In the Taylor Lounge of the Erb Memorial Union, Clark Honors College student Helia Megowan sits on a couch across from the grand piano as students rush back and forth in between classes. Megowan’s hair is pulled back neatly in a bun, and she dons all black athletic clothes. She grins widely as she talks about her life as a first-year at the University of Oregon.
“It’s just so good,” she says with a wide, earnest smile.
Megowan started at UO this fall, but she did not have the most typical path of most new attendees — in fact, up until recently, she wasn’t sure if she’d pursue higher education.
“I didn’t even think I would graduate high school,” she adds.
From an early age, her life was dominated by dance. Her mother, a successful rhythmic gymnast, saw potential in her daughter from an early age. Megowan started with rhythmic gymnastics — which merges ballet, gymnastics , dance, and includes an apparatus such as a hoop, ball, or ribbon — but switched to ballet at age five. She trained at Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland for eight years before moving on to June Taylor’s School of Dance in Tualatin where she trained for three years, and where Magowan says she was able to refine her technique.
Attending high school during the academic year, Megowan spent many of her summers at ballet intensives — auditions for year-round spots in ballet companies — with numerous companies across the country. She was offered spots with Houston Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, but declined them both.
Eventually, Megowan submitted an audition for the John Cranko School, a prestigious ballet academy in Stuttgart, Germany. Her father filmed her audition, and they sent the footage over. She was accepted into the school and moved to Germany after her sophomore year of high school. Megowan, who is mother is German, raised her daughter to speak both English and German, so the transition to German life was not too hard. The school itself, however, was another story.
“Nothing can prepare you for a school like that,” Megowan says, referring to the twelve hours a day she spent in classes at the school. All her classes were taught in Russian, and Megowan remembers that one of the first things she had to do when starting at the school was step on a scale to be weighed.
“It was just like the movies,” she says. Although Megowan sensed that one instructors seemingly disliked her because she was American and it was tough to make friends in the highly competitive environment, she was lucky to get to train there.
The intensity of the school did take its toll on her, however. She returned to the states to finish high school and abandoned ballet.
“I had...anxiety going into ballet studios,” she recalls.
When she returned from Germany, Megowan decided to apply for college. She thought that she’d attend Oregon State University since her mom went there, but a trip to University of Oregon changed that when she realized she loved it here. Upon her acceptance into the honors college, Megowan’s decision to become a Duck was sealed.
While visiting the university, she attended a drop-in class at Eugene Ballet — one of three people in the class. The instructor approached her afterward to compliment her dancing. She connected Megowan with Eugene Ballet’s artistic director, who ultimately offered her a job with the company. Besides helping her land a job, that single ballet class helped Megowan come to an important realization.
“I actually still really love [ballet],” she says. “When it’s not super stressful, this is actually something that’s important to me.”
Finding Eugene Ballet and deciding to attend UO felt “meant to be” for Megowan. While she pursues her degree in biology, she attends daily classes and rehearsals with the company. Maintaining her grades while keeping up with dance can be challenging, but Megowan attributes her success to being an “intrinsically motivated person.” Megowan hopes to use her biology degree to become a physical therapist at a ballet company.
She also plans to continue dancing professionally and sees it as a long-term goal.
“But I’m pretty much at the beginning right now,” she adds, smiling.