Ballet is hard work

Ballet is hard work


As a chronically nosy person, I couldn’t be more fascinated by how successful people spend their day. Everything from the daily routines of famous writers, to how many hours of sleep CEOs get, to what Oprah Winfrey eats for breakfast.

I think this fascination is a combination of two factors: firstly the sneaky opportunity to witness these people that you know only through public persona in their natural habitat and, secondly, the idea that knowledge of their daily routines and an ability to emulate them will in some way transfer their success to you.

If I were to gulp down Oprah’s mixed fruits smoothie and a handful of almonds each morning, would I eventually be rewarded with my own TV channel and the godlike adoration of the free world?

In fact, I have discovered something from reading all these routines: I now know the secret to success. Unfortunately, the secret isn’t smoothies, it’s to get up early and work really hard all day, six or seven days a week.

If you think that you do work hard, I can guarantee that reading a day-in-the-life of a CEO will make you reconsider and watching a documentary about a ballet company will make you feel like you haven’t actually got out of bed for five years. Like this documentary on the New York City Ballet, for example.

The show charts everything the dancers go through, from getting into the company and rising through the ranks to in-company romance, injury and the sacrifices they must make in order to fully commit to their profession.

Ballerinas are like ducks; serene and smooth on the surface, but it’s all going on underneath. Success in any physical art form is in not only attaining the necessary technique and artistry, but in making the impossible look effortless. This idea is perhaps epitomised by ballet, in which graceful dancers glide across the stage and float into each other’s arms, masking the reality of the crippling pressure and near-constant physical pain.

And because ballet is culturally associated with little girls and pink tutus, it wasn’t until I saw Matthew Bourne’s all male Swan Lake that I actually became aware of the raw physical power of it. Which is why I find it so interesting to go behind the scenes and see the incredible amount of work that goes into each performance and why photos like these where you can see the delicate ballerinas actually sweating seem so extraordinary.

I have a friend who likes to sit as far back as possible if she goes to the ballet because she says if you sit too close you can hear their feet thumping onto the stage and it freaks her out. I think that if hard work were condensed into a sound, that dull thud of ballet shoe on wood might well be it.

Header image by Lar Rattray, full photo story here. The New York City Ballet documentary and Lar Rattray’s Swan Lake photography were both discovered via Joanna Goddard of wonderful blog Cup of Jo.

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