Dancing with Your Heart on Your Sleeve

Keeping dancers’ emotions in check and learning to handle feelings in and outside the studio to improve as a dancer, artist and person

I often hear artists being portrayed as very emotional people but I ask myself if we are actually more exaggerated and eccentric when it comes to feelings than the average person? Yes, we care a lot about what we do for a living and we are asked daily to bring all sorts of emotions to the surface, but I wouldn’t say we are more sensitive than non-dancers, it just depends on the person and their own personality. I think we are all emotional when we want to be.

❝I can also bring my own feelings and experiences onto the stage with me to help develop a character❞

Dance is a way of expressing emotion so I think it’s quite normal if once in a while we subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, take those feelings out of the studio and into our daily lives, and vice versa. As for me, I love to get emotional and really into a role. The stage is a place where I am put into many different situations I wouldn’t encounter in my normal life and I can also bring my own experiences onto the stage with me to help develop a character.

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Performing as Anne Frank in the most emotional scene I have ever been a part of in Reginaldo Oliveira’s ‘Anne Frank’ with Pablo Octávio as Kitty (Photo: Jochen Klenk)

Continue reading “Dancing with Your Heart on Your Sleeve”

Everything is Possible if You’ve Got Enough Nerve

Remembering back to my first solo as a professional dancer and how much I have grown since then

As the applause subsides and silence falls throughout the auditorium, there’s chance for one last breath in the wings. Then the smile is adjusted and the walk to centre stage begins. The moments before performing a solo can be very nerve-wracking ones. Time is up. It is only you and the music, and all eyes are on you. You can’t practice that pirouette one last time, you can’t work on your stamina anymore. All that work is done. It’s go time.

When I remember back to the very first solo I performed in my first year as a professional dancer all I recall are the nerves. I was part of the Pas de Trois in Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake and my little solo was the biggest thing I had done so far in my career. It was my first chance to dance alone on stage, and it was scary.

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Dancing alongside Elisiane Büchele & Xhile Xu (Photo: Jochen Klenk)

During my younger education, I danced plenty of ballet, tap and jazz solos as a schoolgirl as part of our school productions, but back then it was no big deal. Being young and innocent made it all amazing good fun. ‘Bring it on’. But when I joined The Royal Ballet School things changed a lot and nerves grew inside me. There, I was never the ‘chosen one’ and with my confidence hitting rock bottom at times, even stepping on stage was terrifying. Being part of a group was just enough for me to handle. I had little stage experience and wanted to avoid any spotlight as much as I could.

But starting in a company was my chance to start anew. Here it’s all about the performances – so performing becomes the norm and it didn’t take me long to get comfortable amongst my colleges and used to the bright lights of the stage.

So when the time came and my name went up on the board to dance the Pas de Trois I was, of course, thrilled to have been chosen and felt ready for the challenge. But the nerves came quickly. We rehearsed a lot and I had plenty of time to work on the steps and stamina, so by the time my premiere arrived I was ready. This, however, did not seem to keep my worries at bay.

On the day of the show I was so nervous and even before and during the performance, I was far too tense. Sadly, I can’t say I enjoyed it. Due to my first time jitters, I was far too constrained to relax and enjoy. But I did survive and was proud of myself when it was over. The Pas de Trois improved each time we performed and I grew calm enough to actually enjoy dancing it.

Since then I have danced much harder and scarier roles, but this first little solo will forever stay in my mind as a nerve-wracking one, simply because it was such a big moment for me as a young performer. I guess if I had the chance to dance it again now it would be so different – I would enjoy it much more and be relaxed enough to dance it so much better.

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Performing as the Sylph in La Sylphide (Photo: Pablo Octavio)

But at that moment in my career, I did my best and I can see now looking back how much I have grown since then. If that solo hadn’t happened many others wouldn’t have either. Thank goodness I was chosen and thank goodness I survived those awful nerves. I have said this many times before and I will say it once more – I am forever trying to push those pesky nerves down and let the love and enjoyment of my job overwhelm them, but it is still a work in progress.

With love,

Harriet

My Unforgettable Debut as Giselle

Finally I am sharing my wonderful time returning to The Hammond School to be a part of their 100 year anniversary production of Giselle

You may all know from my post ‘A Chance to Return to The Hammond School’, that during May I spent a week in England at my childhood dance school, The Hammond, as I had been invited to take part in the school’s 100-year anniversary production of Sir Peter Wright’s ‘Giselle’. My years as a student there were so wonderful I couldn’t wait to return to where it all began. And of course, it was even more memorable than I could have imagined.

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First day back at school with Flavio (in my original Hammond uniform)

Arriving to the school, I had butterflies in my stomach. It was so strange to be back. How the school has changed in ten years I have been away, with its own in-house theatre and brand new studios replacing the portacabins I danced in. However, once my dance colleague, Flavio Salamanka and I found our way into the theatre and spotted my old ballet teacher, Miss Jane Elliott, working with her pupils, the familiar, friendly atmosphere I remembered was still ‘in the air’. Being introducted to her pupils as ‘my Harriet’, Jane had me feeling like I never left.

After a warm welcome, we got straight to work with the students; throughout the week I really enjoyed dancing with everyone, and getting to know them individually.  Flavio & I were able to help some students with their solos and roles, and I offered the same advice to the Corps de Ballet that I had been given, years before. I think they really appreciated us helping and seemed eager to hear any tips we could share.

II Act rehearsal of Giselle

Not only did I get to meet the students of the school, but a great part of my week included reuniting with past teachers and matrons, whom I had not seen since leaving.  None of them had changed, and their reaction to my return was so welcoming – who knew teachers could be so nice. Continue reading “My Unforgettable Debut as Giselle”

Teaching at The Moorland Ballet Academy

My summer holiday is never complete without some dancing, and over the past two days, I have had the pleasure of spreading and sharing the dancing joy with the students of Moorland Ballet Academy Summer School.

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Moorland is a privet school in Lancashire with an Elite Football Program and a Classical Ballet Academy. The ballet academy was founded by two wonderful past teachers of mine Lynsey and Simon Kidd, who both taught and guided me during my student years. Knowing personally what good teachers they are, I was honored to hear from them and be invited to join them during the summer course.

Even though I only spent two days at the school, I truly enjoyed teaching the summer students – a mixture of full-time students at the school and young dancers from outside, some coming from as far as Japan, and already saw improvement in that short space of time. I had the pleasure of teaching a great bunch of 11-13 year olds and an older group of 14-18 year olds. Both classes worked so hard for me so thank you for that girls and boys.

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Together with my younger group of students

Continue reading “Teaching at The Moorland Ballet Academy”

What Do You Think Of When I Say Ballerina?

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Performing The Sylph in La Sylphide (Photo: Pablo Octavio)

Tutus… Tippy toes… Elegance… Beauty… Princess… Skinny… Athlete… Flexibility… Strength…

I am sure all of the above come to mind, and it is true, we ballerinas can be all those things, (I try to convince myself I am a princess every day) but in this post, I want to focus on the ballerina and her flexibility.

Flexibility is a very useful and often needed attribute of a dancer but I would not say it is always the most important. Yes, some days, if not all, I would give my right arm to be more flexible but as I have gotten older and (hopefully) wiser, not only have I decided my right arm is a part of me I would not want to lose, I have also come to realise I can be ok the way I am.

 

Continue reading “What Do You Think Of When I Say Ballerina?”

Goodbye My Friend

I wanted to show my appreciation for this great person by dedicating this post to him and his work. Including a short interview about him, his past and his future. Flavio Salamanka, you will be missed.

Last Sunday we danced our final performance of the season which is always an exciting evening – another year completed, another year survived. However this year, not only was it a great one, it was also a very sad show for Karlsruhe StaatsBallett, as it was the last ever performance of our Kammertänzer Flavio Salamanka, a dancer who has been with the company since the beginning and who I have had the chance to dance many roles with and learn so much from.

Flavio dancing Petrucchio in Taming of the Shrew (Photo: Jochen Klenk)

We have had the pleasure of watching Flavio in numerous classical leads such as Swan Lake and Nutcracker to the more modern lead roles in A Midsummers Night’s Dream and Rusalka. Flavio has done it all. And he has done us proud. He has been such a big part of the company and many members of the public have followed his career over the 14 years he has danced here. Continue reading “Goodbye My Friend”

Making the Comeback After a Setback

My Injury Part 11

As a follow up to my post ‘Sticks & Stones May Break My Bones but Dancing Does Too’, where I wrote about how my stress fracture came about and dealing with returning to work, I wanted to share my ongoing experience with the physical side of the recovery to help anyone else who is struggling coming back from an injury.

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My routine of exercises to strengthen my foot

I have to say it has not been easy, as I am sure no injuries are, and it took much longer than I first expected for me feel like I am dancing as I did before the injury last May. Originally I came back feeling good, thinking I had done everything needed to have a fully healed foot but since then numerous problems and pains have bothered me, with days where my foot still doesn’t feel ‘right’, even after a year.

Continue reading “Making the Comeback After a Setback”

A Chance to Return to The Hammond School

Heading back to England to take part in my first dance school’s 100 Year Anniversary performances

Over the last few weeks my days have been filled with preparations for something I am very honoured to be working towards and can’t believe it has arrived so quickly.

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Back in 2007 during my last year at The Hammond School

It was back in February when I got an email from an unforgettable teacher I had while training at The Hammond School, the wonderful Mrs Elliott. This delight of a women being someone who took me through my final years at the school,before transferring to the Royal Ballet Schooland gave me so much joy in the studio as a student asked if I would return to the school for their 100 Year Anniversary performances to dance the lead role in Peter Wright’s ‘Giselle’.

Being a role I have not yet had the opportunity to dance I was very excited to confirm with my directer, Birgit Keil that it would be possible for me to travel to England in May and take part in the production. It was a little concerning that I would have to learn the whole ballet on top of the usual work schedule, as it would be something I would do in my free time, but seeing as I was informed early enough I was sure I would manage the work load.

Giselle rehearsal

Continue reading “A Chance to Return to The Hammond School”

Getting to the ‘Pointe’

Firstly, I must apologies for my recent absence from the blog but I took the time to put together a video I want to share with you in this post about the ballerinas tool – the pointe shoe.

Just like in Cinderella’s tale each ballerina has their perfectly fitting pair of pointe shoes. And even though a prince may not place the slipper onto our foot, for a ballerina it sure feels that way when we find our perfect pair of pointe shoes to perform happily ever after in.

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Pointe shoes are our tools and I don’t think it is always known by the public how crucial it is for them to be perfect for each dancer and how essential it is to have comfortable, well-fitting and well-made pointe shoes, not only to dance at our best but to prevent injuries caused by ill-fitting shoes. Dancers spend their whole careers looking for the perfect shoe and having so many makes of pointe shoes out there, with each one having a catalogue of different styles to choose from it can be a long and difficult process to find the right style and maker for you.

Throughout my years of dancing, I have used about 6 or 7 different makes of shoes after starting pointe work at the age of 11. I joined The Royal Ballet School wearing Bloch (if I pointe shoe diagramcan remember correctly) and during my time there I tried shoes from Suffolk, Bob Martin and the Freed of London company – where I had customised pairs that I continued to wear into my first year as a professional dancer. Customised shoes are wonderful as you can cater the shoe to your own foot and personal requirements, e.g. the hardness or length of the schank, the vamp depth, the height of the heel, etc. It really can be a luxury to have this option but not always possible or necessary and as I said before all makes have a variety of different styles with large and small differences between each.

The cost of the shoes can also vary from around 50 – 100€, an expenditure that can build up as the shoes don’t last forever. Unfortunately, as a student, the cost falls usually onto your own lap, or more accurately the lap of the dancer’s helpful parents, and I remember always trying to find ways to lengthen the life of my pointe shoes using ‘special’ glue to keep them sturdy.

Continue reading “Getting to the ‘Pointe’”

Who Knows, This Week May Just Be Your Greatest One Yet

A rollercoaster of a week that ended up fulfilling so many of my dancing dreams

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you think nothing exciting could possibly happen and then you’re catapulted into a string of days filled with mayhem and excitement? Well, a few weeks ago I found myself in a very unexpected situation which turned out to be one of my most treasured experiences as a professional dancer. Honestly, you never know what each week will bring.

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In rehearsal for my first time dancing Anne Frank

Two weeks before our mid-season break my timetable was quite easy with not too many rehearsals. We had a performance of ‘Anne Frank’ on Sunday so I was preparing for my usual role as Anne’s Mother. However, the girl who was cast for Anne was off sick and as the days ticked by the question was being asked what will happen if she can’t dance.

It was never planned to change the casts in this ballet and therefore the second casts are not prepared. This is obviously quite a risky decision in case situations like this come about – a principal dancer unable to dance, with no one to jump in if required. Unfortunately, the show could not go on and this would be a disappointment not only for the ballet company but especially for the Theatre, and the audience due to attend.

So as Friday came with rehearsals planned, all of us, including the choreographer Reginaldo Oliviera, a dancer in the company, were still uncertain if we would perform. Trying to find a ‘plan B’ Reginaldo quietly approached me and asked if I would be able to learn the role of Anne for Sunday. Without hesitation, I said yes. Of course I said yes. How amazing would it be to dance such an enjoyable yet meaningful role? The yes came from my heart before my head had time to register the insanely short time scale I would have to learn a whole ballet, having not been previously cast for the role at all. That realisation didn’t come till later. Continue reading “Who Knows, This Week May Just Be Your Greatest One Yet”