Amid a flurry of awards, speeches and tears, one of the last of the Balanchine-trained principals of the New York City Ballet, former Chatsworth resident Heather Watts, has retired.
Watts, who was born in Long Beach and grew up in the San Fernando Valley, danced her last official performance at Lincoln Center in New York on Jan. 15. A gala party followed, with celebrities from the ballet world attending, as well as Watts’ parents, Mr. and Mrs. Keith Watts of Chatsworth.
New York has been Watts’ home since she left the Valley in her teens to attend the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet. She received her first Ford Foundation Scholarship at 13 when she was invited to spend the summer at the school and went there two summers before receiving a full scholarship.
Along with her sisters and two brothers, Watts grew up in Chatsworth and attended Chatsworth Park Elementary School and Christopher Columbus Junior High School.
She began studying ballet with Sheila Rozann at age 9 at the Rozann Ballet Center in Chatsworth. She later studied with Natalia Claire of North Hollywood. Both sent telegrams of congratulations to Watts’ New York party.
“Heather was always outstanding. A marvelous dancer, a marvelous person with the perfect body. A very rare thing to find,” Claire said.
When Watts was 17, George Balanchine, head of the New York City Ballet, invited Watts to become a member of the company. Soon after that, she began assuming solo and principal roles.
Featured on the cover of Dance Magazine in January, Watts is noted for versatility for a wide range of both new and old ballet roles. She is known for her style, unconventional behavior and classic beauty as well as her charitable works.
During her 24-year career with the New York City Ballet, she danced with the company’s best male partners including Ib Anderson, Bart Cook, Daniel Duell, Adam Luders, and Damian Woetzel.
She performed a nationally televised dance with Mikhail Baryshnikov in “Rubies” at the White House for President and Mrs. Carter. Other television appearances included the “Live From Lincoln Center” telecast of Ray Charles in concert with the New York City Ballet.
Setting a precedent with the company, Watts has danced almost exclusively with Jock Soto for the last 14 years. She also is writing a book with Soto on entertaining, gardening and cooking.
In addition to finishing the book in retirement, Watts has discussed with cable television executives the possibility of working on television.
Since 1982, Watts has been director of the New York State Summer School of the Arts in Saratoga Springs, where under the auspices of the New York State Education Department she has administered a ballet school for gifted children.
Turning her celebrity status into a fund-raising power for both dance and AIDS-related charities, Watts is a board member of God’s Love We Deliver and plans to continue her charity work in retirement on her 20-acre farm near Washington, Conn.