Autumn Klein cannot remember a time before she loved to dance. Growing up in a family of scientists, she naturally gravitated toward the fine arts instead. She began taking ballet classes at age 2 in her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, and excelled as a competitive dancer into her teenage years.
Ballet wasn’t necessarily her favorite form of dance growing up, but it evolved into a deep-rooted passion that ultimately changed the course of her life.
“I was a competitive jazz dancer until I was 16,” she recollects. “I graduated from high school and realized that other forms of dance just wouldn’t give me the same options. I wanted to be able to tell lots of stories through dance. Ballet was how I could do that.”
At age 16, Autumn moved to Texas to train at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy. She remembers the culture shock that she felt when she entered the academy, where she trained for more than 12 hours each day during the week.
She spent three years in training, performing as a member of Houston Ballet II and preparing to make the leap into the world of professional ballet dancing.
“It was all a bit overwhelming,” she admits. “I went from a competitive dance environment, where everyone is excited and cheering, to a world that was more quiet and stoic. But I never would have become a professional dancer without my experience there. It changed my life.”
From the Houston Ballet, Autumn began dancing full time at Texas Ballet Theater in Fort Worth. After a few seasons, her professional career took an unexpected turn.
“My contract at Texas Ballet Theater wasn’t renewed unexpectedly,” she explains. “I was very surprised, but I honestly felt like I needed a break. It was in my head that only Texas Ballet Theater was important, and it hadn’t worked out like I thought it would. I needed to refocus.”
She decided to stop dancing, and enrolled at Texas A&M University, where she double majored in biochemistry and genetics. With so many of her family members in science-based careers, Autumn found herself exploring a completely different world.
“I enjoyed my studies, but I just didn’t love it in quite the same way as my peers. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in school and pursue a Ph.D.,” she says. “It was taking this break that gave me a chance to rest, reset and remember why I started dancing in the first place.”
Autumn ended up moving to Oklahoma City in 2012, and she remembers the pivotal day that she saw a poster for Oklahoma City Ballet and realized how much she missed dancing.
“I auditioned for Oklahoma City Ballet and ended up receiving a scholarship for their summer intensive. It felt a little bit like starting from scratch again,” she recollects. “But the summer intensive turned into an offer for an apprenticeship, and I’ve been there ever since.”
Autumn served as an apprentice during Oklahoma City Ballet’s 2012-2013 season and became one of only two dancers hired into the company for the following season. Since that time, she has been promoted to the position of soloist and, most recently, to be one of only three principal dancers.
“I am so proud to be the first person in Oklahoma City Ballet’s history that has started at the summer intensive and worked my way up to principal dancer,” she confides.
“I love that I get to share my experiences with other dancers. Ballet is a very old art form, and we are all part of the tapestry of it. It’s so satisfying to me to help the next generation of dancers be able to go further and take ballet to the next level!”
In addition to gracing the stage, Autumn uses ballet to express herself artistically. She creates “pointe paintings” by dipping her pointe shoes in paint and creating abstract art based on some of her favorite ballets. She has sold her original artwork across the country and internationally, and loves expressing her love for ballet through the process of creating her art.
Currently in her 11th season with Oklahoma City Ballet, Autumn enjoys dancing in a city that she has fallen in love with over the last decade.
“Oklahoma City has been such a wonderful surprise to me,” she adds. “I love how the people here continue to invest resources to make the city better each year. The support shown to Oklahoma City Ballet is amazing. I love being part of one of the best companies in the whole country.”
Throughout her incredible career, Autumn’s deep love for dance has served as a driving force in her life, and she encourages others to use her story as inspiration.
“If you really love what you are doing, just go for it! Even if you have setbacks, don't give up,” she concludes. “Life is unpredictable, and sometimes you will be thrown for a loop. But you will find your place. I’m living proof of that!”
You can see Autumn in Oklahoma City Ballet’s upcoming production of Cinderella at the Civic Center Music Hall from Feb. 10-12. Learn more about Autumn’s pointe paintings at AutumnSKlein.com, or follow her on Instagram/TikTok at @autumnsklein.
“I am so proud to be the first person in OKC Ballet’s history that has started at the summer intensive and worked my way up to principal dancer,” she confides."
“If you really love what you are doing, just go for it! Even if you have setbacks, don't give up,” she concludes.