“At this stage in my life, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t overcome!”
Recently, I was lucky enough to be interviewed and photographed by award winning and world renowned sports photographer Duncan Nicholls for his latest project ‘Superhumans’ with We Breathe Sport. Dancers are athletes as well as artists so I am honoured to be the first ballet damcer to work with Duncan.
Here is my interview . . .
1) Which fitness / sports / health & wellness activities do you do and why?
I am a classically trained dancer and artist so I regularly take part in ballet and other dance classes (such as contemporary and tango) to keep my body moving in the way it was trained to. I am also a ballet teacher so these classes help to keep my technique strong and my mind focussed in order to deliver my classes to the very best of my abilities. I also support my dance training with 3-4 visits to the gym each week where my personal trainer and I focus on lifting weights (heavy, no 1kg hand weights here!) cardio vascular fitness (I love sprinting) and circuit training. I begin every day with some dynamic stretches for my back, shoulders, hips and hamstrings, then I meditate for around 10-20 minutes. This is a routine I have come to live by and truly feel that I am better person because of it! The combination of mental and physical preparation is essential to my overall wellbeing and also as a busy entrepreneur, healthy and planned structure to my day means I am focussed and more able to manage my workload.
2) Tell us a bit about how often you do it? What's your routine?
- I generally teach between 25-30 ballet classes a week (mainly private coaching) and running my own teaching business means I am constantly working and travelling. So I have to manage my own fitness routine in around my very busy schedule which is challenging. I like to exercise 5/6 days a week totalling roughly 10 hours dedicated to myself. I would do more if I could! Teaching is also very physical but in not the same way as working purely on yourself.
3) How did you get into it?
- I began ballet at aged 2 because my mum discovered that I just couldn’t stop ‘performing’ everybody, even strangers (there’s a funny story about me standing up on the dinner table in a restaurant and, very loudly, pretending to be a chicken)! I was very quick to learn and copied everything the teacher did almost as an exact mirror image! Apparently this is what my teachers recognised first and therefore I was encouraged to continue weekly ballet training throughout my childhood until eventually I had decided I wanted to become a ballet dancer.
4) When did you start to love it (if you do)?
- I have always loved ballet, everything about it - the artistry, the physicality, the freedom I feel when dancing, constantly trying master its infamously difficult technique, the discipline, even the pain . . . Dancers are rather masochistic! I am still that way now when it comes to my gym training. I want to be pushed and I thrive off of physical and mental challenges. I am secretly really competitive too which I believe can be healthy! If you can do it, so can I . . .
5) How does it make you feel? How do you feel when you can't do it?
I have had to learn to be more realistic with my dance training and fitness goals particularly due to a very complex and rather devastating lower back injury I suffered in my late teens, which really disrupted my dancing. It subsequently had an effect on my nervous system and even organ function as well as ending my professional ballet career. This was obviously soul destroying at the time but I have since then found peace with my body and enjoy that fact that it feels the fittest it has been in a decade. I equate this to my current exercise and wellbeing routine. I genuinely believe that weight lifting has transformed my body in terms of power and pain management. Discovering strength and speed I didn’t know I had in me does wonders for my self esteem! We are always careful not to stress the injury (I still suffer from niggles now and again) but at this stage in my life I feel there is nothing I can’t overcome!
6) I'd love to hear more about a personal story about you doing this.
- I am currently working towards going back on stage next year which will be the first time I’ve danced professionally in 6 years. It’s an opportunity I never thought I’d be presented with again and I wouldn’t have agreed to it if I didn’t feel I was mentally and physically prepared or artistically inspired by the idea. So, for me this is an incredible opportunity to wipe the old ballet slate clean, create a new stage identity and show off what my body can now do after all this work. I have upped the frequency of my training and am becoming more aligned with the visions on my director so personally, I feel the happiest I have felt in years! It’s as if overcoming the injury had finally produced a result beside simply maintaining my fitness . . . So I am currently living my favourite moment!
7) If you were to give someone advice about how to get into this activity, what would you say? If someone wanted to know how this activity makes a difference in your life, what would you say? Any unexpected benefits from doing it?
- I am going to answer this question from my perspective as a ballet teacher because my core client base are adults who have never really been exposed to ballet before besides maybe watching performances. If you can visualise it, you can physicalise it! Most people believe that you need to look a certain way or have a high level of fitness or flexibility or grace (yes, I’ve heard every excuse!) but that is simply not true. Everyone is a beginner at some point and it’s my job to make you feel all these things! Learning ballet as an adult comes with different priorities than training as a child, when you still have the option to turn it into a career. Ballet is for everyone and can contribute to your life by inspiring you to move, increasing your overall strength, coordination, flexibility and posture, enhancing your physique and natural abilities. It’s also a proven fact that dance (more specifically ballet due to its intense precision) can delay the onset of dementia and drastically improve your concentration and lower your stress levels. That’s one of the reasons why I run ballet retreats all over the world and even have one tailored for people over the age of 60; as a way of encouraging older people to keep moving and mentally stimulated. It’s hard work but nothing worth having in life comes easily and instead of wishing for it, you should work for it!
8) Are there any other fitness activities you've not tried yet, that you're curious to try out?
- I have always wanted to ski but was very much discouraged from this activity due to the risk of injury when I was a ballet dancer. I am curious about boxing and I’ve only really had 3 attempts with my great friend and former champion George Veness. I played a lot of netball and cricket when I was in primary school and I also used to sprint competitively so it would be great to give these a go again to see if I still enjoy them. Maybe not cricket, but definitely netball!