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Last Dance

A beloved veteran dancer begins the new ballet season with a curtain call.

Mimi Hassenboehler

From a break between rehearsals to chat with a writer, to the rare whole week off she just enjoyed—a little vacay to her hometown of New Orleans—Houston Ballet principal dancer Mimi Hassenboehler, 40, counts every breather as a blessing. But soon, after 21 years with the company, those coveted spots of downtime may come just a bit more often. “I’m really looking forward to being a mommy diva for a while,” she says. After dancing the title role in The Merry Widow this month, Hassenboehler will retire.

Her career in Houston began in 1992, and she spent eight years working her way up through the corps, becoming a principal dancer in 2000. “My first professional show was here in Houston,” says the long and lean dancer, “so it’s perfect that I’m ending it here. Everyone remembers their first. First kiss, first boyfriend, first dance.”

Widow runs Sept. 19-29. “This is such a beautiful show to end on,” says Hassenboehler, dancing in the ballet for the fourth time. “It’s so effervescent and bubbly, and the waltz—the ‘Merry Widow Waltz’—is a quintessential dance in ballet.”

Through her years in Houston, Hassenboehler has not only shown grace as a dancer, but also as wife and mom. She and husband Bob, an exec at a physicians’ network, share their Heights home with their 2-year-old son Teddy, who was born with Down syndrome. “I’ll be focusing all my energy on being home with him for at least the next year,” she says. “I mean, in reality, it’s really for the rest of my life.”

Wistful about what she’s leaving behind, she’s also philosophical about what’s next. “There will always be shows I haven’t danced in that I want to. That’s the cruel nature of this business. The good thing is that I’ve learned a lot. And once you think you know a lot about something,” she says, “you need to leave it.”

Mimi’s Hots
Real stovetop popcorn, winters in Houston, iced coffee from Boomtown (or a slow drip from Catalina), live music, the Rise School of Houston, dinner with her husband at Uchi

Mimi’s nots
Rudeness, traffic, bad design, crawfish that are heavily seasoned on the outside rather than boiled properly, “creepy crawlers” like fleas or rats (“no problem with roaches though”)