After four years of intensive training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to pursue a professional career as a classical dancer. While it’s not always been easy, it has been incredibly rewarding, and I’ve had the opportunity to fulfil aspirations such as dancing full length classics, including Swan Lake and Don Quixote.
Working as a professional dancer takes hard work and a lot of determination, dedication and desire to succeed. If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in ballet, here are three pieces of ballet career advice that I wish I’d known prior to starting my own career as a dancer.
Draw on a range of different training and teachers so that you can adapt your style
Sometimes when you are training at a specific school, you are discouraged from training outside of that style. At the Bolshoi we were given the opportunity to attend masterclasses with visiting companies and choreographers, and I attended a range of different summer schools.
I believe this was of great benefit in helping me to develop my technique and prepare me for life as a professional. You learn something from each teacher and can apply it to your own technique and style. I’ve trained with a range of teachers from Paris Opera Ballet, English National Ballet, Royal Ballet, Vaganova Academy, Random Dance, Stuttgart Ballet and it’s definitely enriched my dancing!
A related piece of ballet career advice I was given was to go and see lots of ballet companies and learn from their different styles and repertoires. I was really fortunate to get student tickets to go and see the Bolshoi and Stanislavsky on a fairly regular basis whilst in Moscow, plus visiting companies. I got to compare and contrast David Hallberg with Sergei Polunin and Svetlana Zhakarova with Alicia Amatrain. It’s great to absorb the creativity and passion of the dancers and apply that to your own style.
The ability to adapt your style is a huge plus. Expanding your technique to encompass aspects of different training styles that enhance you as a dancer is of huge benefit. It ensures you become a more versatile dancer and enables you to demonstrate this versatility at auditions with a range of ballet companies.
Pinpoint the types of companies that are most suited to you
It may seem like common sense, but it’s really important to identify which companies are most suited to your way of dancing. Be aware that the style you trained in will influence this; you will need to be able to match yourself to the job that best suits you.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a company with a large repertoire of both neo-classical and classical performances, including Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker. However, some companies do very little classical work, and instead focus on producing more contemporary works.
This is something to bear in mind when you are choosing which company auditions to attend. It’s important you research companies in order to find out what sort of repertoire they have and if it includes the sort of works you’d like to dance. It may seem like the right thing to do by going to as many different auditions as possible, but in the end you’ll just be wasting time and money by auditioning for theatres with repertoires you wouldn’t be happy dancing.
A good piece of ballet career advice to keep in mind when researching a company is its size. In smaller companies there’s usually more opportunity to dance a lot and you can expect to take on soloist roles sooner. This is great for developing your repertoire for your CV. Larger companies may be better resourced and are able to put on larger productions, however, it may take much longer to work up the ranks and begin performing roles outside of the corps.
You may want to diversify and move from company to company depending on the new skills you have and wish to acquire. Otherwise, it’s perfectly reasonable to want to stay in one company your whole life. If you enjoy the lifestyle with the company you’re with, if it’s an enjoyable place to work, and it provides you with the opportunity to grow, then you’re on to a winner!
Be self-motivated and work for you
A piece of ballet career advice worth considering is that working is completely different to training; you’re on your own. When I first started working as a professional ballet dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed my newfound independence.
While you still have to practice, train and rehearse, unlike being a student, you have to become your own teacher. As you become a more mature dancer, you will become more in tune with your body and what works for you; you’ll know, yourself, when you need to rest, push yourself, carry out some particular stretches because you’re finding something needs strengthening in your technique, or to rehearse a piece so that you get the most out of the rehearsal.
You do need to be self-motivated and work hard as a professional ballet dancer. Be open to change; everyone is different, so it’s important to focus on yourself and what makes you be the best dancer you can be. This will also help you stand out to others and gain you a reputation for having something unique about your dancing.
While everyone’s journey into professional dancing is different, my ballet career advice for any dancer contemplating taking up ballet professionally would be to consider your dancing style, research different companies, and learn to self-correct in order to constantly develop your technique.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and have found it helpful. To find out more about my journey to becoming a professional dancer, please take a look at the other articles on my blog.