3 Principal Dancers Talk Ballet

What do Marijn Rademaker, Greta Hodgkinson and Tamara Rojo have in common? They’re all principal dancers with the Stuttgart Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Ballet, respectively.

Hodgkinson has been with her company for over 20 years, while Rojo, at 37, is looking to transition to artistic director upon retirement. Rademaker is currently the principal guest artist with the Dutch National Ballet for the 2011/2012 season and will appear in Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Giselle.

We hope our aspiring Talenthouse dancers will find inspiration in the words of three dancers at varying stages of their careers.

Advice for aspiring dancers

Rademaker: Dance is about life. He or she could express everything through dance, and that it is actually fun to work hard, haha!

Hodgkinson: I would tell anyone aspiring to be a dancer to be prepared to dedicate themselves entirely to this profession. Being a ballet dancer requires an enormous amount of discipline and heart. You must really love it.

Hodgkinson in Sleeping Beauty. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemman

On challenges

Rademaker: To never give up, you always have to keep going, keep being on your toes, keep perfecting and keep searching for the new things. To not let it become an automatism. Even if you dance Romeo for the 100th time, you still need to find new things.

Hodgkinson: My greatest struggle as a dancer is trying to perfect an art that can’t be perfected! Every day I strive to better myself as a dancer and artist, spending countless hours in the studio and rehearsing the smallest details.

Curing the creative blues

Rademaker: I use my off time to relax and sometimes also to get away from it all. I am so inspired by ballet as it is, so sometimes it is important to take a step back and get perspective. Then you can come back fresh and be open for new inspirations.

Hodgkinson: When I’m not feeling my best I must be extra focused. I always try and stay completely in the moment onstage and that usually helps me to forget about how I’m feeling and I can lose myself in the dance and character. Everyone has “off” days for sure but I find that helps me keep it together!

Rojo: You have to use your true feelings if you want to connect with the public. You cannot fake it. Sometimes people say I’m a great artist. I don’t think I am. I think I just always search for true feelings, and human beings know that. I use my feelings, my private life, my memories, my emotions to feed the characters. If you’re honest with the public, they feel it. I know when I do a bad performance because I haven’t been honest.

The most valuable advice

Rademaker: I said to my director, Reid Anderson, that I didn’t know if I could do all the ballet again like that, because I was drained from the work and the emotion that the ballet takes from you. He said: You will see, tomorrow is a whole other day. It will be a different world from today. Take it scene by scene. Don’t think about act 3 when you haven’t even started the 1st one yet! That really helped me not to panic and he was so right. I still use it all the time!

The pros and cons of dancing

Hodgkinson: The thing I like most about ballet is performing. Being onstage, losing myself in a character and story is the greatest gift and I feel so lucky to be able to be living my dream. The thing I like the least is being injured or the way my body feels when I wake up in the morning. The aches and pains are a definite drawback!

Being onstage

Rademaker: The best thing is when you don’t have to think at all and you just dance. But sometimes you have to. Like when you have to count an 7, 3, 9, 4 and a fast 23 before your next steps!

Why they dance

Rademaker: It is a passion that really combines everything I love. Movement, speed, telling stories, acting, emoting, working hard, dedicating myself, perfecting, letting go.

Hodgkinson: I became a dancer because I knew at a very early age that this was my lifelong passion. Above all else, I wanted to dance and perform onstage.

Rojo: I do have doubts sometimes, and if I have to watch a video of myself I die because in my mind I’m a million times better than I am. Sometimes I think is this really worth it? There’s one life only, and I’m dedicating it to dancing. But on the other hand, what better thing is there to do? Maybe I should dedicate it to investigating the cure for cancer, but maybe I would have never found anything, and at least I can give pleasure to people.

Dancers, what keeps you going in your career?

Photo credit: Getty Images