It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post on here so I thought I would write an update to finish off the year.
Since my last blog post in May, I have been quite busy. In May and June I was finishing my Pilates teacher training course and studying for the final exams. I am happy to say that I passed the exams at the end of June and qualified as a Pilates Foundation matwork teacher. I really enjoyed the course but it was quite intense with lots of studying, observations and teaching practice so it was rewarding when all the hard work paid off.
Teaching Pilates then had to go on hold for a while as I had a dancing contract over the summer. I was dancing in Edinburgh Festival Ballet Company’s production of Hamlet with Sir Ian McKellen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Rehearsals took place throughout July and then we performed 32 shows in August as part of the Fringe.
Performing 8 shows a week was tough and very tiring but overall I enjoyed the experience so much. It was amazing to be on stage with Sir Ian and the rest of the company performing to a sold out theatre every show. The audiences were so enthusiastic and gave a standing ovation most performances. It was also very special to be part of the 75th Anniversary of the Fringe. Being from Edinburgh, I have been to see many shows at the festival over the years so to actually be a performer in one of the main events of this year’s Fringe was a very memorable experience.
After an intense July and August, it was lovely to have a holiday in Ireland with my family and enjoy some time off at the start of September. Over the autumn, I set up my own business, Emma Ruth Pilates, and started to teach 1-1 sessions and group classes alongside my dance training routine. I have been mainly teaching online sessions so far which means clients can join me from all over the world – so far I have had clients joining classes from Portugal, Austria, America, Ireland and all over the UK!
During December, I have been teaching Christmas themed Pilates classes in aid of Mind (raising over £400 for the mental health charity) and also teaching Nutcracker dance workshops at primary schools in my local area. It has been lovely to see the children being creative and being inspired by the magic of dance. I hope to teach more Pilates classes next year, online and in person, and also be involved in more projects which take dance performances/workshops to schools and community venues.
Now I am starting to wind down for Christmas when I will be taking some time off from dancing and teaching for my physical and mental health. I’m looking forward to spending quality time with my family and friends and reflecting on another busy year. Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2023 x
After starting dancing at five years old, Joe Powell-Main gained a place at the Royal Ballet School when he was ten. During his fourth year of training at White Lodge, Joe developed injuries after a prolonged period of growth. After surgery on his left knee, he developed complications and was involved in a serious car accident which resulted in him leaving the Royal Ballet School. After acquiring his disability, Joe stopped dancing for three years but then returned to dancing through wheelchair Latin and ballroom dance classes. This lead to him rediscovering his passion for ballet. He now works as a freelance differently abled professional dancer – he has danced with companies such as the Royal Ballet and Ballet Cymru- and aims to challenge perceptions andopen up opportunities for himself and others like him.
What inspired you to go back to dancing, especially ballet?
“Dance has been a huge part of my life since I was five years old. After acquiring my disability, I went through a period of depression as I thought I couldn’t pursue my dream anymore. My Mum and sister were the inspiration and driving force for getting back into dance. My Mum went to watch my sister perform at Move it in London. Whilst she was there she saw a stand for wheelchair Latin and ballroom dance. I would say that is what started my journey back to dance. I did a few competitions and won some medals and this made me remember how good performing felt. I thought why not ballet? My sister Holly, who is a ballet teacher, has been helpful in not only coaching me during my journey but also being a dance partner that I can try out ideas with. I then began to document my journey on social media to see if there were any other dancers like me.”
What challenges have you experienced returning to ballet as a differently abled dancer?
“Having the confidence and self-belief was the hardest challenge during the early stages of getting back into dance and then ballet. At that point I hadn’t come across a ballet dancer with a disability. I think there was always an element of thinking – what if I go on this journey and people or audiences are not able to accept me as a dancer? I think that there are still occasions where that element of self-doubt can seep in a little bit but many positive experiences have helped build my confidence.”
“I have found that going on tour can be a challenge. I have found that I always have to plan ahead and for every eventuality. I find this quite stressful as I want to be as independent as I can but I realise that, as a person with a disability, there will always be challenges that I wouldn’t be able to work around without the help of others. Now I am very lucky that I have support in a place for a personal assistant. It was difficult to find a personal assistant but luckily my Mum has filled the role of my PA and I truly believe that without her I wouldn’t be able to take part in a lot of things.”
“In terms of venues themselves, I have performed at theatres where the front of house facilities are fantastic in terms of accessibility but the backstage areas are unfortunately not. There have been a couple of venues where some of the stage technicians have had to carry my wheelchair to the stage and I have had to literally crawl up stairs. Whilst I could have done without the extra difficulties and stress, I was determined to push through as I just love to perform. I have to say when I come across a venue where the accessibility is more straight forward it is a huge weight off my shoulders. Hopefully by sharing these experiences with others I can shine a light on accessibility backstage. I am hoping that this will start conversations around solutions to make life a little easier for me and other performers with different accessible needs.”
What has been your experience of working with different ballet companies?
“I am extremely grateful for the experiences I have had working with different companies. Each company has their own unique way of doing things. Some of the practices that I have experienced have had a positive impact on me and some of them haven’t. I think it is important to distinguish what works for you and what doesn’t. Once I learned that, I felt that I was able to push myself and achieve things that previously I thought weren’t possible.”
“I have to say stepping back into the studio with other dancers after acquiring my disability was weird and quite difficult. It brought back some of the old feelings of not feeling like I belonged as I wasn’t the “ideal” classical dancer. I think even when I was training, before becoming a wheelchair and crutch user, this was something that I felt. Returning to the studio in a completely new situation and as a wheelchair user amplified those feelings. I did worry whether other dancers would look at me as though I shouldn’t be in the same studio as them. However, once I got over these initial worries and doubts, I found it exciting to collaborate with standing dancers. I find working in an integrated setting is interesting, especially when exploring partner work. Having wheels as extended parts of my body opens opportunities for the exploration of some intricate and new ideas for partner work.”
“I suppose being in own bubble for a while also contributed to the worries and doubts around acceptance. I wasn’t sure whether the wider dance industry would be receptive to a ballet dancer that uses crutches and a wheelchair. I have been, and continue to be, pleasantly surprised by the supportive reactions of people and audiences towards me and my journey. I am so grateful for this and it makes me so excited and hopeful for future opportunities, not only for myself but for other dancers like me as well. I have to say I am proud of the things I have achieved so far. Thinking back to the emotional state that I was in when first acquiring my disability, I never believed that I would get to the point I am at now. I am super thankful for all the experiences I have had but I know there is more I want to do and more possibilities that I want to explore.”
What was it like performing at the Paralympic Homecoming Ceremony?
“Performing at the Paralympic Homecoming Ceremony was an absolute dream. I have always enjoyed watching the Paralympians and I think they are some of the most incredible and determined people. They never let their disabilities get in the way of achieving their goals and dreams and I suppose I have taken the lead from them. I think the Paralympic movement has opened many opportunities for people in general with different accessible needs and so without them, I don’t think I would be on the path that I am now.”
“It was a fantastic opportunity to perform at the Homecoming Ceremony and something that I knew I wanted to be part of as a way of thanking the amazing athletes for all the inspiration that they continue to provide me. I never thought that I would get the opportunity to perform with the singer Birdy who is so talented. Finding out that the Royal Ballet was going to be collaborating with me on this project was a complete and utter surprise. I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I was incredibly excited that they had agreed to be part of this project but I was also incredibly nervous.”
“The experience of working and performing with The Royal Ballet and Birdy was truly one of the highlights of my career to date. Birdy was such a kind and humble person and her song was so emotive and a joy to perform to. Working with the Royal Ballet was just fabulous. I was incredibly lucky to be paired with Kristen McNally (Principal Character Artist of the Royal Ballet) as co-creator of the piece. I felt that from the moment we started working together, we shared the same vision. I knew that what we were going to create together would be special. The dancers that I performed alongside – Isabel, Liam, Sophie, and Francisco – were really kind and it was so great to meet them and perform alongside them. The last time I had performed with the Royal Ballet was in the Nutcracker as a thirteen-year-old student at the Royal Ballet School. It felt like a complete full circle moment!”
“The experience of the performing the piece at the actual event was an emotional one. I have to say that it was probably one of the best performing experiences I have had the fortune of being part of. At the end of the piece the reaction from the audience was incredible, I honestly didn’t know what to do. On the outside I was trying to keep smiling but on the inside I was totally overwhelmed. The support and kindness shown to me by the Royal Ballet and all the crew involved in the Homecoming ceremony is a huge part of what made this experience such a special one.”
What was it like performing in the Royal Ballet’s Draft Works programme?
“It was such a fantastic experience to be part of the Draft Works programme. I was happy to work with Kristen again and dance alongside Isabel too. When I first heard that Alexander Campbell (Principal Dancer of the Royal Ballet) was really interested in exploring possibilities of working with me, I was excited and star struck.”
“Being in the studio was such an exciting process, there was such a buzz and energy around the creation process from everyone and that was fabulous. I felt really involved in the creation process as well, Alex and Kristen were always receptive to any ideas I had too. I was also super happy with the result and I felt we achieved so much. In the end I think we only had a total of six days to create the work (working title – Sleepwalker) and we created so much movement in that short space of time. We even started developing another section which we haven’t shared with an audience (yet) which was super exciting! I am so happy with the piece and it was so much fun to perform this piece at Draft Works.”
“One of the aspects I most enjoyed was exploring partner work. I think previously I have been a little too fixated on making partner work between me and a standing dancer look like a more traditional version of a classical partnership. However, with Kristen, Alex and Isabel’s help, I felt that some interesting partnership opportunities were explored and it has given me so many more ideas of how to approach partner work. I think changing my mindset and not worrying whether my version of partner work looks like others has unlocked more possibilities which I cannot wait to explore. I hope that there is more to come with Sleepwalker as I would love to continue developing this piece.”
What changes would you like to see to make the dance world more accessible and inclusive?
“There are a few things I would like to see and that I feel would continue to allow the dance world to become more accessible. I would love to see more opportunities for dancers with different accessible needs to access vocational training. In an ideal world it would be amazing for a young dancer who may use a wheelchair or crutches like me to be able to train at a vocational school. I think there are pathways that need to be developed, there should be training possibilities for dancers who live with a disability to train at a very high standard. More opportunities are becoming clear in the professional sector for dancers like me, but if there aren’t training resources available to get dancers with different accessible needs into the profession then that is a real shame. I would also love to see more dancers like me dancing and working with major companies.”
“I think that if a syllabus for ballet could be developed for a wide range of different accessible needs then that would really help to increase access to training. I would love it if the traditional syllabus and a syllabus for dancers with different accessible needs could become one and all dancers, regardless of abilities or accessible needs, could dance alongside each other in a truly integrated way. I personally get super excited about integrated work as I feel the possibilities are endless.”
“I think that the dance industry is ready to embrace the change and I can absolutely see multiple shifts and changes that are contributing to a wider overall picture. I want to acknowledge these changes as I feel like the industry is well on the way to becoming more accessible and inclusive. If we can continue to recognise and overcome the challenges faced by artists like me, I think this will open so many doors. It is my hope that the industry can continue on this positive trajectory. I believe that if it can, many more exciting opportunities will develop for dancers with different accessible needs.”
What would be your dream role/collaboration?
“I feel that villainous characters and comedy characters are roles that I love performing as I enjoy portraying roles that are very different from who I am. It would be amazing to portray a comedy villain in a full-length work, a character like the queen of hearts from Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice in Wonderland. I think that would be super fun to perform.”
“In terms of collaborations with different companies, I would love to continue to explore collaborative opportunities with the Royal Ballet – hopefully this could become an ongoing working relationship. I have really enjoyed working with them and I hope they have with me too. I feel like there is more work we could do together, I have plenty of ideas forming in my head! Another company that I think would be great to collaborate with is Scottish Ballet. I know they have done some work with dancers who use wheelchairs and crutches and have different accessible needs.”
“In terms of choreographers, I have a few names I would love to work with including Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon, Crystal Pite and Cathy Marston. These are just a few I can think of off the top of my head. I also have really enjoyed working with Kristen McNally and Alexander Campbell. I hope to continue to have more opportunities to work with both.”
“I am also super interested in choreography. I would love to create work and perform it with other dancers. I would really enjoy that as I just love performing and trying out new ideas. I think, with working on a more freelance basis now, I am learning to never say no to anything. If companies or organisations are interested in working with me then I am more than happy to explore possibilities and see what is out there.”
Finally, is there any advice you would offer other dancers?
“I would say never be afraid of being you. By being yourself, you stand out from everyone else. There will be setbacks along the way and things may not turn out as you expected but sometimes your biggest setback can also be your greatest advantage.”
I’m back in Scotland after a lovey few days in London – feeling very inspired and very grateful for some amazing experiences and adventures.
I enjoyed taking some open ballet classes while in London. Being in a different environment, in a different studio with different teachers, is very inspiring as you are challenged by different exercises and styles of teaching. While sometimes open classes in London can be slightly overwhelming as they are often busy and fast paced, it’s good to be pushed out of your comfort zone. Growth doesn’t come from sticking to what you know and playing it safe.
It’s also important to remember that growth doesn’t come from being perfect. Both classes I did in London were far from perfect, in terms of my dancing. I didn’t get every exercise right, I fell out of turns. But instead of getting frustrated, I reminded myself that being imperfect is what makes us human. I also reminded myself that pushing yourself and making mistakes is how you learn and grow and progress. You have to be kind to yourself and embrace being imperfect because you are always trying your best on any given day. So while you can use your mistakes to learn, you have to also remember what went right in a class and not just everything that could have been better. We can always be better, so it’s all about progress not perfection and your growth as an artist… and also having fun.
It’s also easy in open classes to compare yourself to other dancers but you have to remember everyone is on their own unique journey and everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. The world would be a boring place if we all looked and danced the same, it’s our individuality that makes us interesting and valuable as artists. It’s easier said than done but we should see others as inspiration rather than competition. You don’t have to be the best, you should just focus on being you because you have your own unique talents, strengths and gifts. Also comparing yourself to others and obsessing over your technique and your weaknesses takes away from the joy of dancing and makes us forget why we love to dance.
I was reminded of why I love to dance by going to see English National Ballet’s Forsythe Evening at Sadler’s Wells. This double bill choreographed by William Forsythe, set to pop music, was incredible. The first piece, Blake Works, was beautiful with fluid and lyrical movements. But the second piece, Playlist (EP), was the highlight of the performance. With so much energy and joy, the choreography pushed the boundaries of classical technique and showcased the dancer’s skills, strengths and artistry. It was so uplifting and inspiring to watch and reminded the audience that ballet can be very cool and dynamic. I left the theatre feeling very inspired as the dancers took risks and had fun on stage which reminded me of why I started dancing and why I continue to dance – for those moments of pure joy.
Watching the performance by English National Ballet made me want to get back on stage myself so hopefully it won’t be too long before I get to perform again. In the meantime, there are other goals I am working towards such as my Pilates teaching qualification. I am also finding other ways to stay creative such as creating my own choreography and doing photo shoots. In London, I met up with Ballerina Project UK to do another photo shoot which was fun. This experience also pushed me past some of the insecurities I still have around my body image by taking photos with no tights or skirt – just me in my leotard. It is uncomfortable to do things that scare you but I don’t want fear to hold me back like it has done in the past. I was happy with some of the images we captured so I was glad I challenged myself.
Overall this trip to London was full of experiences that challenged and inspired me. I believe that you can learn and grow from every experience you have. We often like to think in very black and white terms, for example thinking “that class was good” or “that class was bad”, but every experience is valuable. So keep going, keep growing and most of all keep enjoying your own journey and all the adventures that brings.
After a busy start to the year with being back in the studio and working towards my Pilates teaching qualification, this week I have been enjoying some time off from dancing and studying.
I still have to remind myself that it’s ok to have time off and that it’s ok to enjoy other things in life – in fact it’s very important to have other interests outside of dancing. I also have to remind myself that rest is productive. Rest is SO important for your health, mental health and happiness.
It has made me very happy this week to get out for walks in the sunshine and spend time with my family – going to cafes, museums and art galleries. These experiences always add joy and inspiration to your life which can only give you more to draw upon in the studio. I have done some training – some strength and conditioning, some Pilates – but I think it’s really important to have time off to allow your body to adapt to what you have been doing in the studio, which will allow you to progress more when you return to your regular timetable. I have also enjoyed reading – I am currently reading Happy by Fearne Cotton – and baking.
Many dancers struggle with guilt around food but this can be even more of a struggle during time off. I am so happy that I have worked on my relationship with food for many reasons but it means I enjoy going out for meals with my family more than I used to.
We went out for some brunches and lunches this week and they were SO much more enjoyable compared to when I had a restrictive mindset and felt a lot of guilt around certain foods. I am not saying I never struggle anymore but this week I enjoyed foods that would have been surrounded by guilt and fear in the past – from a cinnamon roll to cookies, to pizza and pasta – life is so much better when you remember that “no food is healthier than a healthy relationship with food” and “denying yourself foods that you enjoy is more detrimental to your health than enjoying them and getting on with your life”. (Quotes from AusDancersOverseas instagram) For anyone struggling I would really encourage you to have a look at the AusDancersOverseas account and seek help and support from a trusted professional.
Enjoying foods that you love does not make you any less of an artist or human being, and having time off does not make you any less of an artist or human being. Taking time to rest and recover does NOT make you lazy or not dedicated enough- in fact it makes you a better artist in the studio. Having a break can give you more energy, motivation and inspiration to progress and grow as a dancer and person. I definitely feel refreshed and ready to keep working towards my goals, inside and outside of the studio, after a week off.
This time two years ago I took a longer period off from dancing as I was unhappy and struggling with my mental health, being in the studio every day. This time off was essential for me to get back to a better place mentally and ultimately allowed me to continue with my dancing journey. I strongly believe that if I had not stepped away from dancing when I did, I would have burnt out completely and not continued down this path. I would be lying if I said I experienced no judgement around this decision but looking back I am very glad I put my health and happiness first and made that decision to take a break because that time off is the reason I am still dancing today.
January can be a tough month. Some people find January the most depressing month of the year and really struggle with their mental health during this time. There can be pressure to set big goals and make resolutions but as the amazing Fearne Cotton said on a podcast recently “the only resolution worth making is to be kinder to yourself”.
Being kinder to myself is something that I have been trying to work on while getting back to dancing after the Christmas break. I find it’s so easy to be hard on myself and get frustrated during the first few classes back in the studio but this doesn’t help me to achieve anything. Being kind to myself and focusing on progress is much more productive.
Just because it’s the start of a new year doesn’t mean you have to be productive all the time though. People often feel that it’s the time to push themselves and make a big start in working towards their goals for the year. While it’s good to feel motivated and inspired, if you go really hard during the first few months of the year you may end up running out of steam. I think it’s so important to pace yourself and to remember how important rest and recovery is in helping you reach your goals. In terms of goals, it’s important to make sure that your goals are your own and aligned with your own values.
My goals for this year include being more kind to myself, practicing gratitude and working towards my pilates teaching qualification. Of course I would love to be on stage again during the year but I don’t want to put stress and pressure on situations and opportunities as I have done in the past. There is so much value in trusting the timing of your life, focusing on what you can control and letting go of what you can’t. Also I have learned that you should not base your self worth and happiness on getting a contract as this will definitely have a negative impact on your mental health. Focus on what your already have and trust the process.
Sometimes it’s hard to trust the process, especially when you are going through difficult experiences such as rejections, disappointments and setbacks. But it’s important to remember the tougher times can teach you so much about yourself and ultimately help you to move forwards and get closer to where you want to be. Try to trust your journey – and don’t compare your journey to other’s.
No matter what you see on social media, everyone has ups and downs in their journey. This time two years ago I was going through a very difficult time in my own journey. I was really struggling with my mental health – this was due to many factors but being in a studio everyday doing class and rehearsals wasn’t helping. So I decided to take a break from dancing in order to focus on my health – physical and mental. Taking a break was what I needed to realise I wanted to continue on my dancing journey but I needed to find a healthier and more balanced approach moving forwards. Looking back now, two years later and having danced professionally, while that time was very tough, the process of coming back to dancing taught me so much. It helped me to grow into the person I am today so I wouldn’t go back and change anything about that part of my journey, despite it’s challenges. I’m sure I will experience challenges and ups and downs throughout the rest of this year but I just have to keep reminding myself of how far I have come since January 2020.
From being in lockdown to getting back into the studio, from being involved in choreography projects to signing my first professional ballet contract and getting back on stage… it’s been a memorable year and I am very grateful to all the people, places, opportunities and experiences that have made it so. There have been ups and downs and challenges but it’s all about the journey and learning from the process so here are some things I have learned over the last 12 months…
1. Not every class/rehearsal/performance will be perfect: nobody is perfect. So it’s important to focus on what went right, not on the one or two steps that went wrong or could have been better. Being an artist is not just about technique, it’s about energy, passion, musicality, strength. Being an artist is about progress not perfection and about learning, growing and evolving.
2. You are not defined by your mistakes, flaws and imperfections. They make up parts of who you are but do not define you. Making mistakes is how we learn and improve. It’s also so easy to focus on our weaknesses and put ourselves down so we need to remember to celebrate our strengths. No one dances like you and that is your superpower.
3. Look back on former versions of yourself with compassion. Remember that you are, and have always been, trying your best. Remember you are, and have always been, enough. Be proud of how far you have come, despite all the challenges. And in tough times, remember every stage of every journey is valuable so keep going and trust the process. Eventually things will work out and you will end up where you are meant to be. I’m not saying you should just sit back and hope for the best but I think there is a lot of power in putting less pressure on yourself and putting more trust in the Universe.
4. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You especially don’t have to prove anyone wrong, just let them be wrong. You are so worthy and capable of your goals and dreams, it’s not your problem if other people can’t see your potential. It’s easier said than done but you have to stop worrying so much about what other people think. It’s your life so define success for yourself and do what makes you happy.
5. Be yourself and stay true to your values. If something doesn’t align with your values then it’s not worth pursuing because it will just lead to unhappiness. Your health and happiness is never worth sacrificing. Sometimes it’s hard to hold on to that thought in certain situations but keep reminding yourself that you will only be the best version of yourself – and the best dancer you can be – if you are happy and healthy.
So that’s five things that I have learned this year. I have some goals going in to 2022 but I also think it’s important to live in the present and take one day at a time. 2021 has definitely taught me to trust the timing of my life so we will see what happens…
This blog is all about my first professional ballet contract, dancing in The Nutcracker. In the production, I danced corps de ballet roles and was also given the opportunity to perform soloist roles in the 2nd act.
Rehearsals (November/December 2021)
The rehearsal period was intense. We had a very short space of time to learn and rehearse the ballet in the studio so we had to be focused and pick up the steps quickly. Some of the days were extremely long and challenging – physically and mentally. However the process was rewarding, seeing the production come together and take shape. Soon we were doing full run throughs and dress rehearsals on stage while continuing to develop our characters and refine the choreography. After the last day of rehearsals we packed up our boxes full of make up, shoes and costumes to be transported to Denmark where we would be touring the production.
Denmark Tour (3rd – 13th December 2021)
Ølgod – Sunday 5th December
After travelling to Denmark on Friday 3rd December, we went to our first venue in Ølgod on Saturday 4th to do class and rehearsals in preparation for opening night on Sunday 5th. On Sunday 5th we did a dress rehearsal before the show in the evening. I was nervous and excited before the show as I hadn’t been on stage for so long due to the pandemic. However once the show started, it felt so good to perform in front of a live audience for the first time in two years.
Struer – Monday 6th December
We had a double show day in Struer at a very small theatre. It was a challenging venue as there was not much space backstage and in the wings which made entrances/exits and quick changes more stressful! However both shows were sold out so it was exciting to perform for two enthusiastic audiences.
Frederikshavn – Tuesday 7th December
It was a long bus journey to this venue but seeing the countryside covered in snow made it more enjoyable. In contrast to the theatre in Struer, the theatre in Frederikshavn had a much bigger stage and auditorium as well as more space backstage. After the show we travelled to Aalborg – one of the larger cities in Denmark.
Aalborg – Wednesday 8th December
As we were already in Aalborg, we had the morning off to explore the city which was very fun – from wandering around pretty streets and Christmas markets, to having hot chocolates at a cosy cafe to get out of the cold. Then we went to the theatre to do class and prepare for the show. This venue was huge, by far the biggest stage I have ever danced on, plus we had plenty of space in the wings and backstage.
Skive – Thursday 9th December
With 5 performances done, this venue was halfway though our Denmark tour. This point in the tour was tough as the busy schedule of travelling and performing was starting to take it’s toll. When you are tired, it’s easy to be hard on yourself and get frustrated but you have to remember to be be kind to yourself because you are trying your best. The performance might not be perfect, but it’s not about being perfect. It’s about enjoying being on stage and learning from the process of building on each performance to grow as an artist.
Slagelse – Friday 10th December
We had another long bus journey to get to this venue but the drive was interesting as we crossed a very impressive bridge that was almost five miles long! When we arrived at the venue we did ballet class. In class on tour, you have to adapt to how your body is feeling that day. Some days in class you might want to push more but sometimes you might need to save yourself for the show. It’s so important to listen to your body and to look after yourself to avoid injuries. After class, we did some rehearsals before getting ready for the performance. When we came out of the theatre after the show it was snowing which was a lovely end to the day.
Næstved – Saturday 11th December
We had some time off in the morning to explore the town before heading back to the theatre to do class and rehearsals. I really enjoyed this performance and I was happy that the pirouettes in the 2nd act went well. However it’s important to remember that technique doesn’t define you as an artist. What makes you an artist is your passion, energy, musicality and so much more than just technique.
Sonderborg – Sunday 12th December
This was our last venue in Denmark so we wanted to have a good show to finish on a high. Luckily it went well – there was an amazing energy on stage so it was a lovely performance to end the tour. I was sad to be leaving Denmark in the morning but was also excited to be going home to get some rest before our Edinburgh performances.
Home! – Monday 13th December
The last time I flew into Edinburgh airport, February 2020, I was at a low point in my dancing journey. At the start of 2021, being in a much better place with my health and mental health, one of the goals I had was to get back on stage at some point during the year. I wasn’t sure how or when so it felt really surreal landing in Scotland having completed a tour with a professional ballet company. It just goes to show that sometimes you have to be patient, keep going and trust the timing of your life. We often put so much stress and pressure on ourselves to achieve our goals and dreams, but I have learned that by just letting things unfold and by trusting the process, things often work out in the end.
Edinburgh performances –Friday 17th and Saturday 18th December
After a few days of self isolation at home, while waiting for covid test results, we were able to go ahead with our Edinburgh performances as everyone tested negative for the virus. I was so glad these shows were able to happen as it was very special performing in my home city with family and friends there to watch. It was an amazing way to end my first professional ballet contract. While there were ups and downs throughout the rehearsals and tour, I had so much fun being back on stage doing what I love. With theatres around the world having to close once again, I feel very lucky to have been able to perform on stage this winter.
It’s been a while since my last blog post because recently the opportunity to get back into the studio and do daily classes came up. It was a huge relief as I was getting very fed up with dancing at home but the thought of being back in the studio everyday was daunting. Pre-pandemic, being in a studio daily was not working for me and I was struggling to keep on top of my health and mental health in that environment. During the months of dancing at home, I got to a much better place with it all – food, body image, mental health. So I was worried going back to being in the studio everyday might lead to a setback. But so far it’s going well. Of course there are still moments of frustration and self-doubt, but overall I am feeling positive and a whole lot happier and healthier compared to before the pandemic. It’s all about progress not perfection.
Progress not perfection. I keep telling myself this when I’m in the studio. I’ve been enjoying working on a classical solo but sometimes I can be so hard on myself. The other day I filmed myself and watched it back, and I was not kind to myself. Then I reminded myself to focus on progress not perfection. Watching the video again with this in mind, I saw it in a completely different light. Yes there were mistakes and things that could have been better but there were also many positives. I was also proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new. I had never tried this solo before because I thought it wouldn’t suit me and I didn’t have the strength. But I tried and realised that I actually was capable. So I would definitely recommend pushing yourself to try something that’s outside your comfort zone because that’s when you realise your true potential and gain confidence in your abilities.
You are often capable of so much more than you think. Looking back on my full time training experience, I think one of the main things that held me back was my lack of belief in myself and my abilities. This wasn’t helped by the fact that some people made comments over the years that negatively impacted my confidence – comments about my body shape and build especially damaged my self worth. Now I know that the comments say more about the people who made them than they do about me, but I held on to these beliefs for a long time and they held me back in the studio. I’m determined not to let them hold me back now and stop me from becoming the best version of myself as a dancer and person.
Working hard in the studio is important, but what is even more important is looking after yourself outside of the studio. This is something that I have definitely had to learn the hard way but it’s an extremely valuable lesson. If you support yourself outside of the studio, you will perform better in the studio. With this in mind, as I am doing more dancing now, I am putting even more focus on rest, recovery, nutrition and sleep. I am also making sure I take steps each day to look after my mental health – whether that’s going for a walk, listening to music or podcasts, doing some journaling or having a bath. We are humans first, dancers second so we have to take care of the human. And doing this will only make you a better artist in the studio who can navigate the ups and downs of being a dancer.
Being a dancer, there will always be challenges. But when challenges arise, it’s important to remind yourself of all have you have been through already. It’s important to remember that you have overcome challenges before so have faith in yourself and trust that you can handle this too. I’m sure some challenges are going to come my way over the next few months, but I’m also looking forward to some exciting adventures which I will hopefully learn and grow from as I embark on my first professional ballet contract!
Very recently I signed my first professional ballet contract. There have been times over the years where I doubted that this would ever happen… but now it’s finally happened I’m very glad that I have kept going and not given up. It may have taken me two years after graduating to get a contract but I wouldn’t go back and change anything about my journey. I have learned so much, especially since graduating, that I now feel ready for this new chapter. I really believe that you have to trust the timing of your life. Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s and know that what’s meant for you will not pass you by.
I read a very interesting blog post recently about why there shouldn’t be a choice between art and health, why dancers should not have to sacrifice their health in order to succeed in the industry. It really highlighted that this is one of the biggest problems in the dance industry – that art is often prioritised over dancer’s health.
This doesn’t make sense as if health (physical and mental) came first, then performances would be better. Rehearsals would be more productive and training would be more effective. Dancers would be stronger and less prone to injury and burnout… not to mention happier. Change needs to happen. Too many dancers have their careers cut short because they sacrifice their health in order to “make it”.
At times during my dancing journey, I have felt pressure to put dancing first above my health and well-being. From comments about my body to being told to “toughen up” when I was struggling with my mental health – these are both examples of the art getting put before all else. This doesn’t make sense, how can someone perform at their best and create the most beautiful art when they are not happy and healthy? But because we want to succeed, and we are often scared of the consequences of speaking up, we often don’t question what is being asked of us by the people in power. Even if we are being asked to sacrifice our health.
When I was younger, I think I accepted everything I was told as the truth. As I got older, I started to think that maybe my health was more important and asked myself questions about what I was being told. For example, even though my relationship with food was already damaged, when I was told to cut out carbs I questioned how I would have enough energy to dance. When I was told that I needed to “get on with it” despite really struggling with anxiety, I questioned if that was the right thing to do. I never questioned the people making these comments, the comments that suggested that dancing was more important than my health, but I was realising that my health should come first. Eventually I learned that nothing is worth your health and happiness, but I had to learn the hard way.
But the bottom line is that I shouldn’t have had to go through these experiences to reach this conclusion. I shouldn’t have had to struggle with my physical and mental health, damage and re-build my relationship with food to realise that my health was more important than dancing. If we were educated from a young age about how to look after our bodies and minds then this would be a massive step forwards. I think that in training there is so much focus on technical training, and not enough focus on how to support yourself and your health while dancing. This approach is so short-sighted when you consider that if dancers were happier and healthier, they would achieve a higher level of technical skill and strength. Not to mention that they would be better artists.
Not only in training but in the dance industry as a whole, I feel that there is so much focus on technique and aesthetics and not enough on artistry and health. There is also too much focus on one definition of success, and what it means to be a professional dancer. The dance industry would be a better place if dancer’s health and happiness came first and dancers were able to define success for themselves. As I return to the studio and get back to doing more training, I am trying to keep my focus on being happy and healthy while dancing. I am reminding myself everyday that my health comes first and dancing comes second. I’ve made the wrong choice before, choosing dancing over my health. This time I’m determined to not make the same mistake. The industry might not always fully support choosing your health over dancing, but you have to stay true to what you know is right for you and your health and happiness.
Ann is a freelance dancer and teacher, and is also a principal dancer at English Youth Ballet. She trained at English National Ballet School and has a 1st class BA degree from Middlesex University.
Q. Tell us about your dancing journey so far?
“I started dancing when I was 2 years old and when I was 8 or 9 years old I decided that I wanted to have a career as a professional ballet dancer. I trained with the Royal Ballet School Associates from when I was 12. From the age of 12, I also worked with a teacher called Richard Slaughter and was part of a project called The Ballet Pod – which was about bringing ballet to people who would not otherwise have access to it. We toured around Wales doing performances and workshops – it was amazing experience but hard work. At age 17, I auditioned for full time schools and got a final audition for English National Ballet School. Unfortunately I wasn’t offered a place that year but I worked really hard, re-auditioned a year later and got in. I went on to train there for 3 years and graduated in 2016.”
“ I then danced as an apprentice with Ballet Cymru which led on to a contract with the company. But at the start of my second season I struggled with an injury, among other challenges, so I decided to take a break from dancing to recover and improve my health. I went back to Ballet Cymru to do their pre-professional programme once I had recovered, and I really enjoyed my time there while I re-auditioned for companies. However I didn’t get any job offers so I decided to move to London. This was a big risk but I started teaching and working as a freelance dancer, and then I got a contract with English Youth Ballet. I have been dancing with them since as one of their principal dancers, while continuing to teach and work as a freelancer.”
Q. What was your experience of full time training?
“There were a lot of challenges but I was very fortunate to have some lovely teachers. Being home-schooled up until that point, the environment was very different to what I was used to so it took me a while to get used to things at full time dance school. But I had many amazing experiences and performance opportunities and I learned so much. I also made friends for life during that time so it was very positive, but it was very demanding both physically and mentally.”
Q. Company life VS being a freelance dancer?
“Dancing with Ballet Cymru gave me valuable experience and broadened my mind, helping me transition from being a student to being a professional. But being a freelance dancer has allowed me to connect with people of all ages, as well as different dancers and artists. The experiences you can have as a freelancer are so diverse but it does come with its challenges, you have to be very self motivated. However it is very rewarding as you make so many friends and connections which helps you to build a network of like-minded people.”
Q. What are your career highlights so far?
“I have had so many amazing experiences so far including dancing on the Royal Opera House Stage, at Sadler’s Wells theatre and also the Wales Millennium Centre. It was wonderful to perform Big Swans in the ENB My First Swan Lake series and to appear with ENB in Le Corsaire.”
“I loved dancing Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet with Ballet Cymru. I have also thoroughly enjoyed working with Sally Marie from Sweet Shop Revolutions, dancing with Brecon Festival Ballet and more recently being part of ‘Aprajita’ and collaborating with Kathak dancer Anuradha Chaturvedi in an online festival. It was also very special to perform at The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod with The Ballet Pod some years ago.”
“I have very much enjoyed working with choreographer Jack Philp too. I have been thoroughly enjoying dancing with English Youth Ballet this last year even though I have not got on stage with them yet due to the Pandemic. Every experience is special and has something to teach you.”
Q. What was your experience of dancing during the pandemic?
“Life in lockdown was very different to my normal life in London so it took me a while to adjust and get into a routine. However I was busy, teaching online and also working on choreography and collaborations over zoom. These experiences have made me more adaptable and open to different ways of working. I have missed performing on stage, however I am grateful to have performed for filming with English Youth Ballet over the last year.”
Q. Tell us about your experience of having covid and about your current recovery from the virus?
“One day I was doing class, pilates and strength training – being very active – and the next day I had no energy and couldn’t do anything. Being in isolation changed my perspective and made me realise what really matters – family, friends, connection and human contact. After the initial infection, recovery has been a bumpy road so far and it’s going to be a long journey. I have had challenges before but this is the biggest challenge I have ever experienced. I am hopeful I will make a full recovery but I’m focusing on small steps in the right direction. I have to take it one day at at time.”
Q. How has this challenge changed you as a dancer?
“Having covid has made me more respectful of my body and has shifted my mindset. As dancers we are always asking so much of our bodies, but being ill has made me so grateful for all my body does for me. I am not up to doing class yet but I have been doing some improvisation when I feel I can. This has helped me to reconnect to why I started dancing because I just feel the music and enjoy moving… without any pressure or judgement.”
Q. Has dancing impacted your mental health?
“I started dancing because it was a positive experience, it brought me joy and allowed me to share that joy with others. Over the years of training, you can get fixated on technique or your weaknesses and lose sight of the reason you started. Looking back at the mental health challenges I have experienced during my dancing journey, I have realised that it was never dancing that was the problem. The problem was my mindset that was too focused or comments from people that clouded my path. Dance in itself is very healing and positive for my mental health, so I try to reconnect to that.”
Q. How would you make the dance industry better?
“People in power need to honour dancer’s physical and mental health. They should not make judgements about physical appearances and instead take the time to talk to dancers about how they are feeling. Teachers and directors need to learn how to use language to empower dancers, rather than tear them down, to create a positive environment in the studio. Also they should not give advice in areas they are not qualified to comment on such as nutrition and mental health, but instead have a support network of trusted health professionals at the ready who dancers can access easily.”
Q. What is the best advice you have been given?
“Someone once said to me – Does it matter whether you get what you are seeking, or does it matter that you have done everything to try? This really stuck with me. It’s an important reminder that sometimes things might not work out, but trying your best is all you can ever do and your best is always enough.”
Q. What advice would you give to younger dancers?
“Don’t compare your journey because what you have to offer is unique. And if you try to walk someone else’s path, you will miss out on the life that will make you truly happy.”
Q. And finally… what is your favourite quote?
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them” (Henri Matisse)