So you want to be a ballerina

For openers--even in the dictionary the word is defined as anyone of the female gender who takes ballet lessons. Wrong Mr Dictionary, wrong Mother and Father of such a student

A ballerina is a very special person. It will not happen to every female who takes ballet lessons. It is not an automatic progression. Most do not have the fortitude, nor the strength of mind, nor the aptitude to even begin to achieve this status.

The young female student does not decide to become a ballerina. It is a wait and see process. Perhaps someone else will say, there is a possibility that you could become a ballerina, but–it is a combination of talents that make up this rare person.

The brains, the look (which can change like the wind), the hide of a rhinoceros, plus the fur of a pussy cat.

Technical ability goes without saying. It must all be there, the full ballet vocabulary, and executed , not perfectly, but with sense of what the theatre is about. After all, the theatre is in part, an illusion. That technical ability does not become “the end”, it is the means to “the end”.

The ballerina believes in what she is doing, or how can she expect the viewer to believe in her.

A good all round knowledge is a help, especially in matters artistic.

How does one achieve this place in life? Like everyone else in the ballet profession, you begin by taking ballet classes. You listen, you watch, you absorb. Everything you see and hear becomes an extension of yourself.

There must be hard and fast rules about a body type? The right type? NO!! It would be simpler if such was the case, but it is not. Mind you, have a look at dancers in general and come to some conclusions as to what body type dominates.

Since the ballet profession began, there have been so many different body types that have dominated the scene.

Look at the body types from the time when Giselle was first performed, and look at some of the stick women of today. Which is right and which will prevail? Who knows!

Just let me put it this way. If you are five feet tall and five feet wide–think again.

If so far you are still optimistic, then.

Where do I study? who do I study with? Are my classes at the Suzie Schlutz school of dance going to take me to the top?

By the way–in passing. That name was our favourite way, in the National Ballet of Canada, to describe a school which we did not think was any good, UNTIL, while on tour in the US of A, we performed in a city, which had a school with Exactly that name. Suzie had an advertisement in our programme, for the evening performance. OUCH!!

So in answer to the initial question–observe!! See as many dance performances as possible. Look at videos. And better still, audition for dance companies. You will begin to get a picture as to whether you are going in the right direction.

Be very careful to take what your parents say, especially your Mother, with a grain of salt. So many talented dancers have been ruined by their Mothers.

Mothers!! I mean it! hands off! UNLESS!! you happened to be a ballerina yourself and understand what the business is all about. Even then, go slowly, and let others be the judge.

SO! the school is okay. I am learning a lot, I am progressing through the school very nicely, I do quite a lot in the year end recital.

Now! let us be clear. Ballet is a profession! it is not a game, it is serious, you are committed, or find something else to do.

You canít talk your way into becoming a ballerina. You can do it, or you can not.

Perhaps you find a way to buy yourself in? Well, during your first performance you will find out the hard way that an audience can not be taken in. They will tell you in no uncertain terms, what you are like. And ask you to leave the stage!

Is there a special person that can take me and turn me in to that ballerina type? NO!!

Is there a special school that turns out just ballerinas? again I must say NO!!

It all takes time. There is no quick way, you canít cheat your way in, you canít cram.

The truth is–you have it, you were born with it, it can be developed–OR–you donít!

Someone that I admire very much, has told me that I am Ballerina material. OKAY. Have you compared yourself to others, have you watched a lot of dancers? Have you auditioned, and received favourable comments?

Have you learned some of , or all of the classical repertoire?

BIG QUESTION! have you been partnered. Have you done a pas de deux? Do you know how to be lifted, supported on turns. Have you been partnered by someone who knows what he is doing?

Have you followed one method while training, or have you done classes with a wide variety of teachers. Very important. because Swan Lake or Les Sylphides were not choreographed by an R.A.D. teacher or Cecchetti teacher, they are the work of choreographers who had a very wide view and respect for their art form.

While on tour in 1947 with the Metropolitan Ballet in England, the following took place.

I had gone to the stage door in the theatre to have a look at the notice board. A young woman entered the stage door and approached me. She was carrying what we would have called a dance bag, and a large envelope.

“Could I see the Ballet Mistress please?”

To which I replied “Stay right here, I will find her.”

The ballet mistress at that point in time happened to be Celia Franca. I found her and said there was someone to see her at the stage door. Celia was suspicious, but followed me to the stage door.

“Yes dear, what can I do for you?”

“I want to join your company.” came the reply

“And what makes you think that you could or should join our company?”

With that, the young lady produced the large envelope. She brought out a pile of R.A.D. certificates. She had received honours from grade 1 through to the Solo Seal Exam.

“That is very nice my dear, but it does not tell me if you can dance.”

The young lady was very upset with this reaction and once more showed Celia the honours marks she had received.

“You obviously have your dance clothes with you, so go to the corps de ballet dressing room, get changed and go to the stage where the company class will take place at 5:00pm. I will watch you there in class.”

In five minutes the grape vine had told the whole company that a student had come to take class. So the watchful eye was out.

She came to class, lasted until the end of the barre work, then ran from the stage crying, never to be seen again.

After that situation I thought, “MY God, all that money, all those classes, all those pieces of paper”

I often wonder what happened to her. If she continued, or quit.

When someone begins spouting about systems to me, I tell that story, it usually shuts them up.

So potential ballerina, remember that story.

Can I work my way up? Good plan! It has worked for a lot of dancers.

Be in the corps de ballet, then a junior soloist, then a senior soloist and if you have what it takes, you may get a principal role. That will not mean that you are a ballerina by the way. You will have better exposure, a bit more money, and who knows, someone may take the chance on you.

If you do achieve that ballerina status, then the hard work has only begun.

You have to keep that position, and there will be people behind you in rank fighting for your place.

You must not stay on the same level, you must get better and better.

You must hang on to that position, and know, by the way, the best time to leave it. Always leave them wanting more, do not let them down. Or they will crucify you.

Have there been exceptions to these tough rules? Oh yes.

Let us start with Nijinsky and Pavlova. They did not have any turnout. I watched a film of Pavlova doing a developÈ devant in a pas de deux. Her thigh was facing the ceiling. Look at the photographs of Nijinsky.

Massine had funny skinny bent legs, and no feet to speak of, but he was dynamite on stage.

Lucette Aldous was told at the Royal Ballet School that she would never be a ballet dancer let alone ballerina. Have a look at the video of Nureyev and Aldous dancing Don Quixote.

Karen Kain was also told while in the school that she had the wrong kind of body, was too stiff in the hips. All wrong! They should have a few more wrong dancers like her in the National Ballet.

Lois Smith did not have an extended period of ballet training. As a matter of fact prior to joining the National ballet, she was dancing in musical theatre. Yet, she became the first Canadian woman to get the title “Prima Ballerina”, That is a step up, a big step up, from being a ballerina.

There were the young dancers who became known as the “Baby Ballerinas” in the de Basil company, the company that took over the Russian scene with the death of Diaghilev. Those young ladies were 15 years old. They did have some problems in later life, but they became famous, world wide.

A fifteen year old Svetlana Beriosova danced ballerina roles with the Metropolitan Ballet in 1948 and 1949. Svetlana became a ballerina with the Royal Ballet in London at Covent Garden.

Do you have to start at age three and take it from there? NO! There have been many dancers who did not start until their teen years and become successful. Lois Smith was just one of those.

How long will you last? That depends on how you care for yourself.