Years ago, at age 10, I sew myself a pair of cotton blue checkered shorts for home use. That took me ages, and with much difficulty, after that I wondered how can a pair of shorts be so inexpensive. I remembered thinking – if I had to sew it for sale, I would sell it for $50! I only thought that because of how hard it was to sew a pair of shorts for me at that time. Many years later, I didn’t expect that I will be sewing samples and designing for a living.

My dancewear design story didn’t come from the standard “I made some dancewear for myself and later everyone wanted it, thus tada, my brand is born!” Though it is true, I’ve been known to wear really never-seen-before dancewear that do bring in some compliments, or probably the strange eye – the look of ‘weirdo-alert’!

I originally wanted to be a fashion designer. No, not the fancy “I’m going to be the next Marc Jacobs!” type. I wanted to design dresses mainly, from classic Audrey Hepburn styles, to the chic Rachel Zoe 70’s glamor style to romantic skinny wedding dresses that celebrated the beautiful feminine form. In my head, I preferred the ballet silhouette, so I designed for the lanky, long limbed, slopping shoulders, beautiful long necked beauty.

Obviously, anyone from Asia or from an Asian cultural background can attest to this – my parents weren’t keen on me pursuing an education in pure art, or fashion. If you have parents who wholly support your art, you are mighty blessed! So I went to business school and got jobs later on in marketing, media and fashion magazines.

During university, in order to have extra pocket money to pay for dance classes and courses in fashion, I worked in a fast-moving fashion retail store, a bridal boutique, vintage stationary store and did ad-hoc commerical modelling jobs in beauty & fashion. With my own money, I paid for lessons and also bought two home sewing machines. For years, I studied design, pattern making and basic sewing from a wedding gown designer. I also took make up and styling courses in fashion. Obviously, that was where my heart was, and of course, I danced!

Then you know, life happened and I continued to dance – and shelved my passion for design and fashion books for a long while. I guess the artistic part of me never went away, it was just channeled to other things. Fast forward to selling my dancewear on www.balletlove.co… what happened initially was that I was asked to choose fabric, later to send input to manufacturer, later on to lias with the manufacturer and eventually tasked to be in charge of producing at least 50% of what is sold. I was really rusty, so I went back to fashion school to take courses part time, and also to get updated on current manufacturing processes, industrial machines, industrial grade seams and stitches, pattern-making, fabric composition etc. I was lucky to have met many wonderful angels in the industry, many of whom I still work closely with to produce designs by Bluebelle.

I also shy away from any publicity, much preferring to be private so you won’t find my personal name used as a brand on my designs.

Now, I think I’ll end here, just wanting to add that I’m not the only fashion designer on the team, there are many wonderful people whose contribution I depend on heavily to produce all the dancewear. More of whom you’ll hear about soon as featured here in time to come….when we have a spare minute or a break from designing your dancewear! Haha.

As I write, someone is sewing tutus, and another is hand-sewing embroidery to the waist of the dresses. The other designer is putting measurements on paper for a new design, and the 3rd designer has left to pick up a bunch of items that we sent for special finishing. I had finished sketching and was updating fabric codes and communicating with fabric manufacturers. Why do I write this? To let you know that everything here is a team effort and that we are very grateful for your support.

Thanks for reading!

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We chat with Annalisa from Italy, where ballet originated from, about her dance journey and what is ballet like there right now. What is professional ballet like in Italy? Ballet in Italy has long history back in the centuries so it is or better say it was a big part of our culture. Unfortunately since the […]

We chat with Annalisa from Italy, where ballet originated from, about her dance journey and what is ballet like there right now.

Annalisa

Annalisa wears the Vivienne leotard in this picture.

What is professional ballet like in Italy?

Ballet in Italy has long history back in the centuries so it is or better say it was a big part of our culture. Unfortunately since the economic crisis started, ballet and dance in general has been considered from the Government as a “second level” art, and the economic resources allocated to the ballet are really few.

That’s not so good. So what do the Italians consider a first rate art?

Football! Oh wait, that’s not an art. I’m only joking.

It is sad, since ballet originated from Italy.

Yes, it is. I do believe that the Opera is still doing better than Ballet in terms of taking in cash and receiving support. This makes me sad because ballet is my art and passion.

Many theaters (and we have many) don`t have a corp of ballet because it is considered a waste of money….but on the other hand, we have really good professional dance schools. This whole situation is not helping. We produce many talented dancers but there aren’t enough jobs for everybody.

We have four national ballet companies and many more private companies here in Italy. Opera of Rome is one of the biggest national ballet company and it is the theatre of the capital. To have many private companies is a good thing of course, but private companies cannot really secure you a future, and if you are with a private company, sometimes you don’t even get a monthly salary. Even for our national ballet companies, sometimes you only get contracts for productions, instead of full time positions.

And all this while professionals have to maintain their form while finding work?

Yes, but there are many places for professionals to take class in the mornings for as little as 3 euros.

Will every little girl dance ballet growing up in Italy, like in Singapore?

Not every little girl but a lot of them! As for me I had to beg my mum to take me to ballet class! She brought me to the dance school on my 7th birthday. It was my present.

Eventually, I became more serious about ballet taking classes everyday until I entered Accademia Nazionale di Danza, also known as the National Academy of Dance in Rome.

Is hard to get into National Academy of Dance in Rome?

Well, when I did the audition, there were about 90 girls and they took in only 3. So yes it is very hard. I suppose it is because it is the only professional dance school of the State.

What is the National Academy of Dance in Rome like?

In general, you enter when you’re 10 years old. The vocational program is 8 years in duration, so you’ll graduate around 18 years of age. There is a boarding school connected, but it is optional. Some of us live in Rome and commute to the school right in the city. When I was around 15, I lived with my classmates away from the city.

National Academy of Rome

This was the view I had when I was training!

In the Academy I had training 5 days per week and even sometimes on the weekend as well. This is especially when we have a show coming up or if we’re performing at a festival. We have general academic school, and start with dance classes at 3 pm up till around 8-9 pm with a small break in between.

We studied ballet, contemporary, repertoire and composition, plus history of music, history of art, solfeggio and theory of dance.

No Character dance training?

There has been some changes, like even though we had to study character in Academy because it was founded by a Russian teacher in 1940. It seems in the recent years, they have since removed the study of Character dance off the program.

There is so much character dancing in classical ballet though…

Yes…it’s true! I suppose the program is already as stressful as it is. We enter the professional dance school at such a young age. We had to go through many exams and psychological pressures as adolescents. It was really not easy for me.

For instance, there are two departments in the academy – ballet and contemporary. I started in ballet but I’m a graduate in contemporary. As I grew, the director thought I did not have the right body for ballet. Looking back, I’m glad for that choice because I felt it made me a better dancer.

I would say training at the Academy were some very tough times but overall many beautiful memories.

The training was at a high level of course, but I felt that the atmosphere at the Academy was not as competitive as other schools. The school was our home and when you live away from your family, you friends become your brothers and sisters and they are still my best friends now. One of my teachers was like a mother to me…she still is, you know what I mean?

I was also very fortunate…most of my teachers loved me so they were hard on me, harder than with others sometimes so I was really lucky! But only when I grew up then I understood that.

Polina

That’s Polina Semionova in one of our dance studios. It is a magic place.

What an experience it must have been, spending your childhood at ballet in Italy. What is the recreational ballet scene like? Do people do ballet recreationally? 

Mmm…there is not a really adult ballet scene but there are some dance center that offer professional classes in the morning with pretty famous teacher or ex-dancer to give the opportunity to freelance dancers and also adult dancers to take class. That is something that is missing in Singapore.

Yes, places like that in the United States its common. So if someone wants to learn ballet well into their adult years, there’s no opportunity?

I suppose some private schools allow adults to join the kids’ or children’s classes. Yeah I agree that doesn’t sound too appealing. That is why I was really surprised to see many adults doing ballet recreationally in Singapore. I think it is actually pretty cool.

Although I also feel that the ballet culture in Singapore is very different compared to Europe.

How is it different?

I feel that the dance scene has so much more potential than what it is now.

Firstly, there is no professional school here, no professional classes for ex-dancers or freelance dancers.

Also, the dance schools in Singapore all teach RAD or CSTD, which feels pretty much like a business. Singapore feels like a well-to-do country who can afford to send their children to learn ballet, but maybe because of these recreational businesses, it is quite hard to develop a larger, more professional dance scene. Certificates are such a high priority here. When you study RAD or CSTD as a student, they give you a certificate here and so the mothers are happy.

When I went to watch the Superstars of ballet in the Esplanade, I was taken aback by the responses of the audience after the performance of each artist. Each of them perhaps received one minute of ‘seat-clapping’ (meaning audience remain in their seats while clapping). These international artists are used to standing ovations and long clapping in Europe. I mean, these are considered some of the best dancers of the world. I guess it is not the culture of long standing ovations and clapping here.

Yes, I suppose we don’t have that culture of long standing ovations and clapping!

Anyway…what I loved most in Singapore was Chen Wei’s classes. He is so good!

Really? Why do you like his class? He’s so crazy.

Ahahaha…I bet to u to find a good teacher that is not crazy! His classes are hard as heck. I like his adagio and big jumps. I think because his class was what I needed in that moment when I was there. I only liked his classes..all the others, not so much.

Were your Italian teachers so crazy?

Ooooh…my dear! You can’t imagine! I had a lot of Russians teacher too. Chen Wei is the sweetest if u compare to them.

Hahahahah really??? Compared to them he is sweet? *nearly chokes*

Also…yes! Ya, believe me.

Well thank you so much for talking to us! We are both touched and inspired by your passion for the art, and we are so glad to have met you in this short span while you were in Singapore.

Being a ballerina is every little girl’s dream but few reach that goal. It’s a hard life and you need a lot of luck. Once you graduate, you must continue training and audition as many places as possible, even flying around the world to do so. But once you get your chance, it is wonderful! Your passion becomes your job and that is the best thing that can happen for you.

Annalisa now dances at the Staatsoperette Dresden in Germany.

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Male dancers are a special breed. They are marvelous with their energy, jumps, turns and do amazing lifts of their fellow female dancers. They are also more likely to muck around, get in trouble. How do boys grow up to be dancers? Surely, learning to dance ballet did not happen overnight for them. What was […]

Male dancers are a special breed. They are marvelous with their energy, jumps, turns and do amazing lifts of their fellow female dancers. They are also more likely to muck around, get in trouble. How do boys grow up to be dancers? Surely, learning to dance ballet did not happen overnight for them. What was it like to be the absolute minority, to be in a vocation mostly overlooked as a “girl’s thing”?

We managed to chat about that with Zhao Jun, who very recently retired from stage as a First Artist from the Singapore Dance Theatre. He was an unlikely dancer, who eventually found his passion for dance. At this time of writing, he is about to leave Singapore for good to go back to China to start a new life post dance. This was written also as a tribute and to thank him for giving his best dance years to Singapore.

zhao-jun-ballet

Zhao Jun shares his journey of becoming a dancer and eventually finding his passion for dance. Photo by Bernie Ng

Conversations with Zhao Jun

How old were you when you first took a dance class? Most female dancers start at 3 years old. What was dancing like before Beijing Dance Academy?

Actually I never took any dance class before Beijing Dance Academy. Haha. I was 11 years at that time when I was accepted into Beijing Dance Academy.

What? Then how did you get into Beijing dance Academy?
(editorial note: Thousands of students of students from around China audition for Beijing Dance Academy each year, and at that time, only 15 boys and 15 girls are accepted into the ballet stream FOR EACH YEAR.)

My story is a little strange. I can honestly say that in the beginning, I didn’t like dance at all. I didn’t like to study and only liked to play games. My family was really worried about my future, and insisted that I learn a skill.

My cousin then was already in Beijing Dance Academy, so my family decided to send me there with her. I initially planned to audition for the Chinese Dance stream, but one of the ballet teachers there liked me, and persuaded my parents for me to learn ballet instead.

At that time in China, not many people knew or understood the difference between ballet and Chinese Dance. They were just happy for me to learn anything! Probably grateful that the ballet teacher liked me, they took her advice and happily switched me to ballet.

Of course, I still had to get through the auditions.

So that means that your family had already made plans to send you to Beijing Dance Academy even though you’ve never taken a dance class? How did you get through the rigorous auditions?

About 2 years before I was accepted/joined, my family took me to see my cousin’s teacher at the academy in Beijing. She assessed me and told us that I wasn’t flexible. I need to improve on my flexibility for me to get in.

My family tried to get me to go to a dance class but I ran away and skipped it. I really really really didn’t want to join that school. I was a boy and at 8 or 9 years old, I didn’t know men could dance! I came from a small city. I thought dancing was a girl’s job.

But somehow they had managed to make me stretch. I stretched my legs and arms and feet and everywhere else for many months before the audition.

What was the audition process like?

There were 4 rounds of auditions.

In the 1st round, the audition panel will start by do a check of the body. They will measure how long are your arms and legs, how tall you are (and how tall is your family to gauge your future height), the arch of your feet, how flexible you are, how high you can jump etc.

The 2nd: They test your reaction, how fast you can pick up the steps or how visual you are, and your musicality.

In the 3rd round, you have to dance. But because I didn’t know how to dance then, so I did some gymnastics exercises. And you’ll also have to sing, but just a little.

In the final round, you’ll have to pass a written exam.

So it must have been pretty amazing that you got through all the auditions. And so you then left home and family to go to boarding school for the next 6-7 years at a mere 11 years of age?

Yes. Same as Chen Wei. But my family forced me to go. They hoped I would take ballet seriously.

So, you guys – Chen Peng, Chen Wei and yourself were all up to no good in ballet school?

No. Chen Wei and I joined at the same time, but were in different classes. Chen Peng joined a year later. We weren’t close friends then. And they weren’t naughty in school.

Do share with us exactly how naughty you were in school.

I once broke into my teacher’s office, change my exam grades and ate my teacher’s food that was left on his desk. Then I jumped off the window and landed in a grand plie.

What? Were you caught?

Yes. I guess I shouldn’t have changed my grades to extremely high scores – it was too obvious. AND… maybe I shouldn’t have eaten his food too.

I constantly skipped class. Once, I disappeared from class for 22 days. I was out gaming. My teachers couldn’t find me. I got into a lot of trouble.

I guess it is hard for a young energetic boy to get used to the rigid, disciplined environment of vocational dance. You must have shown potential, otherwise they would have kicked you out already. How could you still get up to so much mischief, being in such a high pressure environment? I mean it was already so hard to get into Beijing Dance Academy…

Yes, it was quite hard to get in at that time (not sure about now). I guess at that young age, I didn’t fully understand deeply the opportunity I had.

Actually the training made me very stressed. It was so hard and tiring. And the environment was very harsh. (Maybe that was how I dealt with the stress).

How harsh…exactly?

Every teacher there has different ‘styles’ and ways of being harsh.

For females, maintaining a certain weight was very very very important. As my friend, Liu Xiao Mi (an ex dance colleague and a fellow Beijing Dance Academy graduate) will tell you. She never did quite feel “full” (or like she had eaten sufficiently) after every meal at the academy. Or rather, she is NOT ALLOWED to feel full. That is because every morning before ballet class, the teacher will do a weigh-in of every girl. If anyone puts on just a bit of weight, she wouldn’t be allowed to eat, she wouldn’t be allowed to take ballet class. She has to go running.

For us boys, in this aspect of weight, it was not as strict. But because we’re boys, the teacher will really punch and kick and doing something else to make you remember all the ballet training details. It felt like military training.

That sounds pretty violent – the way ballet was taught to boys…but you were STILL bold enough to skip school and do all that mischief! NOT SCARED AH?

Haha. Actually I was scared. But I also forgot everything when I wanted to be naughty. Hahaha.

(*speechless* …. boys will be boys)

Another way that it was harsh was that we were constantly physically exhausted from the long hours of training. We have to get up at 6 am every morning to do physical training exercises, not dance training. We had to run, jump, stretch etc. That was our “warm up”. Our day typically ends at 830 pm in the evening.

That sounds insane. What is a typical day of ballet training like at Beijing Dance Academy?

It starts at 6 am for Physical training, then ballet class, we have lunch break, then variation training, then technique class, then normal study (academia) followed by dinner.

After dinner, there is one more night training from 7pm to 830pm.

What is technique training and what is night training?

Technique training is a more focused training and practice for certain technique, for example a particular type of turns, depends on what the teacher feels we need.

The night training depends what’s teacher wants. Sometimes, it is just a regular ballet class. Sometimes, it is to work more on variations. Other times, it is just another session of technique training.

In one day we have 3 different classes of ballet. The regular 1.5 hours ballet class, the variation class and lastly the technique class.

Twice a week, we learn Chinese dance.
Twice a week, we learn Character dance.
In our 5th year, we have pas de duex class twice a week and an added contemporary class once a week.

No wonder all of you are so skinny. It sounds like you suffered a lot…很苦 (casual translation: experienced suffering)

Yes, once we were so exhausted, we couldn’t get up in time. My teacher made us run around the track for the rest of the day. We had to run 400圈. 1圈=400 meters. (Approximately 99 miles or 160 km)

Then you all surely could not walk the next day. How did the teachers ensured everyone became flexible? Were there stretch classes or exercises to do? Or did students do their own stretching?

The teacher will stretch some of students who was not flexible. Like me. Haha.

But in the end you became flexible.

Noooooooo. I’m not flexible at all. Until now still. I should say sorry to all my teachers and school. [Sob]

HAHAHAHAHAHA (Well, we’ve all seen him dance in Singapore and HE IS FLEXIBLE. Just not up to his own professional standards.)

What are some of your favorite memories learning to dance as a boy? I’m sure you had some.

I remember as a young boy watching the Royal Ballet when they came to perform in Beijing. I think Chen Wei had a chance to perform with them at that time if I’m not wrong.

I was watching Carlos Acosta very closely during the performance. When he was launched into a grand pirouette, I saw him push himself far too much off his center with his back leg. I was thinking, uh oh, he is not going to make it…but then before my eyes, I saw him use his toes of his supporting/balancing foot to push himself back on to his center and completed his turns. I was shocked. I will never forget it.

Wow that is amazing and that left a good impression on you.

Yes, now that I’m looking back, all the memories were very fun in the school. I really miss that time.

So it really sounds like you had a complicated relationship with dance. It was torturous, so as a young boy, you hated it. It is more like you disliked the process of learning to dance, but not dance itself, otherwise you wouldn’t have progressed and been kicked out, or you would have dropped out. So, when did you start to really feel that you loved dance?

I don’t know quite know how to answer this question, because I have 3 stages of my dance life, Beijing, Hong Kong, then dancing as a professional in the Singapore Dance Theatre. All these 3 ‘parts’ made me who I am as a dancer today.

When I was young, I felt I didn’t like dancing at all. After graduating from Beijing Dance Academy, I furthered my ballet studies in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, I actually felt that I liked classical ballet and I felt that I made a lot of sudden improvements there. My ballet technique suddenly became so much better than when I was in Beijing. Because of that, I started to love dancing variations. Then I also liked to do technique stuff.

I still felt that I don’t know how to dance, and what is dance exactly.

In the 3rd part, I joined Singapore Dance Theatre in 2005. At that time when I joined, SDT were dancing lots of contemporary pieces. I was in the ballet mode at that time, fresh from Hong Kong and so I didn’t enjoy dancing contemporary as much. To be honest, I didn’t feel so inspired dancing those pieces and so I reverted back to having a uninspired outlook on dance. I even got fat.

So how did you recover to be so slim?

Because of a Masterpiece season in 2011. I was casted in one piece WHICH I LOVE. But I needed to be topless to dance in that piece. And I heard that the choreographer is a very strict and serious person. I was so worried he will kick me out when he see how fat I was. I only had one month, so I lost as much weight as I could just so I could dance in that piece.

There were rumors that you would only eat an orange for the whole day.

I had 1 bowl of rice and 1 meat dish for the whole day and do a lot of exercises at the same time. I did this for 21 days.

That sounds like you loved dance LIKE A LOT to me! (For this dancer who insists that he wasn’t sure he loved dance for the most part of his dancing life.)

Okay, I know I said I have 3 parts of my dance life, but there is a 4th. A few years went by, around 2010? I started to like dance. Then I was crazy loved dance.

I think I’m quite extreme. If I don’t really like something, then I won’t do it. No one can push me. If I like something, I’ll get really into it.

So that’s what happened to me.

In a way, I always think that my dance career lasted 6 years. I was not 11 years a dancer. I was only a dancer for 6 years. I wasted a lot of time. If I had a chance to go back and start again, I think I would have taken my vocational training more seriously. I would increase my focus in every class.

Even until now (he retired from stage on 11th July 2016), I still have so many pieces that I want to dance, but I can’t because I’m not good enough.

Thanks for sharing… you are indeed very extreme. You were a naughty boy that learned to dance and matured into an artist.

Before I didn’t realize that dancing is so much fun. I couldn’t find any fun in dance. Maybe it was because of my age at that time? I only remembered loving to have fun and to be mischievous. I don’t think I took anything seriously.

My emotions can switch to “hate” to “love” in one second. In the beginning years as a professional dancer, I called my family everyday to tell them that I don’t think I like dancing, I want to stop and I want to go back to China. But suddenly when I love dance and when I’m getting more passionate about dance, my family wants me back in China.

Zhaojun eventually found his passion for dance.

Zhaojun eventually found his passion for dance.

——–

End notes: Zhao jun retired from stage on the 11th of July 2016 and interviewed with us 5 days after. He leaves for China tomorrow as a retired dancer. But he’ll still take ballet class with Shanghai ballet companies and with other contemporary companies because he’s worried about getting fat. We wish him well and will keep in touch!

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  As much as we love ballet, we all know that learning to dance ballet is no easy task. We get down and out about ballet sometimes, or about life in general. However, the obstacles are greater for those who want to pursue it as a career. Sometimes, we have no idea at all what […]

 

As much as we love ballet, we all know that learning to dance ballet is no easy task. We get down and out about ballet sometimes, or about life in general. However, the obstacles are greater for those who want to pursue it as a career. Sometimes, we have no idea at all what it takes to become a dancer.

Would-be professional dancers must have been fortunate enough to be born with a certain physicality, to have parents who started them early, and to possess certain personality characteristics. They need to be single-minded about their passion for ballet, and to have discipline, mental toughness, capacity for ‘suffering’ through the arduous process of training and making it into vocational school.

And if one does get into vocational school, it doesn’t stop there. It is a whole new level when training with some of the very best in the country, and in some cases, the world.

Charmaine Celesse Gandasasmita is one such dancer from Singapore, who is pursuing her dreams of being a professional in Queensland Ballet Academy in Australia. It is a big deal for us in Singapore, when a dancer makes it to vocational school overseas, because we are a young and small country.

She may be young, but her grit, determination and courage is like no other. Her story moved us and so we want to share it with you.

Charmaine Celesse Gandasasmita

Charmaine modeled our dancewear for us last year.

Here is her story…

1. How long have you been dancing? How did you get into ballet?

I began ballet when I was 5, so I’ve been dancing for about 11 years now.

I started off with baby ballet, movement and rhythm classes. I don’t even think I liked it much, but things changed when I joined the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School dance group. I was in awe of how amazing the older girls were in the ballet pieces, and watched their performance DVDs repetitively, often trying to emulate them. It was from then that I wanted to become better and started being competitive as we were chosen for dance items. I subsequently joined a dance academy which I believed would give me the edge and proper ballet training in order to help me improve.

2. What was it like to dance ballet throughout your childhood?

Ballet then wasn’t focused on exams and repetitive steps. For example, in SCGS, we constantly rehearsed for performances and learned new dance items continuously. I was also exposed to classical ballet variations at a very young age because my dance academy’s primary focus was on performances and dance competitions. Nevertheless, training was harsh and discipline was expected. I learnt to push myself beyond my limits.

Even as a child, there was a constant need to pick up steps and corrections quickly. Dancing in both school and at the academy I felt were equally competitive yet enjoyable, as I loved being on stage and reveled in it. I was blessed to have teachers who were strong role models who taught me the importance of hard work, discipline, respect, mental strength and giving your best at all times.

I was also exposed to different dance genres, like Chinese dance, Tap, Neo-classical, and subsequently recognized the importance of being a versatile dancer.

In the midst of competitions, performances and classes, it was very busy, and I felt that it was certainly not a normal childhood!

3. What was it about ballet, or dance, that made you really love it?

I think I can be a bit obsessive to achieve the ‘perfection of ballet’. Rationally, I know that it can never be achieved, but trying to achieve that ideal is what drives me to push on and stretch my limits each day.

4. Was there a turning point, a stark moment in your life that you can remember, when you’ve decided that dance is what you want to do for the rest of your life?

I can more or less say that it was around the time when I had the chance to learn and work with one of my teachers, Mr Adam Thurlow. He was a ballet teacher at SOTA (School of the Arts) when I was in my 2nd year. He helped me a lot. I was initially impressed by him because he was a dancer at the Paris Opera ballet, but as I got to know him as a teacher, his determination, drive and never-give-up attitude inspired me and also gave me the courage to audition for vocational ballet schools.

I can say that it was because he first believed in me, which then helped me believe that I could do it.

5. How has ballet changed for you from then versus now?

During my earlier years performing, I always thought ballet was only about expressing yourself and all about the upper body movements. Later, I realized that there is a lot of detailed technique involved. It’s not all about just executing the movements flamboyantly, but also about how your foot steps up into an arabesque, or how your alignment plays an important part in helping you turn, for instance.

6. What were some of ‘crazy’ things that you have done to enhance your dancing?

To improve my hyper extension, for example, I would get someone to sit on my knees with my feet propped up on a foam roller.

I also have my well used Flexistretcher for high arabesques, Balance Board for balance, TurnBoard for pirouettes, Thera-band for feet strengthening, and often chuck my feet under the piano to stretch my arch.

7. Your mom has been very supportive about your ballet. What are some of the “unusual” things she would do for you? How about your dad?

My mom frequently tapes my classes for me to view later so I am able to improve my lines and expression. That really helps me a lot, as often times, I think I’m doing it correctly, but it turns out that I need to improve it further. Also, during my recent performance, it was complete darkness in the theatre which makes it difficult for me to spot, so she held up her phone for me during my fouettes.

Due to my hectic schedule, my dad helps me with my school work.

8. Being 16 now, if you could go back in time to when you were 10 years old, what would you have done differently (in terms of training)?

I would have worked on exercises to improve my arch and turn out, focused more on improving my stamina and cleanliness of footwork.

9. What is it like training in Queensland Ballet Academy?

From Mondays to Fridays, we start off each day with a one and a half hour ballet class at 8am. It is then followed by another two classes of either pointe/repertoire, pas de deux, character, contemporary, or body conditioning. We finish at about 12.30pm, and we take the bus to school where we have two academic lessons from 1.50 to 4.45pm.

On Saturdays, we start at 9am and we have a combined ballet class with the Senior Program 2s and the boys, followed by contemporary then character until 2pm.

In total, we have 25 hours of dance a week.

 

charmaine queensland ballet school

Charmaine, in Queensland Ballet academy

10. What are some corrections that you get from your teacher now?

There are too many to name, but the one that stands out for me is from my pas de deux teacher, Mr Paul Boyd. He focuses a lot on expression and upper body, as well as using your muscles to its maximum. He reminds us every lesson,

“Only you have the key to unlock your inner potential!”

On top of that, he constantly tells us to expand beyond the studio and have interaction with the audience. All this helps not only ourselves, but it will inspire our partners to present themselves differently by bouncing off our energy.

11. How different is it from recreational ballet training? Is there anything you wish you could undo?

The standard is much higher, as the school accepts the best dancers from all over Australia. I am inspired by their dedication and their level of technique, and this motivates me to become a better dancer.

Not really to undo, but I understand the differences now. Because everyone has a different body, so as a dancer it is important to understand which corrections work for you so that you’ll know which ones to “keep” and the ones to ignore because they don’t quite apply to you.

But definitely I have taken away something beneficial from every teacher who taught me and I’m very grateful for that.

12. What do you wear at Queensland Ballet Academy? Do you get excited about dancewear at all?

It’s a dark grey, short-sleeved cotton V-neck leotard with a low back and short sleeves. I have about 25 other leotards. I used to get excited about leotards, but it is now monotonous because I now have a uniform.

 

charmaine wearing our <a href=

galaxia leotard at QBS” width=”579″ height=”868″ /> Charmaine wears the Galaxia leotard in this picture.

13. What is learning Pas De Deux (dancing with a male partner) like? What are some of your challenges? Also describe your pdd partner and what your friendship/relationship is like – is it weird, awkward or totally cool etc.

It’s not as easy as it looks. Many people think that it’s the boy’s job to yank us around, but it is in fact our job to be on our own leg, while he is just there to support us. For example, we have to treat supported pirouettes like it’s our own pirouette. The male dancers are not supposed to grab and turn us around, but are there to put us on our leg if we go off centre.

Communication is crucial, as you have to ensure that he knows where he’s placing your weight. Normally after each exercise, we discuss what needs to be corrected. It is hard for the male dancer as every partner is different and he has to remember what each female dancer requires.

My relationship with my pdd partner is totally cool hahaha. He knows what I need and he is so dedicated and willing to stay back with me to practice.

We do get to partner other people as well. We usually change partners every term or semester, but it really depends on the teacher. I had quite an unfortunate experience, in which I had to change partners two lessons before the exam as one of my classmates was injured. It was quite a challenge as we are not used to partnering each other and he doesn’t know what I need specifically, and it felt like we had to start from square one.

14. How do you cope with fierce competition? What are some of the thoughts and emotions that you have sometimes in vocational training?

At times, I feel that whatever I do is never enough, and I am frustrated as it seems like I’m still struggling with the same old challenges.

I often feel disappointed with myself for not being able to correct something immediately. I also feel overwhelmed by the exhaustion I feel after the whole week of dance.

I must add that I feel that my faith in Jesus helps me a lot mentally and emotionally. I like to remind myself that I am depending on His favor and grace.

15. What do you think of your physicality? In reality, there will always be a dancer with a better “ballet body”, and I’m sure anyone will be more self-conscious of that in a vocational school. How do you cope with that?

There’s always the initial reaction of envy, but having a better body doesn’t make you a better dancer. Being a good dancer involves using your whole body and being in character. I think my body is not ideal in terms of turnout and feet, but I remind myself to use my strengths to cover my weaknesses.

16. Wow, thanks for that inspiring answer. We know that the path to dance ballet at a pre-professional level is not an easy road. Do share with us some of your struggles and challenges and how you’re getting through it.

My main challenge has always been my turn out. I feel that I’m being forced all the time, even if it means going against nature. I’m still working on it, and I persistently try to engage my muscles to its fullest.

Also, as I spent so much time dancing since childhood, I never had time to do what my peers would usually do. Most of my friends would not understand my sacrifice and obsession which they find strange. The competitive nature of ballet world also makes this path a lonely one.

17. Tell us about some of your breakthroughs. Or a memorable turning point. Or turning points!

I feel that I’ve found my key! Like what my pas de deux teacher always says “Only you have the key to unlock your inner potential!” Well, I feel that I have finally unlocked myself. I feel I can express my true self more and more in my dancing.

18. If God gave you one ballet wish – you can wish for anything in this world related to ballet, what would you wish for?

It would be to have a professional career with many favorable opportunities (and to also have the wisdom to manage them) throughout my dancing life.

19. If you were a ballet teacher, what would your focus be? What are some of the things you would want your students to correct?

My main focus would be on expression, feeling, musicality, using the eyes, and position of the head when the students are younger. I would also emphasize on using the muscles to the fullest. One thing that sorta irks me is when dancers, who are gifted with the ideal physical facilities, don’t use them.

But most importantly, I want them to feel that I believe in them, and their goals are as important to me as it is to them. It’s not about what the school wants to achieve, but it’s about their own individual achievements or needs. I would want them to feel that I care.

20. What are some tips you can give to dancers who have not reached your level?

Don’t compete with other dancers, what they have achieved or have. Instead compete with yourself, to get better and better each lesson.

Use your entire body to dance, including your eyes, not only your legs.

When faced with failure, it’s important to bounce back quickly and move on.

Really reflect on corrections and advice.

And most importantly, even if you don’t get the roles you want, never give up, be humble and have a good learning attitude at all times. 🙂

charmaine-queensland-ballet-school

Charmaine wears our signature ZIYI leotard.

For more about Charmaine, you may follow her on Instagram @charmainecelesse and on YouTube.

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We enjoy sharing the love for ballet through our dancewear designs. However, every once in a while, we find a dancer who greatly inspires us with her love of ballet. We couldn’t resist and feel that you should meet her and hear her ballet story. You’ll be surprised who this person is! No, she’s not […]

We enjoy sharing the love for ballet through our dancewear designs. However, every once in a while, we find a dancer who greatly inspires us with her love of ballet. We couldn’t resist and feel that you should meet her and hear her ballet story. You’ll be surprised who this person is! No, she’s not a professional ballerina. She is Katie, from Taiwan, a recreational dancer in her 30s. Her passion for dance deeply moved us and it reignited our passion for dance. She dances 6 days a week in basic, intermediate classes and takes pointe classes.  

Katie from Taiwan

Katie from Taiwan, loves and dances ballet passionately.

Here is her story…

  1. What made you start learning ballet?

I guess that’s what they call: “Love at first sight”.

  1. How has your ballet journey been so far? How many classes do you take a week?

I fell in love with ballet at the age of 5 when I had the chance to accompany my friend to her ballet class. I will never forget the moment, sitting by the window, and how watching the class made my heart skips a beat and how it made my eyes sparkled.

It was not until I was 8 when I had the chance to take my first ballet class. Though it was only a recreational class, it was all the same – a dream come true for me.

It was only class once a week till I was about 12 years old. At that time, I was under  academic pressure to quit ballet to focus on my school work and so I did, unfortunately. Being a daughter of both parents who are teachers, I felt obligated to focus on getting good grades in order to find a “decent” career and take ballet as passion not as a profession, so that’s what I did. Nevertheless, ballet has always been on my mind.

Although I had quit ballet as a child, I had the chance to return to that ballet studio of my childhood in my college years. It reignited my passion for ballet and I even had the chance to dance in their performances. However, not too long after, I had to stop my ‘return to ballet’ due to an injury of my left leg (caused by intense stretching). I was feeling sad and discouraged and even told myself to forget about ballet. Why dance ballet so seriously as it could never be pursued as a career? I tried to tell myself that I was dreaming and being unrealistic about it and I should “wake up”.

Yet, I can’t seem to let go of ballet. I can’t help getting excited whenever seeing ballet related pictures, movies, TV dramas and I can’t help staring at the ballet studios signs on the street. At the end of 2013, after watching the series of Australian TV drama “Dance Academy”, I knew that I couldn’t stop my wriggling feet anymore and just have to get back to the studio again to feel “completed”. That was the fastest decision I have ever made in my life. I googled online for adult ballet class, called and registered for my class. This is when I really started my ballet journey, at the age of 27.

At the beginning, it was just 1 or 2 classes a week, but the more I dance, the more I want to dance and the more I need to dance. Yes, my ballet love is like an addiction, I’m totally stuck with ballet. Knowing I’m not getting any younger, I know I have to work much harder; its simple math, if I spend twice or three times more on ballet, I’d have the chance to improve twice or three times faster. That’s why now I only give myself one day off from ballet, “ideally” of course, but I try to attend at least 5 classes a week against all odds.

  1. What are some of your ballet goals or aspirations?

To tell the truth, I don’t know. Yeah, I do have dreams to dance like a professional doing crazy fouettés and wrap my legs around my head one day, but I actually don’t know what the point is for setting such goals for myself at this time of age in my life. So for now, I just wanted to first achieve feeling “free” in ballet, being able well control my body decent enough (not extreme) to enjoy naturally in the moves without having to worry about if I’m gonna fall, if I’m using the correct muscles, if my feet is pointed, if my turn out is still there…etc and very importantly look for the “ballet aesthetic”.

  1. What is your most favorite thing about ballet?

I guess what fascinates me so much about ballet is the incredible strength underneath that beautiful disguise.

  1. What is your biggest challenge?

Physically it would be having to overcome my old injuries, correct all the wrongly used muscles developed throughout previous improper training and bad habits that’s been stuck with me in my 30 years of life.

Then there is the challenge to always try finding balance in life, between family, friends, work and ballet.

  1. Why do you think you love ballet? What made you love it? Was it love at first sight or did you grow to love it more and more?

It was definitely love at first sight and I kind of feel like its already hidden somewhere inside my DNA. The love for ballet continuously grows and I just know it’s meant to be a part of my life.

Katie for balletlove

Katie inspires us greatly! She is a embodies the heart and spirit of ballet love.

 

  1. Who are your inspirations?

In fact I don’t get my inspirations from a particular person, but from all my fellow ballet classmates and the ballet community on social media regardless of whether they are professional or not. I’m truly inspired when seeing total different individuals at different ages, levels giving their earnest dedication just because they share the same passion and love for ballet. I can always relate to their feelings and feel so motivated following their progress.


  1. What are some things that your ballet teacher says?

I have many ballet teachers and I love how one of them once said “I will never mind how ugly you do, what matters to me is you have the courage to try”.

  1. Do you ever feel self-doubt or ever felt like quitting?

Absolutely. I believe anyone who has truly devoted themselves into ballet would understand the feeling of frustration when improvement halts into a long plateau or when you feel that you’re regressing.

Hence, I always find ballet more challenging for the mind than the body. Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, I try to remember my love of ballet to stay motivated and move forward. It wasn’t easy at first, but I’m handling it much better now.

  1. Do you have a hard period in your ballet life? If so, do share.

Yes, actually current period is quite tough for me because I’m still feeling all the side effects of the old injury of the left leg and all bad habits developed afterwards.

The injury I had 10 years ago have affected the way I used my muscles in dancing ballet. In turn, I felt that I didn’t use the right muscles and it affected my vertebral column and pelvis. This caused my body to be lopsided and my body has gotten used to this ‘unbalanced balance’. The right ballet posture feels abnormal to me and I find it extremely hard to get used to it.

Although I’ve been returned to dancing ballet for 3 years, half of that time I didn’t realize I wasn’t using the right muscles. My muscles are naturally strong, and thus I can imitate ballet positions quite well, thus it took a lot of me and the teacher for me to realize I’m not really developing the right technique. It was only about a year ago I realized I had to focus on all the ballet basics and get rid of the bad habits (and erase all the false “lookalike” ones out of my head).

That is, in fact a very hard thing to do. The first thing is to accept mentally the fact that I have  to ‘lose all the technique’ I once achieved by cheating and totally start over the right way.  Though that is disheartening, I try to encourage myself that the techniques will eventually return and I will be a much more solid dancer after this.

From the physical point of view, I have to first relax and repair those overused incorrect muscles, then train the brain to use and develop the correct ones. They say old habits die hard, and so does old muscle memories. I’m currently still struggling through this transition.

  1. What is your dancewear style?

Always “professional”.

I have numerous of leotards, ballet skirts, shorts, all kinds of warmers. I just can’t seem to resist them! I think I’m famous for “a non-professional who has a ballet wardrobe of a professional ballerina” lol.

Since I have such variety of dancewear to choose from, it’s hard to define a particular style (mostly I choose my ballet outfit depending on weather and mood). But I would say my favorite ballet outfit would be elegant 3 quarter sleeve mesh/lace leotard with ballet skirt and leg warmers.

  1. What does your dance teacher say the most (number of times) e.g. “point your foot!”?

I’m often told to “RELAX” because I’m the kind of person who only try too hard instead of not enough.

  1. What do you think is the greatest misconception about ballet?

That ballet is just about flexibility, being able to do the splits, looking elegant, pretty and thin. However, “strength” is actually the key and that ballet dancers are in fact athletes. They are athletes that only have tremendous strength and power but can always looks beautiful at the same time!

 

  1. How do you get so flexible? And how did you manage to get your leg high up in Écarté ?

I have to thank God for having natural “above-average” flexibility. But as for getting the legs high in ecarté actually depends on the strength of the supporting leg and the body. As for me, “relaxing” seems to be quite a hard task, so thus my strength is that I’m good at holding up my body (lol). However, now I lower my Écarté because I want to focus more on turning out the leg. I’m working on strengthening my turn out muscles, stretching, loosening and re-toning my hip and inner thigh muscles.

  1. Lastly, what is your approach to ballet? Meaning, what is most important to you in ballet, or what advice you would give others who has not yet reached your level etc.

Though these 3.5 years of adult ballet training, I learned to open my eyes and mind to “observe”.

Ballet is indeed about intense dedication and practice, but what’s more important is to do it correctly and wisely. Through “observing”, which includes seeing actual demonstrations, listening to those constantly repeated corrections by the teacher, and most importantly feeling your own body, focusing the brain to really “think about it”.

That is how I feel dancers can ‘catch’ the correct technique and it is also why sometimes you can’t (if you’re not observing well enough). If you feel you can’t get it, it might mean that you have to get a clearer picture of what you’re doing. When you do so, you’ll see what you need to work on and how. We might have a limitation on our body but the advantage of doing ballet as an adult is our brain.

Other things I would say to dancers is to cherish every moment of ballet and enjoy the journey of learning to dance (especially while you still can). Whenever you feel frustrated and disappointed, remember that you have a second chance called ‘tomorrow’. Do what you love and love what you do!

Katie-taiwan-balletlove-ballet-skirt

Katie wears our Yuko Hana skirt. Thanks for the support!

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This is a general guide for the sizing of our dance-wear.
Please read carefully.
165 cm – size S (if you are 155-162 cm tall, please choose this option)
170 cm – size M (if you are 163-170 cm tall, please choose this option)
175 cm – size L (if you are 166-175 cm tall, please choose this option).
The material is rather stretchy, so it generally fits varying bust and waistlines.
If you have a longish torso, please choose one size up. Our leotards generally runs small.

 

The following is an international sizing chart that may help figuring out your size.

Adult Sizing XS/Petite Small Medium Large X-Large
Size 2-4 4-6 8-10 10-12 14-16
Bust 30″-32″ 32″-34″ 34″-36″ 36″-38″ 39″-41″
Waist 22″-24″ 24″-26″ 26″-28″ 28″-30″ 31″-33″
Hip 32″-34″ 35″-37″ 37″-39″ 39″-41″ 41″-43″
Girth 54″-56″ 57″-59″ 59″-61″ 61″-63″ 62″-65″
This information is shown as a guide only and not a guarantee. Actual fitting may vary.
The materials of the dancewear are all designed and made with breathable Spandex stretch and cotton Lycra fabrics.
We also do made-to-order leotards for child sizes.
Child Sizing Toddler Small Intermediate Medium Large
Size 2-4 4-6 6-8 8-10 12-14
Bust 20″-21″ 22″-23″ 24″-25″ 26″-28″ 29″-31″
Waist 19″-20″ 21″-22″ 21″-23″ 23″-25″ 26″-28″
Hip 21′-23″ 23″-25″ 25″-27″ 27″-29″ 30″-32″
Girth 35″-38″ 39″-42″ 43″-46″ 47″-50″ 50″-53″

***Please note that the label in the leotard indicating size might be different as that is an Asian sizing (where our manufacturer is).

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Taylor sent us her picture from Youth International Ballet Competition wearing our Ziyi Leotard. We think she looks gorgeous! Thanks Taylor!

balletlove-taylorblack

Taylor wearing our Ziyi leotard for her competition

Ziyi Leotard

Ziyi Leotard

About International Ballet Competition (also known as American Dance Competition)

American Dance Competition (ADC|IBC)’s Founder and President Audrianna Broad started the competition to give young dancers a chance to be seen by industry leaders and a greater chance at a professional career. Looking back at her own dance career, Broad says, “We put so much energy into our daily training and our education, and on top of it, you had to make an audition video, assuming you could get performance footage. Back then it was so hard to get performance footage and put it together, and then you had to mail it in, follow up and personally audition – it was just such an ordeal.”

“Basically, I wanted to take several steps out of that process and while doing that, provide dancers a chance to further learn and perform, and help the young dancers get a name for themselves so they can build their own career. ADC|IBC allows dance students to meet top-notch directors and teachers.”

Held in Florida every year, the competition continues to grow in popularity. Last year’s event saw over 600 dancers compete. “We are seeing as much as we can,” says Broad. “It’s packed! The week is non-stop and we’re offering classes as well as competition. We’ve had to keep adding days but we’re getting to the point where if we keep adding days, I don’t know if it’s going to be accessible to all the dancers. Right now we’re at five days, and that might have to be our cap. We are fitting in as much as we can in that time frame.”

“It’s kind of like a job fair, but it’s more scholarship based,” explains Broad. “I want to keep creating these new programs, because I have so much to give and a growing list of contacts. That sets us apart from other competitions that I’ve seen. It’s great to win, but we are trying to create a long-term vehicle for dancers too, where they can market and promote themselves moving forward. That’s our objective here.”

It’s obviously an objective that is dear to the hearts of aspiring dancers across the globe, with 40 percent of the competitors coming from cities outside of the USA, with many dancers travelling from China, Hong Kong, Brazil and Central America.

For more about this competition, here is their official website.

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