Life at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy
Looking back on my training so far, there are so many things that I wish I could tell myself as an 11 year old aspiring dancer-to-be, desperate to start training at a vocational school. I certainly never dreamed I’d end up in Moscow training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Here’s my list of lessons I’ve learned so far:
1. Be open-minded about your training and don’t restrict your choices – look around at the different schools in your own country and internationally and select the ones that best suit you. Do your research about the school – you’ll find that current students are able to give the best advice and many dance students write blogs.
2. Be prepared to make sacrifices – evenings, weekends and holidays will be taken up with extra practice, rehearsals, stretching, competitions and summer schools. If you go away to a vocational school you leave behind your family and friends. It’s easy to keep in touch, though. I use Facetime and Skype – and it’s all the more fun when I get home picking up with family and friends exactly where I left off!
3. Be open to train with a range of teachers – here at the Bolshoi we have the opportunity to attend masterclasses with visiting companies and choreographers, and are actively encouraged to attend summer schools. You learn something from each teacher and can apply it to your own technique and style. I’ve trained with a range of teachers from Paris Opera Ballet, ENB, Royal Ballet, Vaganova Academy, Random Dance, Stuttgart Ballet and it’s definitely enriched my dancing!
4. Stretch every day – pre-ballet class and in the evening; it’s really important to develop core strength and flexibility as a ballet dancer. If you don’t have natural flexibility then there are exercises that can help. I wrote about my pre-ballet class warm up here.
5. Get lots of performance experience – that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day! The Academy puts on shows in our theatre twice a year as well as an annual full ballet production. There are also ad hoc shows and festivals throughout the year and a graduation show at the end of the year – all provide opportunities to craft our performance qualities. I’ve also entered competitions which are a fabulous opportunity to showcase your talent – see my experience at Tanzolymp here.
6. Go to see lots of ballet companies and learn from their different styles and repertoire. I’m really fortunate to get student tickets to go and see the Bolshoi and Stanislavsky on a fairly regular basis, plus visiting companies. I get to compare and contrast David Hallberg with Sergei Polunin and Svetlana Zhakarova and Alicia Amatrain. It’s great to absorb the creativity and passion of the dancers and apply that to your own style.
7. Train during the holidays – this might sound harsh but as a dancer in training it’s really important to keep your fitness up. I do an hour and a half’s training at my local gym six out of seven mornings when I’m back home. I also try to attend training sessions with my teachers at Bristol Russian Ballet School and I attend summer schools. Here’s my review of the Prague International Masterclasses (click here).
8. Eat well – I’m a vegetarian and work hard to keep my diet balanced, grain-free, sugar-free, protein rich, incorporating essential fatty acids. The secret is to eat small amounts regularly to keep up your energy levels. When my ballet teacher from Bristol Russian Ballet School told me she would mostly eat cottage cheese with sugar when training at the Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg, I thought she was joking! However, I’ve since realised that cottage cheese (tvorog) is a staple here in Russia as a sweet or savoury. So if I’m stuck for a quick protein boost then cottage cheese it is! I’m also not immune to a treat here and there – and will allow myself a chocolate fix if necessary!
9. Learn to listen to your body and respond to injuries – some you can work through but others you need to rest up. Don’t be downhearted if you do pick up an injury that keeps you out of training – the best thing you can do is to keep learning by watching class. There are lots of stories of top dancers who have seemingly career ending injuries but are now back performing! I also try to incorporate a regular sports massage into my training schedule – it helps to ease the aches and pains and break down those overworked muscles.
10. Don’t be obsessed by body shape – it’s true that there are some basic principles, but the perfect ballet-body is in the possession of a very few! With the right training and support you can develop your core strength, flexibility and change the shape and facility of your body, as I have.
11. Work hard – it goes without saying that to succeed as a ballet dancer takes lots of hard work. Your teachers will see that you want to learn and respond well to corrections. They will see that you are prepared to put in the hours and you will be rewarded! It is a competitive world and not everyone will become a principal – but set your own goals and recognise the progress that you make towards them.
12. Remember your roots and your manners – lots of your family and friends will make sacrifices and support you to get where you want to be. Recognise the sacrifices that others have made for you, be grateful and authentic and always be compassionate and commend success in others.
13. And, last but not least, have fun – it’s such a tough and competitive business; you have to want to dance and love to dance. You’ll make lots of friends along the way – make time to have fun and enjoy yourself, rewarding your successes and all of that hard work you put in each day!