Getting away from the family for the ballet: 4 pros share their experience and advice
The life of a ballet dancer is full of sacrifice, and sacrificing family time is no exception. When Maria Kochetkova a graduate of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, she knew she was considered too small for the company. She is expected to leave her family soon and dance abroad.
âIt was hard to realize that there was no room for me to dance at my home in Moscow just because I was eight centimeters shorter than the other dancers,â she recalls. But Kochetkova’s family supported her decision. âFar from home or not, I have always been very close to my family. I always say my mom is my biggest fan, âshe says. âI also had to move away to become independent and learn to think for myself. You need thick skin in this career, and you don’t get it just by having an easy path. “
Of course, many dancers leave the house much earlier as students. âIf a young dancer wants to move out to practice, the family has to be 150% on board and the student has to be 200% on board,â says Sara Mearns, director of the New York City Ballet. Like Kochetkova’s, Mearns’ family were attached to their dancing dreams long before they left home.. Her mother was involved in ballet from her early days of training. âDancing was a family decision. I was dancing, my brother was dancing, and my mom was in the studio all the time. She made costumes and helped carpool, âshe explains. âI didn’t feel alone; we all sacrificed. It wasn’t a sad thing.
Mearns’ goal had always been to dance with NYCB. At age 15, she left home in South Carolina to train at the affiliated School of American Ballet. âMy brother was at SAB, as were the friends I made during intensive summer camps and at my home dance school. I was very lucky, “she says. Although Mearns feels ready to leave home at 15, she recommends young dancers take small steps, such as attending summer crash courses in the State before you try out-of-state summer crash courses and year-round training programs. “If you can go on a summer crash course with a few friends, that can help too.” , she says.
At 17, Milwaukee Ballet’s Alana Griffith moved from Los Angeles to England to train at the English National Ballet School. âIt was really scary, to be honest,â Griffith said. But she wanted to continue her British-style training after training in RAD at her home studio, the Los Angeles Ballet Academy. Living her dream was exciting, but she also had difficult days. Fortunately, she had a support system made up of her family, ballet friends, and teachers to talk to on the phone. If she could have done something different in retrospect, Griffith says she would have seen the sports psychologists on staff at the ENB school more often.
âI would have been stressed and I think it would have helped me to express my thoughts,â she says. âA lot of times we’re afraid to have these conversations because we’re afraid of appearing a certain way. With social media, we always try to look perfect. But I’ve found that when we talk about these things, we find that many others are going through the same experience.
Sometimes the desire to inspire family helps motivate a dancer to keep going despite the sacrifices of leaving home. When the Alabama Ballet Andres Castillo first arrived in the United States from Colombia to pursue career opportunities, he was initially thrilled to be in a new country and did not care to be alone. âI called my mom every day and sent her pictures of me dancing,â he says. âBut I haven’t been back to Colombia since I left eight years ago. My mother was able to visit me six years ago and I became very moved. Family birthdays and holidays are also tough for Castillo, especially Christmas. âIt’s hard to know that they’re all together but I can’t be there,â he said.
At the same time, he feels prompted to encourage his mother as well as his two younger brothers. âMy mom wanted to be a dancer when she was younger, and my two brothers are ballet dancers. It’s hard to be the first one to come to America, and I’ve had the urge to give up before, so I want to show them that anything is possible.
While leaving home may be necessary to further education and career, a dancer’s journey sometimes ends up bringing them closer to where they started. In 2018, after 11 years as principal at the San Francisco Ballet, Kochetkova left the company. âAt the time, my mother had to take care of my two grandmothers,â she says. “It was very difficult for me to be away from SFB to dance more at my home in Russia, and it was impossible for her to travel this far to California to see me dance.” She returned to Europe to work freelance and get closer to home.
In August, Kochetkova joins the English National Ballet, where she also danced in the early years of her career. She is away from her family again, but her globetrotting career has forged her as a dancer: âI believe that everything happens for a reason and that all experiences help artists become what they are. are.