Life As A Ballet Dancer
Lisa Probert (Ballet Dancer) gives expert video advice on: Do you get paid per performance?; How often do you do performances?; Have you had many injuries? and more...
Do you get paid per performance?
We just get paid a weekly, normal wage. We get overtime sometimes when we do a week of double shows or Sunday shows, but it's pretty much standard. You don't get paid any more for doing main roles either, which is not that great. If you're in the Corps de Ballet, you might be doing principle roles and Corps de Ballet stuff. You'll do the whole range and you don't get extra money for that, but you get the experience and the chance to do the bigger roles, so it sort of balances out.
How often do you do performances?
8 a week? 8 shows a week. We do a 7 week tour and a 6 week season at the Colosseum. The spring and summer aren't so busy. We get the summer holiday. We get 4, 5 weeks. There will be a little tour but not 7 weeks. The winter's the hardest bit really and Christmas is the busiest period. We do 2 shows a day for 6 weeks, roughly.
Have you had many injuries?
Not really, I don't really get injured. I get sick if I'm rundown, I get ill. I sprained my ankles a few times but that was when I was younger, when I was new to dancing. But if I do have probems it is generally with my ankles because they're so little.
What are the long term physical effects of being a ballet dancer?
Hip replacements. Knee operations. You might be lucky. I think one of the main things is not to stop when you stop dancing. You have to keep doing some kind of exercise. It is when you stop, your body joints just cease up a bit. But some people are fine. Take your glucosamine and calcium tablets.
Do you have to be thin to be a ballet dancer?
Not necessarily, it's more aesthetically pleasing and you do so much work that you kind of work anything off anyway. But you don't have to be rake skinny, no.
Are there busy and quiet periods during the year?
Christmas, yes. Christmas is the busiest. Summer is the least busy because we need a break at some point. So most companies have a month off in August or September.
How does being a ballet dancer affect family life?
Yeah, it's quite difficult when you're on tour because you're working every evening and you do sort of feel it. But then you come home and get your evenings again and you sort of get your life back. It is tough like that but that's one of the sacrifices. That's way you have to really want to do it because sometimes everything else goes on hold for a good few years, I think, until you're more used to it and more established.
How much travel is involved in being a ballet dancer?
Quite a bit. Because you've got the tours that go around England, and then hopefully once or twice a year you've got a foreign tour which are the fun ones really. Even though it's hard work, you're in a different country and you get to see a few things.
What is a typical day for a ballet dancer?
You would have class at 10:30 for about an hour, an hour and a quarter. Warm up and then straight into rehearsals from 12:00 all the way to 6:30, an hour lunch break. But if you are doing a show, you have to have two hours before the show. So you would finish at five to get ready. We normally finish at five not five thirty. So you can eat and put your makeup and all that stuff. And then eating after the show. So it is a really long day when you are on tour. You probably start at eleven, eleven thirty until ten at night.
Do you need to be fit to be a ballet dancer?
Yes. Very fit. Otherwise you get injured and it is just a waste of time. It is quite a short career so if you are not fit and you get injured and sick you are sort of just losing time of getting experience or doing roles.
Do you choreograph your own routines?
Not really. I mean, we have Choreographies, where the dancers make pieces, but I prefer to be in it than Choreographing it. I haven't tried; I should try, and I probably could. I think the last Choreography was for A Level Dance, and it wasn't...yeah. I prefer to, sort of, dance.
How often do you change your routines?
You'll learn one, you'll start performing it, and you'll prepare for the next one. I mean, here, it's not too bad because we don't have that many productions because we don't have that much money. But if you're in a bigger company with more money, you'll be constantly switching over and learning different ballets whilst the others are on.
How do you practice your routine?
I like to learn it, work on it on my own so I know exactly what I am doing. And then put it across to somebody else and they can correct it from there. Because I think it is quite important to keep your own style and identity on something as much as you can and then the choreography. can fine tune the bits that you wants to change. They like you to do it your way but within the choreography.
Are many of your friends ballet dancers?
Most of my close friends are ex-ballet dancers. They've moved on, and got married, and had babies. But yeah, I've got friends that are still dancing. But I think from my year at school, there's about four of us that are still dancing. Out of twenty five originally, then it went down to eight, then it was four.
At what age do ballet dancers retire?
Ballet dancers retirement, It depends. What gives first, your body or your brain? Some people just give it a few years, and stop at 25. Some people carry on into their forties -- forty-three. It depends on how easy your body is.
What do ballet dancers do when they retire?
Anything. All different things. A lot teach. A lot go into Pilates and fitness and things like that, but some people just go into something different, totally different.
Who is your inspiration?
I used to really like Viviana Durante. I still do, but I haven't really seen much of her these days. I'm not quite sure where she is. Yes, because she's small you kind of identify with people that are sort of similar to you and have similar ways of moving, so she was definitely one of my favorites, yes.
How much do ballet dancers get paid?
It depends on where you are. If you're in the Royal Ballet and you're a principal, you could be getting a lot of money per show. So it depends on how much money the company's got. And principals can usually negotiate their salary a bit as well. Quarter Ballet isn't well-paid. It's getting better. We're getting more money in to even out with other companies. I think we're getting close to similar. So it is getting better, but it could be a lot better, for all the work we do and sacrifice and evenings.
What is the proudest moment of your career?
I think doing this role actually because it's the hardest thing I've done. But also we went to Wimbley and we played Wimbley and I quite liked that as well. We did Swan Lake for the Diana concert and then we danced with Take That as well. I mean, it was fun, but it was definitely a highlight because there were so many people.