Ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson's top 10 ballet tips
- 7 December 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Lauren Cuthbertson is a principal ballerina for the Royal Ballet, and patron to the National Youth Ballet.
She was made a principal of the Royal Ballet in 2008 when she was just 24 years old.
She is currently performing The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House and this week made it into 2014's Who's Who.
Below are her top ten tips on how to succeed as a ballerina.
1. Never look back
I was originally sent off to ballet lessons as a child to calm me down a little bit. I started doing ballet after school with quite a strict teacher. I think it first dawned on me that I wanted to be a ballerina when I read about Margot Fonteyn as a child. I was always saying, "Mummy I want to be Margot the second!"
I didn't start because I loved the colour pink or anything, it really was just meant to be an after-school activity, but I absolutely adored it and I've never, ever looked back. I never doubted, never questioned, just always strived to be a ballerina.
2. Work like a dog
I remember being 11 years old and thinking I was going to be some Prima Ballerina in a couple of years, like in the good old days.
The reality was later shaken in to me: I was going to have to work like a dog for about eight years until I even, maybe, possibly got a job in a ballet company, somewhere in the world. The reality is very different to what people think.
3. Practise and use imagery
Practice is just so important. But also, I discovered the art of imagery, which for me has been a huge tool. It means I can see the finished product of what I want to be in my head. It's really helped me, because of course there are only so many hours you can put your body through before you break.
Sometimes my Mum will think I'm just quietly watching something on the television, and that's how it looks, but really, I'm not watching the television at all… I'm rehearsing in my head and might be doing three run-throughs of Romeo and Juliet!
4. Don't get too obsessed with body shape
Body shape is really important. Some dancers will always look like the perfect ballerina, even from a young age, but bodies grow and change at different times. I work really hard in the studio but I also love swimming; not only is it an all-over body work-out, but it's so good for your joints and muscles too.
When I can, I do some yoga. I have a bit of shoulder trouble, so sometimes I can't do all that 'downward dog' stuff. But there is nothing quite like pulling on those pink tights and whacking through a three-hour ballet. I'm not going to lie, that is the thing that is going to get you the most in shape.
5. Be a tough nut
I think you have to be a bit of a tough nut to make it. You won't get anywhere unless you really understand the importance of criticism. Teachers give it in different ways - as a student you need to always remember that they are just trying to make you better.
Ultimately, whether they are a bit strict or a bit harsh is kind of irrelevant, what they are telling you is probably of some use. But it can be hard to accept if you are being shouted at.
I had one Russian coach who I absolutely adored and I still miss him today - he was just such a taskmaster. He would really put me through my paces and say, "Again! No! Again! Do again! Right now! Tidy! Again! Open! Higher! Again, again, again!" He just wanted me to be the best that I could be.
6. Eat whatever makes you feel good and don't drink on school nights
I hate the expression, "watch what you eat." For me, it's more about feeling good. I want to feel good when I wake up in the morning, still feel good at four o'clock in the afternoon and I want to feel great when I'm on stage at night.
Obviously you want to remain lean and in shape, but ultimately you've got to do the job, and after all those rehearsals, you want to do it as best you can. Of course we are allowed chocolates, even before a performance. Sometimes you just need sugar to get you through and if you are going to get that from a bag of Maltesers and a can of Coke, then so be it.
7. Get up close and personal
You do get pretty close to the people that you are dancing with. I do still get a little bit shy, even now. In Romeo and Juliet, when you first rehearse the kiss with someone, I still get embarrassed. But before you know it you are "pashing" all over the place.
I remember one boyfriend saying, "His hands were everywhere when he was lifting you Lauren", and I'd never thought of it like that. When it happens I'm not thinking, "Ooo, there's a guy touching my inner thigh." It's more, "How do I look in this lift?"
8. Have a struggle
Your technically best years match your emotional ones. When you go through disastrous times you really draw on your inner strength, and your emotions are so much more heightened.
For me, the technical side of ballet is just the pallet that we work with. I love doing the ballerina thing, of course I do, but I feel like I'm starting to give more to my performances and, I believe, that is because of everything I've been through.
I think the next two or three years will be my personal peak, just because of the amount of time I've had off due to illness and injury. I'd like to think that I could do this until I am 40, but I genuinely don't know what I want to do later on in my career.
9. Accept that being successful means making sacrifices
Yes I've had to make sacrifices. But then everyone has to sacrifice something if they really want to do something successfully. So it feels completely natural for me to make sacrifices, but sometimes my friends look at me like I'm some kind of alien.
It can be quite lonely. Sometimes you can feel isolated because you are the only one in your group of friends that really understands what you need to do to get to the next level, so that can be quite tricky. I'm not able to go to endless parties or anything like that, but my good friends, who I can count on one hand, totally understand and support me.
10. Wear your big girl pants and never be afraid to fail
There are so many things I would like to say to a younger me. I'd like to say that you need to be really realistic. You need to really suck it up, put on your "big girl pants", be brave, learn to listen to criticism and listen to the truth.
When I was younger, there were so many things that I didn't achieve, that I wanted to. There were competitions I didn't get into, grades I didn't make - and I remember those moments like they were yesterday.
But learning from those experiences, that's when I really turned up the volume. I used that sadness - almost anger - and disappointment with myself to strive towards the next level. So don't be scared of failure. If you are meant to succeed you'll rise above that. Just keep going and it will make you stronger.