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”

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”

A Bali of Life

Holiday time

Everybody needs a holiday, and dancers are no different. It is always something we look forward to, and I mean really look forward to. It’s a time when our bodies and minds can take a well-earned break and recuperate. We can let go and relax. We can forget about work, about dance for a week or two. And I have to tell you, it feels good.img_1573

It is so important that we give our bodies time to rest. We work them so much and push past pains that could be bothering us for a long time so a mid-season break could be just what we need to recover from our tough timetable. It is also quite refreshing to have some time away from the studio. Being inside the same four walls is not good for anyone, and the studio is a place dancers have to love. It is a place for hard work and creation, and for that to happen we don’t want to be climbing the walls but rather filling the place with our passion. Having time away can remind us how good it can be to come back.

Continue reading “A Bali of Life”

Ballerinas in Bangkok

We did it! And what a great time we had. After one week in Bangkok, I can honestly say I have made memories to last a lifetime. From performing for special audiences to sharing evenings with influential people, and experiencing it all with friends and colleagues, it has been fantastic.

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Before a performance, The Nutcracker-A Christmas Carol

After arriving safely and settling into the beautiful Dusit Thani Hotel, we had the day to relax before work started. We spent our free time, usually the early hours of the morning exploring the streets of Bangkok. We hunted through markets, admiring rooftop views, relaxed with massages, munched on enticing street food, dined at upmarket restaurants, and even found a Thai/German Bistro we just had to try. Sharing smiles with friendly and helpful locals and each meal even tastier than the next, we were never disappointed.

 

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First evening meal at a local restaurant North-West (with Sujung & Larissa)

We performed Youri Vámos’s ‘The Nutcracker – A Christmas Carol’ at the Thailand Cultural Centre, with its large stage and hard working team of technicians, it was great to be back. In this production, there is also a chance for young local dancers to perform with us and I had a great time with a group of bright and polite girls all from Thailand except one from the USA. They all spoke excellent English and wore big smiles all day. The American girl, and her mother, actually knew me through a teacher I had when I was young. The ballet world really is small. The girls were so lovely, and we shared many giggles; I think they had a fun time with us too. Continue reading “Ballerinas in Bangkok”

Bangkok’s 18th International Festival

As you may have seen on my calendar, the company is heading on a trip. We will be travelling all the way to Bangkok, Thailand for a week and performing the beloved ballet ‘The Nutcracker’ at the Bangkok’s 18th International Festival of Dance and Music. We will be dancing Youri Vámos’s ‘Nutcracker – A Christmas Carol’, a ballet we premiered the first year I joined the company. It was actually the first premier I experienced as a professional dancer back in 2010.

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My first season at Karlsruhe Staatballett 2010 (bottom right: a fallen snowflake). The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol – Youri Vámos (Photo: J. Klenk)

Going on tour with the company is always very exciting. Since joining, I have travelled to Korea, Switzerland and Bangkok, loving my time performing in different places. Dancing somewhere new has such a different feeling to being comfortable at our home theatre. New dressing rooms, training on stage, different backstage crew. But it is a great chance to have fresh experiences and the performances always bring me something new.

As I will only be performing a small role, Frau Cratchit, I will use this chance to work alone and get my foot back to its healthy self. And even though I will be taking a step back I will still be packing all the things a ballerina needs on tour. Continue reading “Bangkok’s 18th International Festival”

Tanning, Toning, and Training

The last two weeks of summer

As you may have seen I am spending the last 2 weeks of my summer holiday in Spain with my wonderful family. Since it is such a rare occasion to have us all together for more than a weekend it is a much needed and lovely holiday for us all.

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The Mills family, Puerto Banus, 2016

As my summer break is ticking by quickly and the last weeks are upon me, it is now important for me to exercise every day to get my body work-ready. Like on all summer holidays it is very tempting to soak up the sun all day, but I know my body will thank me for doing some exercise before the season starts. Continue reading “Tanning, Toning, and Training”

A Day without Training is Like Walking Around without your Pants on!

As you can imagine with such a long summer break of 6 weeks it can be very easy to get out of shape. I have found that a good mixture of rest and movement can really help to recover, yet stay suppel and toned throughout holidays.

After a season I always feel my body does need a few weeks rest with no intense everyday exercise. It is very important to give the muscles and joints some time to recover from the long strenuous season it just went though. Continue reading “A Day without Training is Like Walking Around without your Pants on!”