Editor’s note: Much of the genesis of this Idyllwild Artist series is to tell the back stories of many of our local friends and neighbors — stories we don’t know. And, inasmuch as Idyllwild is an arts destination, many of the stories are of careers either in or connected with the arts. This is another.

Samantha Lee Hallburn, dancer and choreographer, is artist of the week. Photo courtesy Samantha Hallburn

Samantha Lee Hallburn fell in love with ballet. She was 6. Her family had just moved from the South Bay area of Los Angeles to Nuevo — a major transition from the urban beach communities hugging the coast to rural farmland and horse country of the Inland Empire.

“I was incredibly shy and didn’t want to play with other kids,” said Hallburn. “My grandmother passed by a ballet school in Hemet and thought that would be a way for me to interact and socialize.

“At the first class I fell in love, with the music and then with the physical aspect of the body and the dance. Within three years I knew I wanted to be a ballerina.”

Hallburn studied classically for another 10 years, under the tutelage of Kathryn Scarano in Hemet. She had the talent, the promise, the passion, the drive and the discipline. At 15, she danced a major role in the “Nutcracker” with the Lake Arrowhead Classical Ballet Company. At 17, she was offered positions with multiple ballet companies and schools: the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Company in San Francisco, the Joffrey, the Hartford and the Milwaukee Ballets. The hard work and preparation were about to be rewarded.

Hallburn, at 15, in a performance of “The Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy Samantha Hallburn
Hallburn, at 15, in a performance of “The Nutcracker.”
Photo courtesy Samantha Hallburn

But then Hallburn’s Mother, the greatest supporter of her dance career, was diagnosed with cancer. “I declined the company invitations because of my Mother’s diagnosis,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave in case she passed. She died seven months later. It became evident that my Dad was not going to step up to be father to my siblings,” said Hallburn. “When my Mother died, my sister moved out immediately. I took my brothers and became their sole provider for the next 10 years. They were 7 and 9 at the time.

“I maintained my dance career as best I could, while supporting my brothers, until age 24, by performing for events, teaching, offering master classes and working sales jobs on the side. I held a contract for four seasons with the California Ballet of San Diego.”

Asked if she had regrets about attenuating a major career in dance in order to care for her brothers, she said she would do it again. “Dance provides you such structure and internal discipline — learning how to work hard for what you really want at such a young age carries over into so many disciplines in life,” she said. It was that discipline and devotion to hard work and making the hard choices that carried her through 10 years of raising her brothers, knowing she would never have the full career as a major dancer for which she had prepared.

Still, it is dance that continues to provide her stability and a place in the world. “When I walk into a studio or onto a stage, I feel I’m at home. It’s the one thing in my life I know I know. Nothing else I have ever done has fulfilled me emotionally and physically in this way.”

After her brothers left for their own careers, Hallburn continued to work in dance. She co-founded a dance company in Temecula, the Fine Arts Ballet Theatre. “The company gave older, post-professional dancers a platform from which to continue their passion at the levels and capacity they were able,” she recalled. “For three years I taught, choreographed and danced for FABT until it became financially prohibitive.” Hallburn and co-founder Lisa Kraiger had managed the company and sustained it though ticket receipts and donations at its Old Town Temecula location, but ultimately could not continue.

Hallburn had always come to Idyllwild to hike. After FABT folded, Hallburn said she was financially and emotionally drained. “I was finishing a hike,” she remembered. “A breeze came up, I smelled the pines and knew I wanted to be in Idyllwild. That’s when I found the job at the bank [Idyllwild BBVA].

“Dance is still in my plans. I teach and choreograph when I can.” And in a sweetly circular moment, Hallburn’s brother Stephen, now a professional dancer, recommended Samantha for a choreography job with the Bay Pointe Ballet Company in San Francisco. In May 2015, Hallburn staged a piece for four dancers, to the music of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, the “Moonlight Sonata,” a piece in memory of loved ones lost.

“I would love to continue to be involved in dance,” said Hallburn. “It is my life.”