Do you know the song, My Way, by Frank Sinatra? (such a good song) 🙂 It is a fantastic reminder that everyone has their own path in life. Their fate will be lived out their way. Twists, curve-balls, and unexpected challenges will occur to everyone at some point during their life’s journey. Life can be truly unpredictable! Maybe your path will take you in a totally different direction then you originally planned! That is exactly what happened to me. And it turned out to be my biggest blessing in disguise!
I moved away from home to N.Y.C. at 14 years old to become a year round student at the School of American Ballet. (SAB) SAB is the ballet school that feeds in to The New York City Ballet. (NYCB) In order to join the company, all dancers must attend SAB. So for four years, I trained everyday in hopes of getting in to the NYCB.
During my four years at SAB, Nikolaj Hubbe, a Danish star dancer with both the Royal Danish Ballet and The New York City Ballet, used to teach a few classes at the school in his spare time. I met Nikolaj when I was fourteen years old, in my first year at the school when he was my substitute teacher one day. What is pretty remarkable is that if you ask him today, he still remembers exactly where I stood at the barre during class. (Second girl in line, by the door. An easy escape (if needed) and I always had a girl in front of me for both sides, in case I didn’t pick up the combination.) 😉
Fast forward to about half-way through my fourth year at the school. I turned eighteen years old and was getting ready to graduate high school. Kay Mazzo (the director of SAB) called me in to a meeting about my future. This was right before audition season for professional companies started. Kay told me that Peter Martins (director of NYCB) and Nikolaj Hubbe had had a meeting about me. She continued to tell me that Nikolaj would be taking over the Royal Danish Ballet that August. (2008) And she informed me that Nikolaj had chosen one student, to bring with him back to Denmark. That was me.
So that is how I ended up at the RDB. It was a shock. It was not my plan. But RDB has given me my dream come true and I couldn’t be more grateful for where I ended up having my professional career.
Gosh, how do you deal with injuries!? Whether an injury is taking off ballet for a few days or taking off for several months…years, it is never fun. It always feels like it is the worst timing. None of us want to miss out. None of us want to lose an opportunity. None of us want to not be able to dance, the thing that we love to do.
Dealing with injury is a tough process but in order to survive it, we have to find an upside. Finding this upside will not come overnight. NO. NO. No. It will take you time.
I believe that there are several phases of injury that one has to go through.
Starting at the very beginning, Phase 1: Shock and Denial! “I’m fine. I’ll be fine,” you whisper to yourself as you limp home to watch Netflix’s on your couch. Yeah, sure… sure you’re fine. You aren’t fine at all.
Phase 2: Acceptance. Admitting that you are hurt IS scary. It has to be done, though. The quicker you get to this stage, the quicker you can start to heal. Your mind can finally calm down and stop having to repeat that made up story of how you aren’t really injured. One can stay in denial for months… just getting by…for months.
Phase 3: Depression. It will hit you hard and it will put you in a place that you never knew existed. A dark, dark place. Tears… so many tears. Anger will flare up from within you too. Depending on how you deal with this stage, will shape your return from your injury. I would say, feel that deep, black hole, feel the cold walls surrounding you, then… look up at the light. Look up to the surface and start swimming upwards to get out.
Phase 4: Find the positive side. Suddenly, you have more free time then you know what to do with. Instead of watching TV all day (yes we’ve all given in to those lazy days of watching nonsense TV when injured) I would recommend to take this time to work on having a more, well rounded life.
We put so much focus, energy and hard work in to our ballet that we easily forget that there are a million things happening in the world everyday. Exciting things.
Try something new! Dare to be a beginner at something again. Have that coffee with a friend that you never really had the time to get to know. Educate yourself. Explore what you might be interested in. Could be learning more about the human body or learning a new language or learning about art history. Sky’s the limit! Explore your own city. Find local spots that you’ve never been too.
Phase 5: Starting your way back to ballet. When you are able to start moving again, you’ll be so grateful to have survived all the previous phases. Your love for ballet will have grown even bigger. And believe it or not you will have learned a lot. Hold your horses a little bit though. Try not to rush back. Listen to your advisors including physical therapists and doctors but also listen to yourself. Only you can feel what is going on in your body. I’m a believer of listening to that gut feeling.
Phase 6: Expect at least one set back. I’ve seen it, time and time again. Someone has recovered from their injury, everyone is so excited to have them back in the studio but their work load just increased quite suddenly. That injury will get a little mad at you for asking so much of it, all of a sudden. Be smart. You are so close to doing what you love but you must remain careful and not push too hard. You are risking setting yourself even further back. And there is no way you are ready to be back at phase 1 emotionally.
If you are injured or know someone who is injured, I’m so sorry that you got hurt. I would never wish an injury upon another human being but especially never upon a dancer. It kills us. Our insides just die. I wish you a speedy and healthy recovery. I hope that you get back even stronger then when you were forced to stop.
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. 😉
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.
Let’s get the worst part out of the way. 😉 The worst part is that the KGL Teater is located 4,053 Miles or 6,523 Km away from my family. Copenhagen is really, really far away from “Home”. When I had my first show with the company… no one I knew was there. When I had my first solo… no family members were in the audience.. When I got promoted to soloist… no one was there… Even when I got promoted to Principal Dancer… not one family member was there…
I have gotten to share these experiences with many wonderful people, including fantastic audience’s but the fact remains that as much as my family wishes to be a part of my career, there is a distance because of the literal distance.
The people that sacrificed so much of their own lives in order for me to follow my dreams, without any sort of guarantee that anything would ever happen, missed all the glam. Not just my parents, but supportive friends throughout the years and even my ballet teachers that taught me what ballet is. None of it was shared directly with them, since becoming a professional.
Now, did I call my loved ones on the phone as soon as anything exciting and life changing happened? Yes! But isn’t there nothing quite like getting a hug from your own mother, while she whispers in your ear, I’m so proud of you, right in the moment? Or at the very least, that same evening. For them to be there, with you, sharing the atmosphere.
It doesn’t get easier over the years… you just get used to it. It is what it is.
The Best part of working for the KGL Teater is the company, the Royal Danish Ballet. I am so fortunate to perform in absolutely drop dead gorgeous, customized costumes, on a big, historical stage, surrounded by around sixty other talented dancers whom are all dancing the most infamous ballet steps that have ever existed or the steps that will be the future’s most infamous ballet steps.
It takes a big theater, a large, financially supported company in order to be able to dance some of those biggest dream roles. The dream of Swan Queen in Swan Lake is to dance the entire thing. White and Black Swan. Beginning to end. To go through every emotional feeling til the very last step. For that, you need to be part of an exceptional organization that can create the production and have enough people to fill every role and enough money to pay everyone from the stage hands, to the light designers, to set designers, to costume designers, to ballet masters, to…. etc.
The Royal Danish Ballet was so fortunate to put on Christopher Wheeldon’s, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland in 2016 & 2018. That production was expensive… millions of Kroners expensive. The Royal Danish Ballet shared the cost of the production with another well established ballet company, The Royal Swedish Ballet in order to be able to perform it. It was a sensational production. Absolutely mind blowing. So in my opinion worth every penny.
It’s the type of production that I wouldn’t even have access to if it wasn’t for the KGL Teater, and The Royal Danish Ballet. I have some of my best performance memories from this production. I will never forget the joy I felt performing as Alice.
The KGL Teater has given me the stage for my dreams to come true. Thank you will never be enough to explain the gratitude I feel for such a special place. Even if it is really, really far away.