Wendy Whelan answers an audience question Tuesday afternoon at IdeaFestival as Thrivals founder Nat Irvin II looks on. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

Louisville native Wendy Whelan, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, told students at IdeaFest 2017 Tuesday that she overcame illnesses and self-doubt through talent, strength and a bit of luck — but also through hard work and grit.

IF’s first day is geared toward young Louisvillians, and this year’s theme, “No Grit, No Glory, No Guts, No Story,” aimed to instill in the students the notion that they can overcome barriers through hard work and determination.

Wendy Whelan

Whelan battled scoliosis as a child and a severe hip injury late in her career. She retired from NYCB in 2014 after an unusually long 30-year career. The dancer encouraged young Louisvillians to pursue ballet, because it provides benefits even if it does not turn into a career.

Whelan said that she started ballet at age 3 and enjoyed the necessary focus and discipline, but also the social aspects, as many of her friends danced, too. Later, she loved the process of turning the material into something potentially magical.

During a question-and-answer session, Whelan told students that self-doubt remains a part of her life, but it also pushes her towards great courage. During her active career, she controlled those doubts through many hours of practice and preparation, she said.

And after practicing for 10 hours per day for decades, the former ballerina says that now she wants to broaden her focus and explore all the things she missed out on.

A 2017 documentary about Whelan, called “Restless Creature,” has received a perfect score on film review aggregation website rottentomatoes.com. The film is available for download at the usual outlets.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.