Year 8 student Millie recently received a Merit in her Grade 5 Ballet exam. Here she talks about her progress in the art and discipline of ballet from a young age:
“I joined ballet school at the age of four and at that age my fascination was with the beautiful dresses, neatly done hair and makeup! The routine was easy and I enjoyed the time in ballet class as any other after-school activity. Once I started taking exams however, the art of ballet actually became a focus of my attention. Not only did the number of lessons increase significantly from the age of nine but the demand on practice outside of lessons increased as we were expected to keep up with the group we were, in regardless of our age. I passed my Grade 5 ballet exam recently and now am the youngest Grade 6 dancer in the class. This comes with mixed feelings; being proud that I am in the group with dancers two or more years older than me but this also brings pressure to perform at the same level as the rest.
“I initially started learning classical ballet and then extended my interests into other ballet disciplines (modern, tap and contemporary) as classical ballet is a basis for all of these. ‘Contemporary’ is by far the most interesting as it allows incredible freedom of expression, and sometimes for dancers’ own interpretations. Other disciplines are far more restricted and the routine is strictly followed.
“I now attend ten hours of ballet lessons every week (four hours of classical ballet, two hours of contemporary ballet, two hours of tap and two hours of modern). In addition to the regular lessons, there are extra lessons for exam and show preparations, which usually happen on a Sunday. This may sound excessive and indeed it is a demanding schedule but I love ballet and that is why this time spent dancing, although not easy, I find incredibly enjoyable. All of the ballet disciplines allow one to tell a story through body movement. Every ballet dancer tells the story in their own way and through their own feelings. The story of a ballet dancer is not only a story of practice and exams but of constant refinement, learning and perseverance.
“Student dancers often have opportunities to go to auditions in order to dance on stage with professional dancers. Auditions for a ballet chorus are grueling, often with over two hundred dancers applying for up to ten roles. To for an audition dancers usually have to fulfill a minimum criteria such as a specifically required ballet grade. On the day of an audition we are all of the same or similar standard of ballet but the judges, who are all professional dancers, are looking for a special connection with a type of music or dance, or something extra that makes a dancer stand out from all the rest. The audition is not only about what you know but also about the speed of your learning. We are usually shown a new routine by a professional ballet dancer on the stage and are given up to one minute to practice before we repeat the full routine. The focus required in those moments is incredible and all dancers are trying not to be distracted by anything or anyone in the audience. It is never easy to get rejected and there are many tears shed from all of those who weren’t selected, especially younger dancers. For the chosen ones it is not fun either, just relief for a moment as we know that hard work for the show is in front of us. The most important thing is not to give up, and keep trying, keep learning and refining, and keep auditioning. There is a professional stage show waiting for all of us, I am sure.
“As soon as the teachers believe that a dancer is ready for the pointe ballet shoes, the work on that special routine starts (usually from Grade 4 classical ballet). My friends often ask me whether it is painful to stand on pointes. Indeed it is! Dancers need to make sure that their pointe shoes are the perfect fit and there are also many helpful insets that ease the pain. Pointe shoes make every routine special and we forget about the pain once we are on stage.
“Being on stage is a special moment, however big or small the show is. All a dancer wants to do is to tell a story through body movements in the best way. My favourite ballet show by far was The Snow Queen by Bolshoi Ballet company. The way the Russian dancers told the story, the costumes, the routine, the orchestra… Ah! Pure perfection… Maybe, one day, if not the Queen, I will be at least one of the snowflakes on a big stage.”