Students rush in and out of Erb Memorial Union as Helia Megowan—sitting on a couch across from the grand piano in Taylor Lounge—observes the swirl. She’s dressed in all black athletic wear, and her light brown hair is pulled back neatly in a bun. She grins widely as she talks about her first year at the University of Oregon.
“It’s just so good,” said the Clark Honors College freshman, who’s pursuing a degree in biology.
Although she started at UO this fall, Megowan didn’t follow the path typical of most new students—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 said.
From an early age, dance has dominated her life. Her mother, a successful rhythmic gymnast, quickly saw potential in Helia. Megowan started with rhythmic gymnastics—which merges ballet, gymnastics, and 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 to June Taylor’s School of Dance in Tualatin, where she trained for three years, refining 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 received offers from the Houston Ballet and San Francisco Ballet but declined them both.
Eventually, Megowan’s father filmed an audition tape to submit to the John Cranko School, a prestigious ballet academy in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2017, she was accepted and moved to Germany after her sophomore year of high school. Megowan’s German mother had raised her 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 recalled, referring to the twelve-hour days spent in classes, all of which were taught in Russian.
One of the first things she had to do at the Cranko School was step on a scale to be weighed.
“It was just like the movies,” she said.
Although Magowan sensed that one instructor disliked Americans, and it was tough to make friends in such a highly competitive environment, she feels lucky to have gotten the opportunity. But it took a heavy toll on her. When she returned to the United States to finish high school, she abandoned ballet.
“I had ... anxiety going into ballet studios,” she recalled.
After completing high school, Megowan began looking at colleges. She thought about Oregon State University because her mom had gone there, but a trip to the University of Oregon changed all that. Upon acceptance into Clark Honors College, Megowan’s decision to become a Duck was sealed.
While visiting the university, she attended a drop-in class at Eugene Ballet — only two other people were in the class. Afterward, the instructor complimented her dancing and connected Megowan with Eugene Ballet’s artistic director, who ultimately offered her a position with the company. In addition to leading to a job, that drop-in ballet class helped Megowan come to an important realization.
“I actually still really love (ballet),” she said. “When it’s not super stressful, this is actually something that’s important to me.”
Finding Eugene Ballet and choosing UO felt “meant to be” for Megowan. While she pursues her biology degree, she attends daily classes and rehearsals with the company, and was recently an understudy in Swan Lake. 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 added, smiling widely.
— Keely Smith, CHC Communications