challenge to one’s personal life.

I really do feel fulfilled. So many dancers have to stop because of injury or their contract is not renewed. It’s not always a dancer’s choice when to stop. I’ve gotten to do over 40 ballets and be part of over 20 new creations. I feel like I can’t ask for much more. For those reasons, it feels right and okay. But it’s incredibly emotional and bittersweet. I’ve loved my life. But at certain points, change has to happen. I feel it in my gut, and I have to trust that, the same way I trusted my gut to come out west when I was a teenager.

As for what I’m going to do next, I’m open. I don’t have anything specific in mind though. I want to take in the end of my identity as a performer. I’m not going to say I’ll never be involved in dance again, but at this point, I’m keeping my options open. I’m open to teaching or going into the administrative side of dance, or perhaps learning about dance therapy.

If you could give yourself advice 15 years ago, what would you tell yourself?

As dancers, we critique every ounce of who we are, every nuance of every movement. Of course, it’s important to work hard, but it’s also important to be present and take in all the beauty of what’s happening around you. Fifteen years has gone by fast, and now, in my last performances, I can’t help but try to take in every detail, like the sound of the curtain closing or the costumes freshly steamed and ready to go in the dressing room. I would have started reflecting on what was happening around me sooner but, because I was so intent on my craft, I didn’t always take it in.

Any other thoughts?

I grew up in a household with a family that was incredibly supportive of following a dream and working hard. My parents have been my #1 fans as a child as well as an adult. Both of my brothers have kept me grounded…and laughing! I’m so thankful for that support system. In this transition now, I’m more grateful than ever for their guidance and friendship. It means the world they have shared this journey with me.

01_Photoshoot for Uneven

Photo courtesy Aspen Santa Fe Ballet