Guest Post: A Day In The Shoes of a Ballerina

Today I have a special treat for you all:  a guest post from a fellow dance blogger turned online buddy, Jill Krutzkamp, of the blog dancehealthier.  For any of you who may be missing the ballet-related posts around here (I know I am!), you’re in luck!.  In this post, Jill, who is currently a dancer with Kansas City Ballet, gives us an inside look at the exhausting and rewarding day of a dancer.  Enjoy!

The alarming chime of the miramba precedes an awakening jolt, a weight shift of my head deepening into the pillow, and a deep sigh from my bed.  The darkness of the winter morning doesn’t help me want to lift my head off the ever so comfy pillow.  It just feels so nice.  A foggy mind becomes more and more conscious by the second until finally I’m conscious enough to ask myself, “What day is today?”  Soon my mind starts racing.  Yes, I have to work today.  Yes, I have to run the pas de deux. Yes, I have to run the corps of Serenade (hypothetically speaking of course).

I think, “Oh, I hope my body can do it.” 29832313-PM_CBFire_2011_A_363

I decide to hit the snooze button. 

Then more sets in like; An AGMA union meeting at lunch, a costume fitting, and how could I forget the run of Ma Cong’s, Angeli at the end of the day. Oh, and today is Monday so that means 3 hours of teaching once work is all over. 

YIKES! I better get out of bed.  I can’t help but think, “It’s a good thing I slept well.”

The healthier foot subconsciously escapes the bed and onto the floor first.  Here comes the second foot . . . “Ouch,” I say.  My ankle is a little crunchy.  I decide to take a second and whirl it around a few good times.  I think, “The shower will help it warm up a bit.”  But, first of course must come some coffee!  Oh and right, food too!  I ponder at the taste of a hard-boiled egg, a poached egg, some yogurt and granola, a blended juice, or a bagel with peanut butter and banana. I think back to my day ahead again.  A couple of hard-boiled eggs seem to be a good choice. 

I shower up, grab my bobby pins, put up my hair into a secured French twist (I’m known for my hair falling out), grab my computer bag and my tights from where they were hanging out to dry and I run to my car. 

Class starts in 20 minutes.  Good thing I only live 2 minutes away. 

“Good morning, Nadia.”  “Hey, Charlie.  How’s your back feeling today?” I check the schedule for the day again just to be sure I have it all down correctly in my head.  There never seems to be a dull moment at the ballet even if it’s merely a walk down the hall to the dressing room.  I chuckle as I’m putting in the code to the dressing room when I hear my good friend loudly saying to the girls, “Can you believe that craziness?”

15 minutes until class starts. 

I need to stretch and warm up so I change with the challenge of making it up to the ballet studio in 3 minutes.  I hunt through my friend’s locker for a leotard.  Quite frankly, I’m sick of all of mine, and maybe someone else’s leotard will make me dance better that day!

Bam!  3 minutes later and I’m placing my bag next to my barre spot.  Dancers are known to identify themselves with the comfort zone of their very own barre spot.  No one else dares to stand in another dancer’s spot.  It would be like trespassing on another person’s property.  Sounds so silly, right?  But, it’s just how it goes in a ballet dancer’s world.  It’s like the ballet barre is our foundation.  Cliché I know, but it feels like home. 

Quickly, I get in the moment.  My mind shuts off the rest of the world and dancing becomes central. Ballet class begins. The teacher gives the combinations sometimes from the chair, with their hands and occasionally full out, and I have to respond quickly and automatically. Part of our training enables us to do this precisely, quickly and technically.  The hard part comes with the burden over perfection.  A dancer will tell you that perfection doesn’t exist, but ironically we still seek it everyday.

“Jill, get your leg behind you.” 

“Matt, you know not to do that.”

“Sarah, you have to go in for Jessica today in Seranade.”

These are the kind of things we hear from our coaches all day long.  In ballet, we refer to our coaches as either our ballet master or ballet mistress.  Another funny sounding thing, I know.  Their jobs are centered on the idea of investing in us, guiding us and getting us ready to be on stage to perform our best.  The dancer’s job is to fix the problems, take in, apply corrections, and be in tip-top shape.  To do these things, I realize that I have to give 100% of myself throughout the day.  So I listen, nod my head yes and do what they say (well majority of the time).   In my mind, working to my max is a requirement.  Without it, I wouldn’t perform my best and the whole purpose of dancing is to perform and move an audience. 

15 minutes until rehearsal begins. photo-5

I’m past the point of learning the steps.  Let me put it this way.  Rehearsal periods are grouped into stages: The learning stage (learn a minute long phrase in 20 minutes), the rehearsal stage (do the same step over and over and over again), and the running stage.  The running stage happens about a week (give or take) before we hit the stage.  It’s a time to make mistakes, build stamina, and practice performing.  It’s not usually the time where you change things.  It’s the time of making it work no matter what happens. 

My heart beats faster as my ballet master sets up 6 chairs in front of the room.  One for him, one for the ballet mistress, one for the lighting designer, one for the artistic director, one for the wardrobe mistress, one for the board president.  The dancers trickle in and I think, “Oh gosh, no one has seen this yet.”  Sometimes our worst critics are the people that really know ballet.  I breathe and remind myself that it’s all in my body.  The ballet master asks if I’m ready and I say yes.  The music begins and I’m on my way. 

6 hours of rehearsal, with 5-minute breaks at every 55 minutes, and an hour lunch later my ballet day is done.  Well I should say the active part of it anyway.

To be a ballet dancer is tough work.  To be quite honest, it’s no joke!  However, it is worth every second of aches, pains, bloody tears, critiques, judgments, low pay, and short longevity.  As people in this world, I believe we constantly search for being fully present in the moment of something because it brings feelings of happiness, fulfillment, control, focus, and peace into our lives.  Dance does that for me.  Yes, naturally there are the days when people ask me, why do you do this to yourself, and I want to say, “I HAVE NO IDEA!” Thankfully, that thought never sustains or embeds itself into my inner me.  Run-throughs of Serenade come and go.  Performances come and go.  And when they go, the sudden realization that the rest of the world exists becomes clear just like the sudden awakening jolt from the alarm in the morning.

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Dancing is a lot like a drug.  It’s addicting.  So everyday as my day comes to an end, I lay on my couch watching TV with one foot up above my heart and the other in an ice bath feeling like the luckiest gal in the world.  

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Day In The Shoes of a Ballerina

  1. Reblogged this on dancehealthier and commented:
    Well here is reblog from a post that I wrote for settingthebarreblog.com. It was a lot of fun getting quite personal for me as you will see! Thanks Kirsten for allowing me to write for your incredible blog (do check it out) and I hope that our readers together will enjoy reading!

  2. I always like to look behind the scenes, even when it’s just the written form. Dancing is something so wonderful. I’m one of the thousand girls who wanted to be a ballerina. I still do, actually. Because there’s nothing like dancing, right?

  3. Well written, Jill! Thank you for sharing the ENTIRE day, from an achy ankle in the morning all the way to the ice bath at night. Most people don’t realize just how grueling and busy a dancer’s life can be – or how taxing ballet can be on the body. It’s great to have an “inside ballet” story actually written by a ballet dancer (especially a fellow Kansas Citian)! Too often, features on dancers written by non-dancers just can’t accurately capture the passion for ballet – even on the days when you hate it (or it hates you!). And thank you for introducing me to Setting the Barre.

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