Tag Archives: professional dancer

What Ballet Life is Really Like

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, one of their first questions is, “What was it like to be a professional ballet dancer?” Ballet is in the public eye like never before, yet movies like Black Swan and shows like Breaking Pointe tend to focus on the gritty side of dance, and are at times extreme. It’s difficult to explain what something is like to someone who’s never personally experienced it, but I can sum it up with one line:

Ballet is a hard life.


No other job on the planet requires so much time and energy with so little pay…and it’s one of the most competitive fields in existence. Out of the 2000 dancers who audition each year for the School of American Ballet’s Summer Intensive, only a handful are chosen to become permanent students. Out of the 200 permanent students only 20 are hired for professional ballet companies around the world. These figures give a whole new meaning to the term “the one percent.”

Although ballet is a difficult life it’s not without its perks. Fellow dancers feel like family (maybe slightly dysfunctional, but show me one that isn’t), there’s often the opportunity to travel (and someone else pays), and the experience of working towards perfecting your art is satisfying on an entirely different level than most jobs.

Lastly, choosing a life in dance pays off for the rest of your life in unexpected ways, from living fully in your body and treating it respectfully to understanding and applying the principles of hard work and dedication to everything you do.

So yes, ballet life is hard, but so is everything that’s worth doing.


How To Make A Ballerina

Debunking Ballet Myths

Ballet Career Highlights


Interview with Jhe Russell aka Rawzen

There are many facets to Jhe Russell. Throughout his professional dance career he appeared  worldwide with a number of top dance companies, including the UK’s Northern Ballet, Bejart Ballet Lausanne, Boston Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, Dance Theater of Harlem, Bucharest Opera and North Carolina Dance Theatre. Today he is making a name for himself as a Hip Hop recording artist and choreographer.

1. How did you get started in ballet?

When I was six I was fascinated by Super Man. I wanted to fly like him so I would wear my blanket as a cape and imagine that I could float across the sky. Later on I saw a commercial for Boston Ballet’s Don Quixote and I watched Rudolf Nureyev on the screen. I saw him jumping with no wires attached to him and I asked my mom to take me to see him dance. When I saw Nureyev dance with Boston Ballet I knew at that point that I wanted to fly through the grace of ballet.

2. When did you feel like you had reached the pinnacle of your career? Can you describe a favorite moment in dance?

The pinnacle of my career was when I got the chance to dance the lead role of Basilio in Don Quixote with The National Ballet of Canada. Don Quixote was the first ballet I saw and it was my dream to dance the lead role in that ballet.

3. You went from ballet to beatz. How you get involved with music? What was it that lead you to start creating music?

Hip Hop music was the canvas of my life outside of ballet. I was always mesmerized by the personality that oozed out of the art emceeing. An emcee stands for master of ceremonies and the most powerful aspect of the emcee is the creativity put into their lyrics. I was inspired by groups like Public Enemy, Krs-One, Run DMC, U.T.F.O and L.L. Cool J. I wrote my first rhyme when I was in grade eight but I found my true voice in Hip Hop from the art of freestyle rhyming. Freestyle rhyme is the ability to recite an unwritten rhyme at any given moment. When I was in the National Ballet School of Canada, my ability to freestyle brought me closer to the other students who were not familiar with Hip Hop culture. Unity, peace and having fun are the most important aspects of Hip Hop culture and those are the energies I like to project when I am emceeing.

4. “Tribute to Maurice Béjart” is one of your most popular videos and you were a dancer in his company. Why did you choose to make this song? Why Maurice Béjart?

The reason I chose Maurice Bejart for my musical tribute was because Maurice Bejart was all about bringing cultures together through dance. In the classical ballet world, dancers of a darker complexion tend to struggle for their place but at Bejart Ballet you see every race represented at the highest technical level. The hook of the Bejart tribute goes “We want more war but we need more peace, we want more dance but we need Maurice”. War in this case, stands for everything that has to do with ignorance. Racism, Religion, Money and natural resources are some of the issues that we go to war over every day. Unity and appreciating all cultures through music and dance can heal this world that is saturated with misogyny, homophobia, racism, greed and violence. Maurice’s name is used in my song to represent change and the continuation of pushing boundaries.

5. You have officially retired from dancing professionally. Can you share what the process of transitioning into new career pursuits has been like for you?

I am still trying to figure out my next move after retiring. I am currently looking to teach and choreograph for companies and schools. I have been blessed to have people around me who have helped me tremendously during my transition.

Tony 1730 – Jhe’s unique choreographic tribute to Tony Fabre and Nelson Mandela danced by Clelia Mercier

6. What is your vision for the future?

My vision for the future is to first appreciate every moment happening in this moment. I would like to one day have my own company where I can choreograph and showcase my Hip Hop music. Teaching workshops where I can educate young people through the art of rhyme and dance is also something I would like to accomplish.

You can help Jhe’s dream of having his own company come true by voting for his piece Tony1730, which has been selected for a choreography competition here.

7. What advice would you give to today’s young dancers?

My advice to young dancers is to never forget your ancestors. It is important to know who came before you in order to see after you. Use youtube to study the legends who did or are still doing what it is you want to do. Remember that technique is not the spirit of dance but that your personality is the spirit of dance. Dance was a form of celebration for the gods in ancient times and the spiritual power given to movement that is truly free is untouchable no matter what color, gender or size you are. Always remember that whoever you idolize is no different from you. Be humble and grateful for every opportunity you get. Make sure you form your own opinions because it is very easy to be influenced by other people’s perspectives. Absorb the energy that is being given outside of the world of dance so that you can become the physical voice of real life issues. Hip Hop means to be two things, Hip means to be aware and Hop means forming a movement that expresses your awareness. Be true Hip Hop and move with the knowledge that surrounds you and educate the ignorant.


Follow Jhe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jherussell

Rawzen on YouTube:www.youtube.com/channel/UCsweRxTYlk-kkLT5h-LPoSQ

Download Rawzen’s Albums:
Harriet Tubman’s Attic – www.cdbaby.com/cd/rawzen2
Highly Focused – www.cdbaby.com/cd/rawzen3
The Poetic Variations (as Cum Laude The Anomaly) –www.cdbaby.com/cd/cumlaudeta

Rawzen on SoundCloud: www.soundcloud.com/rawzen


Ballet Companies on Tour: The Perks and the Perils













One of the coolest perks of being a dancer with a professional ballet company is touring. Who wouldn’t want an all-expenses-paid trip to exotic places like Israel and Ecuador? Twist my arm, right?


That’s what I was thinking when they announced an upcoming tour to Israel. For one thing, it was on the other side of the world, which was always a bonus in my mind. Plus there was the chance to swim in the Dead Sea, which was world famous for its health and beauty benefits. Okay, and let’s not forget the history aspect. Landmarks galore! Bethlehem – the setting for the entire story of Christmas – was on our list of stops. Israel was oozing with history.


That, and lots of desert.










There was a lot to be excited about.  It was my first tour with Miami City Ballet (okay, it was my first tour ever)  It was our first international tour, too, so a lot was riding on this trip. No pressure or anything.


The plan was to fly from Miami to Paris to Tel Aviv. Simple and straightforward enough. But moments after the plane took off in Miami it was announced that some sort of hydraulic failure had occurred.


Um… that’s bad, right?












Our simple and straightforward journey quickly turned into a nightmare. Luckily, the plane landed in one piece in New York. After that everything got dicey. Our biggest problem was that we had left in the middle of Shabat, which meant that all other planes headed to the Motherland were full. Which meant we were screwed.


We were at last rerouted to London and eventually made our way to Tel Aviv. But after losing so many sleepless hours in various airports across the globe, we arrived with only a few hours to spare before we were expected in rehearsals. To say we were not quite ourselves would be a gross understatement.








I quickly learned how to sleep anywhere on that trip. I even managed a power nap in full makeup, costume and pointe shoes on a bench in a busy hallway.


Our first day of sightseeing included a trip to Masada National Park, a citadel perched high on a plateau that overlooks the Dead Sea. In A.D. 73, more than 900 Jewish rebels famously committed suicide there rather than surrender to the Romans. The view was breathtaking; visibility extended to infinity and beyond.











Including the numerous explosions that were taking place an uncomfortably close distance away. Our guide assured us it was common to see such things, “nothing to worry about.” But as he guided us away, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy.


The next morning at breakfast my intuition was proven correct. As I watched many of my fellow dancers sampling the luxurious breakfast spread that stretched across several tables I couldn’t help but notice that the opulent meal did nothing to camouflage the fact that bombs were going off in the near distance. Repeatedly.


As the windows shook with every blast, dancers sat calmly chugging coffee. It was now plainly evident why no one had chosen a window seat. I could see that I was not the only panicky one. But everyone chose to keep silent and avoid eye contact rather than discuss the elephant in the room.











As I tried to keep down what little I was able to force myself to eat for breakfast, I couldn’t help but wonder… was ballet now fatal?


Stay tunes or subscribe for more… This is the first part of a continuing series.