My name is Billy Ward, and I’m proud to have started my life in dance at Lake Charles Civic Ballet.
My sister Rebecca danced with Lady Leah from as early as I can remember. Lady’s son Bill was a childhood friend of mine, and one day, my brothers (Clay & Norman) and I were enlisted by Bill to work backstage. As we were tying a giant backdrop of Oak Alley to a pipe, readying the stage for one of Lady’s signature ballets, she walked out of the darkness of the upper stage-right wings. She was pure raw energy; you could feel her presence moments before you saw her. Until that day, I’d never met this tiny, confident, beautiful woman.
She introduced herself: “Hello, I’m Lady Leah, director of the Lake Charles Civic Ballet. Thank you so much for helping us.” Wow! She was the stuff of old southern lore. A lady in all aspects, and the director! I was speechless, which was normal for me at that point in my life, as I’d been diagnosed with an extreme case of dyslexia. I still don’t care much for the word failure, but the fact is before that day, I was a failure. In my childhood, defeat after defeat left me a shell, a numb and frightened kid who didn’t care about learning. I didn’t even want to try anymore. How many times could I take the blame for not applying myself or being lazy? The moment I met Lady Leah, I guess God intervened!
Lady walked up to me and asked me to take off my shoes and point my foot. Just like that, right out of the blue! I thought, this Lady is nuts! Anyway, you didn’t say no to Lady Leah, so I took off my shoe and mimicked what I thought a pointed foot was. She looked at me and said, “You have to be a dancer.”
I thought; get me out of here quick! No way am I going to do this stuff. I like being around beautiful girls in leotards, but I’m not dancing! Well, the next thing I knew, she had set up a class to teach some of the guys – including my brothers – to learn to lift the girls and to do a polka, in case she needed us for a ballet she was choreographing called Buckskin Believers. In class she started sneaking in a ballet step or two. I remember jumping across the floor with my brothers as Lady counted out the music for us, screaming, “Jump boys!” I was stunned at the joy and camaraderie I felt, doing the step and sharing it with my brothers. It felt right to use my body like this, in a centuries-old art form I was doing without too much difficulty.
About a week later, I showed up for the class but guess who didn’t? All of the other guys! I grabbed my backpack and tried to get out of the room without Lady seeing me, but she nailed me, saying, “Billy Ward get to the barre between Missy and Renee and do what they do.”
I left Lake Charles the next year with a full scholarship to the 2 best ballet schools in America! If it weren’t for Lady being the force of nature and the complete “total theatre” experience she is, my life may have taken another turn. I owe her everything; I learned to believe in myself because of her support and excitement in my dancing. I thank her every day and know even now, as I am still dancing with the New York City Opera, that my wonderful life, my joy, was uncovered for me by her.
Thank you, Lady, for dreaming and telling me daily you knew I could do it! Nothing is impossible…