TV & Movies

What It’s Really Like to Be a Professional Ballet Dancer

Ever wonder what a fashion editor, or a rocket scientist, or a television anchor actually does? In our new 9-5 series, we asked our favourite boss babes what a day in the office (or lab, stage, set) entails. This week, ballet dancer Elena Lobsanova gives us a glimpse into her grind

Elena Lobsanova

Elena Lobsanova, principal dancer, National Ballet of Canada, Toronto

Age: 29

Length of time in current gig: 10 years

Education: National Ballet School

Typical hours: Usually 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. On performance days we typically work between 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. I’m dancing the parts of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker this December.

When do you wake up? 8 a.m.

What do you typically wear to work? A standard leotard with tights, soft shoes and a little sports vest.

What kind of preparation do you do in the morning before you get to work, so you’re on the ball when you arrive? I used to do rigorous stretches when I was younger, but now my body’s developed a lot of muscle memory so I don’t need an extensive warm-up.

What’s the workplace vibe like? Most of the time it’s pretty intense. We work the same routines over and over when learning a new ballet to solidify choreography and determine and maintain the necessary stamina. If it’s not a new ballet, it’s not as intense, but you still need a certain focus for understanding the character and for stamina.

What’s the first thing you do when you get to work? I go to my change room. I have a lot of hair so I try to get it up into a bun as fast as possible. I put on tights and a little sports vest, go to the studio, stand at the barre and get my muscle memory kicked in for class. We start off with a 45-minute class followed by a 20-minute break, then as many as six one-hour-long rehearsals with five-minute breaks between each one. When performing, we typically rehearse all day and then have a longer break before the show for food and warming up.

What’s the best part of your day? When we’re rehearsing intensely and I feel a creative process in my work.

What’s the worst part of your day? When I lose that feeling of being creative.

What are the biggest challenges in your job? My pointe shoes are a craft on their own because I [never] know if they’re going to be stable enough for me to perform in. I have to hammer them to a specific degree so they don’t die on me, but make them malleable enough for me to work in them. Typically I go through one or two pairs a day. (That’s right, a day!)

Who do you admire most in your profession and why? Alina Cojacaru, a principal dancer with the English National Ballet, because of her creativity. I love the uncompromising naturalness in her movement, her versatile dancing dynamic and her fearless work ethic.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Life typically is the best teacher. Live for the present moment. Whatever life throws at you, it’s up to you to be creative and whatever you come up with will teach you everything you need to know.

If someone else aspired to do your job, what qualities would they need? Be dedicated, committed, patient, persevering, creative, and ready to sweat and sacrifice your ego.

What do you to unwind after work? I love especially to paint or sketch—it compresses the day into a kind of code and helps me remember everything.

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