I met Rachel at the Boston Food Blogger's dinner at Maggiano's a couple of weeks ago. I was intrigued to learn that she dances with the Boston Ballet. Pretty much my dream job. In addition to dancing professionally, she also writes a food blog called Foodista on Pointe which makes her one of the most interesting people ever. I knew I had to take the opportunity and see if she would allow me to interview her, and she did! Ahhhh!
We planned to meet at Deisel Cafe in Davis Square for coffee and conversation. I recorded the interview with the voice memo feature on my ipod, and then typed it up. It took me a while to get it up here, so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed chatting with Rachel. :)
I really liked what she had to say when I asked her if she had any advice for aspiring ballet dancers, I found it very inspirational, and also relate-able to most things in life, and not just ballet.
Amy: When did you start dancing?
Rachel: I started dancing, as in running around a studio, when I was 3, but I didn't actually move into a more professional field until grade 5, and that was in Toronto, where I'm from. I was always doing rhythmic gymnastics and ballet at the same time, so it was always a balance between the two, and sometimes one of them would take precedence over the other. It wasn't until I moved to Boston, 6 years ago, that I was really like, "I'm going to do the Ballet now."
A: I was going to ask if you had ever done other types of dance, but you mentioned did rhythmic gymnastics, too?
R: Yes, Rhythmic gymnastics is...the most esthetic of sports, it's the one with the ribbons, and balls. I always did both of those [Ballet and rhythmic gymnastics] full time, it was always a bit of a struggle. I always had a full plate.
A: How long have you been dancing with the Boston Ballet?
R: I've been on contract with them for 3 years, I'm going into my fourth season with the company. When I moved to Boston 6 years ago, I was moving to join the school. There's the company, and there's the school, and at the top level of the school they have the trainee program, which is basically like when you graduate school, you have all day dancing, you work a little bit with the company, but you also do your own things, so that's what I joined 6 years ago.
A: So you started with the [school]?
R: Yes, It was really important to my formation as a dancer, because at that point I was really more of a gymnast, so I needed those 2 years to transition into more of a ballet-focus
A: What is your favorite show to do? I love the Nutcracker:
R: The Nutcracker is funny because it happens every year, and at Boston Ballet it's a huge thing, we do it for 5 weeks, this year we are doing 43 shows, so it's extensive, and you barely get over it from the past year and all of a sudden it's there again. Dancer's generally have mixed feelings on the Nutcracker because we all understand that it's important, it's a tradition, it's what a lot of people associate with Ballet, as it's the most popular one. But, really what I love the most is the stuff that we do before and after the Nutcracker in the season. I really love the more contemporary stuff.
A: Are you in the off season right now?
R: Yup, our 2011-2012 season finished on the 20th of May, all throughout the summer, we don't have any shows or anything, we are on lay-off. The season actually starts tomorrow(7/30), which is just crazy, because you kind of lose momentum, you totally get out of that mind-frame and schedule, and then to all of a sudden be thrown back into it again. You try to stay in shape, but there's only so much you can do to simulate 7 hours of dancing.
A: What is the training schedule like?
R: We have two different schedules, we have one that is our rehearsal schedule, so when we aren't preforming, we rehearse from Monday through Friday, and we start with a class at 9:45 and we finish at 6:30pm. Once we start preforming, we go from Tuesday to Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday being just rehearsal days, and then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, we have shows, and then Monday is our day off. It gets rough, especially once we have been preforming for a while. The nice thing about our preformance schedule is that, because we go later in the evening, we don't start til later in the day. Sometimes we will have class at 11:45.
A: So you get to sleep in?
R: Yea, it is really important.
A: You said in the off season it's hard to simulate what you do in training, so what do you do to work out?
R: Generally, I just try to take [ballet] class everyday in the morning, and then as we get closer to our start date, I'll try to maybe take more than 1 class a day, or I go to yoga every now and then, and just try to my own workout, we have a little gym at the ballet that I can use, all the dancers can use, it's really good. Some dancers have these kind of guesting networks set up, kind of like freelancing, so they will get these little projects, which is really amazing, because you maintain that performance feel of working towards something specific, as opposed to just being like "I'm going to give myself a pat on the shoulder for being in class today." You don't really push yourself very hard, because you're like "well, I'm on vacation."
A: What is your favorite thing about being a ballet dancer?
R: There are a few things that I love, I love the physicality of it, because I am the type of person where when I'm not doing something I feel weird, so just the sheer exertion of it. On top of that, primarily,...it's just so artistic, there's so much to explore within the medium of dance, you have these classics that have been around for ages, imbedded in society and culture and history, but then you have these new things that are coming up all the time, and that's the contemporary work, and I love exploring that. I want to explore that more and more. Of course I love the company, and I love the preforming.
A: Do you ever get nervous before the shows?
R: Oh yea, of course it depends on what we are doing, if it's like a core piece that's not that challenging to me, then I probably won't be very nervous, but it's something more featured, I could be very nervous. It's the kind of thing where with experience you learn how to deal with whatever it is that you're feeling.
A: Before the shows, does someone come to do your make-up?
R: No, we all do our own make-up, but if it's something more elaborate, we have make-up artists. Same thing with your hair, you are supposed to do your own hair, unless it involves a wig. I have really short hair, so if there is a piece that I do that requires long hair, they will have to put something in. That's always funny.
A: Do you have any advice for young aspiring ballet dancers?
R: It's the kind of thing where if you want it, you should not let any of those obstacles keep you from acheiving it. and there will be obstacles, whether it's family that doesn't necessarily support it, or school that is getting in the way, or a schedule that's packed, or injuries. Injuries are something that is part of the job description. Once you make it to live as a professional dancer things certainly do get easier, but there will always be those challenges testing you, and how much you are ready to push. If you want it, go for it, because honestly being able to have a profession that is something that you love and going to work everyday and working on yourself not only as a dancer, but as a person, and having you job be more than a 9 to 5 thing that then allows you to have a certain lifestyle, it then become your lifestyle, I think it's invaluable. Just go for it!
A: Have you seen the movie Black Swan, What do you think of it? Are any truths to the stereotypes of Ballet dancers?
R: I was wondering if this question was coming! The movie, yea of course, it's Hollywood, and it has to be embellished and exaggerated for points to get across and for the drama to be carried out. The funny thing about Black Swan is that there are certainly elements of truth within it. I thought the most realistic thing was the mother, and she for me was the scariest especially when you are growing up, in these ballet schools, you will see these "ballet moms" who are crazy. So that was kind of scary, you don't really see it so much in companies, because at that point you are your own dancer and you don't have a mother that has to like sit and watch class. But every now and then you do see a ballet mom, and you are like "oh my god, she has to leave, not ok." So there's that, what I thought was the scariest.
The whole director/dancer relationship, I thought that was just really not necessary, because it's really not how things happen. I thought that was kind of a liberty that was taken a little too far. There are other stereotypes like you know, how Natalie Portman's character is just crazy,. There is a certain amount of insanity involved in any person who is that devoted to their art form. And not necessarily just dancers, like athletes and there is a huge amount of sacrifice, and that I understand. I'm not saying that we all have feathers growing out of our back, it's just intense. So that was fine. Somethings are just a little bit too much, and I think everyone understands that that's not how it really is.
A: With your blog, how did you get inspired to start writing that?
R: A couple things... I've always loved food and restaurants, and I noticed that the Boston food scene was really coming into it's own, and things were changing, restaurants were opening, and I kind of wanted to explore that. When I started writing the blog, I was an apprentice, so as far as paychecks go, it wasn't great, so I was like, "maybe I can do it in a frugal way" which is why I started as the "Frugal Foodista."
And then, as I'm sure you also have come to realize, at the beginning the blog takes a lot of work, and nobody is probably reading it. I think my Dad was the only one who followed it for like three months, and then because of the way the Boston food scene is, with the blogging network, it's a nicely organized and formed network where you can with a certain amount of reaching out, people with then reach out to you, and it kind of takes on a life of it's own, and momentum. That's kind of what happened with mine, as I said earlier, I eventually had to pan out with my definition and objectives, although I still love the whole "frugal" angle, I don't want to limit myself to that because I have other opportunities that I want to experience as well, and I want my readers to experience. That was one of the things that got me started.
The other one was that I really love writing, and I wanted an outlet with a more specific goal, and because I love food so much, it just works really well. It's pretty easy for me to write about things like that. Who knows where it will lead. I would love to be a professional food writer. In a sense it's almost like building a portfolio without having to try very hard because you want to do it anyways.
Thanks so much Rachel for taking the time to talk with me!