When Ben Needham-Wood asked his mother for ballet lessons at age 5, she thought it was just a phase — something he would abandon or eventually outgrow. But it quickly became apparent that this was not just some childhood fling — Ben was born to be a dancer.
After a back injury ended his soccer career, Needham-Wood turned to dance full time. As a student at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., he danced with the prestigious SPS Ballet Company, tackling multiple leading roles in their productions. “That school is amazing,” he says. “They shaped me as an individual, gave me the freedom to choose my own path and make the most of it … I owe (them) a lot in terms of the successes I’ve had and the things that I’ve learned along the way.”
After graduating from SPS in 2006, a faculty connection led Needham-Wood to the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music to study dance. He auditioned for Louisville Ballet on a whim during his sophomore year, looking not for a job but for an excuse to play hooky. When an offer came, it was too good an opportunity to pass up, so Needham-Wood moved to Louisville.
“When I did come here initially, I thought I was only going to be here until I finished my degree, and then I would move (on to) ‘bigger and better’ companies, but I think the more I’ve been here, the more I realize Louisville is actually a really great place to live, and it’s somewhere that I really have started calling home,” he says. “And the company has far exceeded what I expected it to be when I joined … To have found a group of people to work with (that) made me so comfortable with what I’m doing and with my art … (I) think is something I wouldn’t have found anywhere else.”
From the exceptional dancers and family atmosphere to the teaching and choreographing opportunities, Needham-Wood feels that he has found a home with the Louisville Ballet and in Derby City. “The arts community here — I feel like it constantly surprises me … And to have so much support from so many different parts of the Louisville community is a really unique thing you don’t find in other cities.”
At just 23 years old, with break-dancing skills and blue-eyed charm to boot, Needham-Wood feels “very blessed.” —Jennifer Harlan