Pittsburgh Profiles: From ballet to nutrition bars, Julia Erickson embraces city’s rich cultural scene

Julia Erickson, a principal dancer for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, gets some practice in at PBT’s studios in the Strip District. (Photo via Aimee DiAndrea)

Julia Erickson has found her calling in Pittsburgh, both as an artist and entrepreneur.

Julia Erickson. (Photo via Nicholas Coppula)

The Seattle native moved to the Steel City in 2001. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, she helped launch a nutrition bar company with her husband and learned about the city’s eagerness to support their fellow citizens.

“It’s definitely one of those cities that has an incredibly strong networking component,” she told GeekWire. “People are very loyal and they want to help others.”

Now Erickson is a principal dancer at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, one of several renowned artistic groups in Pittsburgh.

“There’s space for creativity and self-expression more and more so here,” she said. “People can take risks. It feels like a bit of a petri dish here, which is exciting.”

Continue reading for Erickson’s answers to our questions, and follow along starting next week as we launch our GeekWire HQ2 adventure in Pittsburgh.

What do you love about Pittsburgh and what would you change?

Erickson: I love the rich cultural scene that Pittsburgh provides. We have a theater district in our small downtown that is full of actual theaters, consistently producing high-quality productions. Pittsburgh is big enough to create high-quality work, yet a perfect size to incubate new ideas because of the natural inclination for people to connect and help one another.

Favorite Pittsburgh spot?

Erickson: My ballet barre spot (yes, we each have a specific “spot”!) where I warm up every morning. It has a gorgeous view of the Strip District, Lawrenceville, and if you squint even the Andy Warhol Museum!

Favorite Pittsburgh celebrity?

Erickson: Fred Astaire

Best food in Pittsburgh?

Erickson: DiAnoia’s Eatery

Your best insider tip for transplants?

Erickson: Start talking to the people you see every day, or even just today … everyone’s friendly here! The barista, the woman next to you in line at Whole Foods, etc. — your world will open up precipitously!

Julia Erickson, originally from Seattle, moved to PIttsburgh nearly two decades ago. She’s a principal dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, one of many of the city’s renowned performance groups. (Photo via Julia Erickson)

Favorite Pittsburgh word or phrase? 

Erickson: Slippy (synonym of slippery?). Also: “I never thought I’d stay here but…”

Pittsburgh’s most important innovation or invention?

Erickson: Polio Vaccine.

How would you describe the tech, innovation and startup activity taking place in Pittsburgh to an outsider who hasn’t experienced it? 

Erickson: It seemed to have started small and is now burgeoning — growing exponentially, fueled by a steady stream of intellectual capital being cultivated right here with Pitt, CMU, the National Robotics Laboratory … even the National Aviary. One sees it in myriad ways now throughout day to day life here.

What do you think are the chances of Amazon HQ2 ending up in Pittsburgh? 

Erickson: I have a good feeling about our chances.

Can you tell us about any memorable experiences you had in Pittsburgh that illustrate the character and nature of the city and its tech/startup/engineering community? 

Erickson: When I was in the process of starting a company here my husband, Aaron, and I were practically inundated with offers to meet with local business leaders who, even if they could not help us directly, were eager to connect us to people who could. Our experience speaks to the inherent support system of the city and the citizens’ inclination to champion innovation and startup efforts.

If you were parachuting into Pittsburgh as a tech/business reporter, what’s the first story you’d want to cover? Who is the first person you’d want to sit down with? 

Erickson: Me, obviously! But in all seriousness, as a performer I’ve witnessed the audience evolve from its solid base of arts supporters into a much more diverse swath of the population. I believe this is a direct result of the tech/innovation scene in Pittsburgh, and is an important example of the corollaries and secondary markets that these types of innovations influence. While not necessarily the “hottest beat,” the story of tech’s regional impact is an important one to illuminate and reflect upon.

Any other advice for us as we prepare for GeekWire HQ2 in Pittsburgh?

Erickson: Come to the ballet! And check out Apteka too. 😉