Life as a Professional Ballet Dancer

professional dancer

The life of a ballet dancer is one of the most exciting ones in the performing arts. It’s definitely exhausting. No one can deny that fact. But it also has a big payoff for the dancers. They have the honor to uphold a timeless form of art that excited and awed people across generations.

From childhood to adulthood, their lives consisted of exciting dance classes, consistent rehearsals, and rewarding performances. They’ve memorized classic ballet dances such as Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. They’ve also been introduced to the world’s now-beloved ballet pieces such as Rainbow Round My Shoulders and Errand into the Maze.

To better appreciate the work of art that ballet dancers have been creating for centuries, here’s what their lives are like.

Long and Exhausting Hours

Many of us work at jobs that require us to sit at a desk for eight hours every day. All of our work is done on a computer. Sometimes, we might even find it tiring to sit all day. So we opt for standing desks to keep the blood flowing through our legs. But, still, at the end of the day, we’re exhausted and dying for a drink.

That’s nothing compared to the workday of a ballet dancer. In a world-class ballet company such as the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, dancers work for as long as twelve hours. And those hours are filled with back-to-back dance classes and rehearsals. In between those, dancers are either choreographing, attending physical therapy sessions, or costume-fitting.

Competitiveness in Ballet Companies

When you enter a ballet company for the first time as a professional, you are among the corps de ballet. This is the bottom of the food chain in the ballet world. And if you don’t work hard, you won’t climb up the ranks. The goal is to become a principal ballet dancer because they get to dance the best and most iconic parts in any ballet performance.

This meant that you and about thirty dancers are competing for the attention of the choreographers. You’re all vying for sought-after parts in ballet performances. For you to dance as, say, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, you need to earn your spot. You need to prove yourself to the choreographers and fellow dancers.

But it’s important to note, though, that just because dancers are always competing for the most coveted parts, they also have each other’s backs. They all support each other through the challenges in the ballet world.

Physical Attributes

ballet practice

When we watch ballet performances, we’re all in awe of how elegant the dancers look onstage. They stood tall as they twirled around. But underneath this elegance are physical challenges that no one else could withstand.

Ballet dancers need to be able to balance, jump, and do turns on their toes. They need to be able to lift their legs high above their heads. They should be able to jump extremely high in the air.

Every day that they dance, they are risking their bodies. One wrong fall in their legs and arms could signal the end of their careers. So they treat their bodies very carefully. They make regular appointments with a physical therapist to make sure their bodies are in top shape always.

Diet and Exercise

Many ballet dancers have very lithe body structures. So it’s a common misconception that they are cautious about what they eat. Many believe that they wouldn’t be caught dead eating a greasy cheeseburger. Don’t get it wrong; many of them do struggle with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. But most of them are dedicated to eating healthy.

They are more inclined to eat a banana or trail mix when they want a snack. If they need an energy boost, they will go for a granola bar instead of a sandwich. For electrolytes, they would go for coconut water instead of energy drinks with very high sugar content. And they’re always, always carrying a tumbler of water.

Although their job is already physically taxing, they exercise regularly. They opt for exercises such as yoga and pilates to help stretch their muscles. It could also be a form of warm-up for them before they spend all day in rehearsals.

To those of us who are not in the performing arts, we have no idea what goes on behind the curtains of ballet performances. In fact, most of our experiences with it are made up of traditional viewings of the Nutcracker during the Christmas season.

But knowing about seeing a glimpse into the everyday lives of ballet dancers would inspire us to be more appreciative of their work. We could understand what it took to be on stage and dance.

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