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”

Sisters Dancing Through Childhood

From the moment we could walk we chose to dance instead

A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to have my sister visit me for a few days so I thought it was the perfect time for me to introduce her to my story. Having known me for all my life and me being her much-awaited baby sister, and her my exemplary big sister, we are definitely two peas in a pod.

Growing up together Rebecca and I were very happy, busy girls. After school, our evenings were full of many hobbies and activities. You name it we did it. At the age of three, I joined my sister for ballet, tap, and jazz classes every Saturday with Lynn McCheyne. It was actually not something I loved at first, only doing it because my sister did, so we never imagined that chubby little Harriet would become a professional ballerina.

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Continue reading “Sisters Dancing Through Childhood”