There are a few differences but truly not as many as you might think. In Denmark, about once every few months, the public is invited in to the Royal Theater to watch the ballet company take morning class on the stage for free, while they can enjoy a croissant and some coffee.
The teacher varies but more often then not, for a Brunch and Ballet class we have our boss, Nikolaj Hubbe. He is quite charismatic and he always keeps the audience completely entertained with his jokes and Dan-glish way of speaking. For everyday class, we don’t actually have Nikolaj that often. Maybe twice a month… maybe. Some months less, some months more. Former Principal Dancer with RDB, Jean-Lucien Massot, former dancer and character dancer with RDB, Mogens Boesen, and former Principal dancer with NYCB, Adam Luders are our more typical teachers for everyday class. The past year or so, management has been bringing in more guest teachers from all around the world which is also super fun. Teachers such as, Taina Morales, Johnny Eliasen and Eva Draw.
For our everyday classes we never take it on stage. We always start the day in one of our studios backstage. The teacher also isn’t miked up but Nik, or whoever is teaching doesn’t change their steps, or behavior just because there is an audience for Brunch and Ballet. Who they are without an audience is the same as who they are when there is one.
The last fifteen minutes of a Brunch and Ballet, there is always a little demonstration of what we are currently working on, in hopes that we inspire a few audience members to come and see our next show.
A typical class is a full one hour and a half with no demonstration. Usually class ends with people trying out all sorts of steps they are working on, fouette turns, or boys jumping around.
The outfits that we come in, the weird stretches you see us do, the leg warmers, the rolling out, the hair down, the messy buns, the side talking, the laughing, the jokes, the focus…. that is everyday. What you see is, what you get with RDB. 😉
I use four main tools everyday. An elastic theraband, a bouncy ball cut in half, warm boots, and my make shift ankle warmers.
Before I start
ballet class in the morning I pull out my elastic theraband and I do at
least 10 reps of pointing and flexing each foot. By adding the
resistance, I’m waking up my muscles for the day.
The bouncy ball cut in half, was given to me from my great colleague, Jon Axel. This half ball I’ll step on throughout the entire barre releasing tightness in my feet.
Warm boots. Yup. Just to keep my feet warm. I live in them at the theater. I will wear them at the very beginning of class but only for maximum two combinations. I really don’t like the feeling of having anything extra on my feet when I’m dancing. But they are great to have on everywhere else. Especially as the days get colder! You’ll catch me in my boots throughout the day between rehearsals, at lunch, putting on my makeup, walking to a costume fitting or before a show. Basically anytime I’m not dancing.
Lastly, my make shift ankle warmers. I really like my ankles to stay warm. I buy those really fluffy socks from Tiger and then cut the toe off and the heel away. I do this instead of using ballet legwarmers because 1- they are super cheap. About 15kr. 2- They hug my ankle nicely as they are made to be socks. You will always find me with ankle warmers on.
I will use a foam roller but I’m not religious about it. It’s more if I remember or if I’m killing time.
At the Royal Danish Ballet, a dancer, regardless of rank has to retire when he or she turns 40 years old. Once you turn 40, you are allowed to finish that season which goes until June.
I think many of us don’t even think about our retirement if we are happy and inspired at work. Every year though, at the end of the season party, there are always speeches to those who have decided to either leave the company or to those that are retiring from the company. Those speeches always brings that looming question to the front of your mind.
To be completely honest, I don’t know. I don’t know how to cope with such an early retirement age. My brain can’t even comprehend the idea of not dancing and performing… ever. Let alone stopping in ten years, for me. (I turned 30 this past October)
Some days you really feel the pressure. For instance, when a cast list goes up and maybe you didn’t get the role you hoped for… one of your first thoughts may be, will this ballet come back in time for me to have another shot at it!? Will I ever get to dance that role in my career?
These are very real questions. And all I can really say is that you have to put your faith in that everything happens for a reason. The management does have plans that you aren’t aware of. Trust the timing of your life. I do realize that that is much easier said than done.
At the same time, I would encourage any dancer to not just sit back and leave everything to the unknown. Reach out and try to get a few gigs or get involved in another project that interests you. Then, perhaps you can choose what pas de deux you dance and the stress of never getting to dance something can be calmed. It’s always worth a try!
The dancers that I have seen retire are at first usually grateful for a rest. It’s a hard career, on your body, on your mind, and on your soul. To step away from that pressure to be pretty much, “perfect” is welcomed.
I’ve seen a lot of wonderful ballerina’s become mothers at age 38, 39, and 40 years old. Maybe for society that is considered late but for a ballerina it’s the perfect timing. It’s so wonderful to see. Motherhood is a common route taken after retirement or just before retirement.
Many dancers teach ballet either as a full time job or just until they figure out what exactly they want to do next. I would say most stay in the world of ballet. Some have gone on to become Pilates teachers, ballet teachers, gym/workout teachers, or ballet masters… Sometimes, the theater will offer a dancer to come back for a production or two as a character dancer. For example, right now in the wonderful ballet Blixen, by Gregory Dean, several retired, beloved dancers are back on stage performing with us. It’s so nice to have them and they are absolutely excelling!
There are also those that step completely out of the business. Starting up coffee shops, renting out apartments, film director… The sky is the limit. It’s just tricky to figure out which path to take when all you’ve ever pretty much known is ballet.
Usually the dancers that decide to go back to school stop earlier then their retirement age. Although, of course, one could go back to school at the age of 40. No problem whatsoever. One is still quite young. But, it is common to see dancers around the age of 23-25, who have been a professional for a few years, to decide that they’d like to give school a go. Again around age 30 you might see another wave of dancers deciding to leave the company and go to school.
We don’t really talk that much about retirement. It isn’t until your dad or someone close to you asks “what is next?” Even now, for me, ten years away from retirement, I have no idea. I’ve had a few ideas running through the back of my brain but none of them are concrete. I would love to become an author. I’ve thought about becoming a grade-school teacher. I’m very interested in the film and Broadway world… maybe something there. ??? Time will tell.
The theater does have a fund where a dancer can send in an application describing what they want to try and see if it could be their next career. I don’t know that much about it because I’ve never sent anything in. I do know that you receive a certain amount of money to try something out either on the side of working as a dancer or you can request for some time off to discover more.
I think, for a dancers mind, the retirement has to be actually super close to start accepting the idea to start thinking about leaving our magical world. We all love it so much. Then, maybe, one would start to reach out to the previous generations that have already retired and have those conversations. It’s a thought that we push aside for years. Whether we should or not.
In many ways it feels like after 12 years of being a professional I’m only just starting to really figure a few things out. I don’t know if at 40 years old if I’ll feel like I actually did figure anything out or if I’ll feel like I never quite did figure anything out. That is why every picture is so meaningful. Every performance is such a victory! Every moment on stage with your partner, with the entire company is so touching. It’s all memories you never want to forget. You can’t take this career for granted. You never know when your last day will actually be. Injury or just life in general could always take it.
I guess I’ll be better equipt to answer this question in a few years time, when I’m closer to 40. In the meantime, retirement is kept in the way way way back of my mind.
Thank you so much for the question @rendezvous_at_midnight
There are actually three particular performances that come to mind. The first was the live stream filming of Alice In Wonderland in to the movie theaters all around Denmark. I don’t think I’ve ever danced better in my life. The second was my second show of Giselle with Jonathan Chmelensky. We had had a five day warning, and then two shows back to back. Our second show together was when we were the most tired but… something magical happened. There was something eternal in the air. We both danced our hearts out. But the most life changing performance, that most definitely left a lasting mark on me, was the night I was promoted to Principal Ballerina.
I was promoted to Principal Ballerina on stage after I danced George Balanchine’s, Theme and Variations with my partner Ulrik Birkkjær. The life changing day was February 27th, 2016.
We had learned the ballet a few months before the premiere. Then we moved on and started rehearsing our Dance To Go program which included the white swan pas de deux.
I remember it was a day that I wasn’t supposed to dance in the rehearsal. So I had just been sitting and watching the rehearsal. Then, last minute, the ballet master finished early and surprised me by asking me to run the white swan variation. I was young, ambitious, and wanted to please everyone, so when asked to do it, despite being cold, I said yes… That was when I hurt my ankle.
I rolled my ankle and I kept dancing on it. Oh, how I could hit myself if I could go back today to that moment! The coming days came and went and my ankle just kept getting weaker. I dropped out of Nutcracker all together. I stopped dancing to try and get as strong as possible for the premiere of Theme in January.
In first cast, I was dancing the demi- soloist role and then in second cast, I was dancing the lead. Doing the ballet back to back like that was very hard on my foot. The demi-soloist role was tougher on my foot then the principal. I talked to my ballet masters at that time in hopes of figuring out what to do with my load. I hoped that I could post pone my demi-soloist role until I was stronger to do the two parts back to back.
I also had the pressure of my entire family flying out to see me dance Theme. They had already bought their tickets. I didn’t want their dollars and time to be wasted.
At that time, the position I was in, I was not allowed to take the night off before doing a principal role. It was either, do both or do none. I.. was.. absolutely.. heart broken. I knew that if I did the demi-soloist role the first night then my foot would be screaming at me the next day. Some days, I struggled even walking after running the demi-soloist part. I wanted to perform the principal of Theme at my best! I didn’t want my family to see a half baked version. I dropped out.
When I was doubtful, I had been encouraged to drop out. Everyone stressed to me that I should want to look my best when I step out there for Theme. But I tell you now, if I could go back… I would have told myself to do it. The depression that followed that decision created a very dark world for me.This might sound dramatic, but in that moment in my life something died inside of me. I hurt so badly in my heart. I was angry that that had been my only option, that my family had wasted thousands of dollars to see nothing and that I didn’t even get to dance my dream role. I really can’t even describe how dark those days were for me.
The ballet company then had a two or three week vacation. My family was going to Italy. I canceled my entire trip with my family so I could do intense rehab in Copenhagen and make sure that I could get back and dance Theme. I worked everyday. Almost to the point of crazy. Every exercise, every treatment… whatever I could do, I did.
The run of Theme started again. I was ready. I had made it back. My mom flew back over from the USA to see my premiere. (ummm best mom ever) She knew that Theme meant more to me then even Swan Queen. Growing up I wanted to be a Balanchine ballerina! So this was it!
I remember being very nervous. I didn’t quite trust my body in the same way as before due to the injury and I hadn’t been on stage for months. No stage call. No dress rehearsal. Just go!
But I did it!
I did about five shows and then on my last show, Nikolaj Hubbe came out on to the stage after the bows and announced to the entire audience that he had decided to promote me to Principal Ballerina.
Especially since it had been such a struggle to even get to perform Theme, my first emotion was gratitude. I was so happy. My smile was so big and so sincere. I was proud of my body, proud of beating the injury and all the obstacles that came in my way. I did a fist bump in to the air as if screaming, I did it!
I really wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get to dance Theme, let alone get promoted. That show without a doubt left the most lasting mark on me and it always will.
The teenage years… a tricky moment in anyone’s life. So much uncertainty. Ballerina dreamers have some pretty big decisions to make early on too, not making it any easier.
Should I stay at my local ballet school? Should I join a larger, more renowned school? Should I go to college? Where should I audition? Should I travel to audition? Overseas? If I don’t get a job, should I try the following year? Which company should I go too? Will I ever make it? Why didn’t I make it? Am I too big? Am i too thin? …etc.
It’s mind numbing to have so many thoughts and uncertainties. You will survive it. But you have to go through it, in order to get through it.
The advice I would give my teenage self is, to take one day at a time. There are too many questions without answers to become overly stressed and worried over. Just continue to do the best that you can, on everything that you are doing. From school grades, SAT tests, to your ballet. One step at a time.
Discover what makes you feel fit. You are more then just a number on a scale. By the way, don’t own a scale. It will only bring you down and play games with your head. Instead, learn to pay attention to what makes you feel good. Which foods fuel you better. Which foods don’t. You’ll learn a lot more about your body by paying attention to it, instead of wasting your time and energy trying everybody else’s method. The goal is always to be healthy. Keep it that way.
DO YOUR SINGLE LEG HEEL RAISES! IT WILL PREVENT YOU FROM SO MANY INJURIES!
Translucent setting powder is your best friend. Best makeup trick I’ve ever learned is to finish your makeup with a layer of setting powder. Oh, and use a good face cream at night. You’ll be happy you did when you turn thirty.
Stay curious about the ENTIRE dance world. Know more than the history of one ballet company. Explore the world’s ballet companies. Every company has different strengths. Aspire to adapt some of every companies strengths, in to your own dancing. It will be fun, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll have so many more idols to look up too.
Keep your dream ignited and never apologize for being ambitious. Yes, easier said then done. You will have days where you question your dream. We all did. Find that determination to not give up. Grit.
NEVER let your ambition turn your insides ugly due to jealousy. Stay above that. It, again wont be easy because you want your dream so badly. But, try your best to stay above it. It is really more for your own mental health then anything else. Don’t use your precious energy on something as useless as that.
Be kind. Be more then kind to your classmates. None of you know how things will end up in five years. The “favorite” may not even be dancing anymore. The under dog may be the up and coming star. Everyone is fighting their own battles, so always be kind and encouraging towards others.
People will make opinions about you. That’s a fact. You wont be able to change them, unless that person is willing to change them. More often than not, they won’t want to admit that they were wrong, so just keep livin’ as happily as you can.
Be polite. Overly polite. Use Mrs. and Mr. Open the door for others. Say please and always handwrite a thank you card when given a gift. Be classy.
Never stop befriending new people. Just because your “click” feels safe and you guys have guaranteed fun together, don’t miss out on the opportunity of meeting the many fascinating people in this world. Be brave and break the ice by introducing yourself. Meeting new people brings a balance in to your life that you’ll most likely be grateful for.
Own a pet if possible. There really is nothing better than coming home to an animal that loves you after a bad day or even a good day! There is so much love. Cuddles with them can brighten even the toughest days.
Life will throw you corkscrews. Instead of getting angry, look that corkscrew right in the eye and take it as a challenge. Believe in your fate. You are meant to either beat this of have it beat you. Your attitude on challenges will set you apart.
Last but not least, everything happens for a reason. It will truly not feel like it sometimes. You’ll feel like you are walking alone in the dark. Keep the faith. Everything truly does happen for a reason. So, as you take each day, one day at a time, believe that you are being lead to exactly where you are meant to go. Eventually, when you look back… you’ll see.
performing. Without a doubt, my most favorite thing to do. I love
stepping out in to the lights and sharing an evening with an audience.
Magic happens. I swear, there is magic in the air at a theater. It is
just waiting for you to ignite it.
moment when performing is when you are so “in” to the show that you can
just play. The mind no longer has to focus on everything it has been
instructed to do from the previous weeks. Everything clicks. All
emotions become pure and your own physical boundaries get pushed! It’s
just you up there without your coaches helping hand. Time to own the
stage. It’s exhilarating.
before a performance your head is filled with a lot of input from your
coaches. Corrections, portrayal, emotions, counts, stage left, stage
right, downstage, upstage… It can become numbing when you have so many
things to remember in the same second.
But, this part
of the process cannot be skipped. You need to know all of these things
in order to present your best self and in order to reach the best
overall production. Some days are frustrating. Some days are tiring. But
in the end you are always very grateful for having a team working with
you and helping you along the way. You couldn’t do it without them.
finally get to the performing step of the process, the mind starts to
calm. That’s when you can start to lose yourself in the moment. It is
the most amazing moment when performing. It may not happen on your first
performance. Usually, you need at least one run under your belt. But
then, an extra boost of confidence comes. Your body is automatically
doing the steps, you know all your cues like the back of your hand and
the opportunity to play has arrived. Play with holding a balance here,
stretch the musicality there, add an extra turn where you can, when you
can, steal another glance at your partner… There is nothing more joyous
then getting to the level of playing on stage. It brings you on a high
that you don’t ever want to come down from.
As I was writing this, the ballet that kept creeping in to my mind was, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Christopher Wheeldon. This ballet was a huge challenge to take on. The role of Alice has many specific instructions and steps. Have to look at the clock on count 2, of the fifth 8…. etc. And Alice is always moving. Always! It took a long time to learn all of it and then to remember all of it, and then again to become comfortable with all of it. But I’ve never felt more rewarded by a role then Alice. Especially the second time the Royal Danish Ballet put up Alice, I found that I was really able to start to play on stage. I still crave that feeling after performances. I had some of my best performances to date. Out doing my own expectations of myself, which I’d never experienced before. I can be a pretty tough cookie on myself. 😉 And I was having so much fun! Every night after I played Alice, I couldn’t sleep. I was still so much in Alice’s world… replaying the night’s highlights over and over again in my head. Those shows felt like magic. Igniting that magic that exists in a theater so one can play, live on stage, is the best moment of performing.