corps de ballet confessional: Elizabeth Weldon of Ballet West

By reputation, ballerinas are these willowy, elongated creatures that are unobtainable… That could pretty much sums up Elizabeth Weldon, a corps de ballet member at TV’s most popular ballet company, Ballet West.  With feet to die for, ideal body proportions and musicality that rivals most, she tops it off by being humble in her achievements, gracious in performances, intelligent in her choices and wise through experience. Not to mention she is a poster girl for Bloch.

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I first met Liz as a dancer through CPYB and worked together at Panera Bread. I just remember seeing these long legs hidden behind an apron and this great smile under this ugly khaki/olive colored hat. She had joined the school year later on, or maybe she was there since the beginning but I didn’t really know her or know of her until the later part.  LOL. Not sure, but regardless, our time was brief, but if there was one thing I remember, was how smart she was with the choices she made. So, for those who want to go to college, but people tell you, “You might not have a dance career”… Liz did it all…

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So, what is it like to be Elizabeth Weldon? Here we go!

Name: Elizabeth Weldon
Insta: lizaries13
Company: Ballet West
Company Position: Corps (official company position)
Years in the Company: 6
Previous Companies: Orlando Ballet Second Company
Ballet Education: Boston Ballet, CPYB
Age: 32
Height: 5’8

 

What is your favorite type of sandwich?
Probably a breakfast sandwich. Eggs, cheese, and sausage on an asiago or everything bagel.

You are sponsored by Bloch? Or a Bloch model? How does that happen? Especially as a corps de ballet member? (Don’t get me wrong, you are tall and gorgeous, but just so others know what modeling brings about) What pointe shoe do you wear?
This is an interesting story. A couple years ago I started having a lot of pain in my feet and discovered that my shoes no longer fit, my feet had grown. I was trying to find a shoe that fit my foot and contacted Bloch about being fitted for pointe shoes. They had me send pictures of my feet and after seeing the pictures I sent, they asked me if I would be available to come to NYC to do a photoshoot for their spring Mirella line 2015. It was such an incredible experience! I loved working with the Bloch team. I never would have imagined having the chance to do something like that. Everyone at Bloch was so nice and fun to work with. It’s an experience I will never forget.

I’m not sure what to include about my current shoe situation …. I currently wear Capezios. I am very lucky to have the feet I do, however sometimes it feels like a blessing and a curse. The shoes I currently wear don’t fit my feet and it’s been very frustrating because I feel like it’s the greatest obstacle in my career. I’ve been dancing on shoes that don’t fit for three seasons now. It’s very discouraging. ….   (Finding the right shoe is extremely difficult!)

 

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photo by Joshua, Liz in Nicolo Fonte’s Rite of Spring


What is in your dance bag?
Many, many, pointe shoes! Flat shoes, scissors, duct tape, a nail file, foot powder, and foam roller. I also carry a separate bag with snacks 🙂

 

What is your warm up routine, or process to get ready for class or show?
It changes depending on what we are working on or performing. Before class my warm up is very minimal, just simple stretching to loosen up, or exercises to activate certain muscles. I try to pay attention to my body and give it whatever it seems to need.

You went the nontraditional route… You went to college first. What was that like? Help or hinder?
The answer to this question is a little complex. I think in the big picture of life going to college first helped, but perhaps not for my dance career. However, I loved my experience at college. I made wonderful friends who are still in my life today. I loved learning, and having the chance to figure out who I was as an individual. It also helped me realize how much I love ballet and how much I missed having it in my life. After graduation was when I began to really pursue ballet as a career.

What do you want out of your dancing?
I recently saw a video of David Bowie and he said something that really resonated with me. “Always remember that the reason you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society.’

Dream role?
I want to do it all! Haha just kidding 🙂 I would love to dance the pas de deux from Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Kylian’s Petite mort is another dream ballet.

What is it like being categorized as a tall dancer?
Oddly enough at Ballet West I’m in the middle height range for the girls. I’ve become accustomed to dancing among so many tall people at BW that I don’t think of myself as tall. We have girls who are over 6’ on pointe and men up to 6’7 tall so comparatively speaking, I’m not very tall.

Was Ballet West your dream company? How did you get your contract?
It’s a little strange to say, but when I started auditioning for companies I just had a feeling I was meant to be at Ballet West. I did the open audition in NYC and eventually ended up at Ballet West on an 11-week supplemental contract. They needed extra girls for Swan Lake and a Balanchine program. I was so happy to be dancing with such an amazing company and thankfully at the end of my supplemental contract they asked me to come back for a full season. This is now my sixth full season with Ballet West.

Who are some professional dancers you admire?
I honestly have admiration for anyone in this career. It’s very difficult and we all have our own unique stories. No dancer has it easy. We do what we love, but there are definitely sacrifices we have to make. Like anyone in the arts, we aren’t compensated nearly enough for all the hard work. We move to whatever part of world we can find a job, and give up holidays with our families. It’s a very difficult career physically and psychologically. However I think we all realize how unique our careers are, and how special it is to be a part of the ballet world. It’s an honor to be part of a traditional art form that’s so much bigger than yourself.

 

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Favorite place to go relax and decompress from ballet world?
I spend most of my free time at home in my apartment on my couch with my pug, Mogli. He’s my best bud.

 

Favorite book?
Moon Palace by Paul Auster. He’s my favorite author. I love all his books.

If you could go back to you 16-year-old self, what would you tell her? What would you do differently?
I don’t think I would do anything differently because then I wouldn’t be who I am today. Though I wish some things had perhaps been different, I value the experiences and life lessons I had to face along the way. There are things I have learned in my 30s that I don’t think my 16-year-old self would understand. Sometimes we need to learn through experience and all those lessons happen in the right timing in our life.  At least that’s what I believe.

What were some of the “negative” things you were told as a student? How did it affect you?
I think as a dancer it is inevitable you will hear negative things and it’s up to you to determine how you let it affect you. I remember being told I was too uncoordinated to be a dancer. I was told by a very well-respected physical therapist that my body wouldn’t be able to handle a career in dance – that I would always be injured. I was told that if I didn’t train for a career when I was young that I would never make it as a professional. I believe that you are the only person who can determine your limits. It’s your choice whether you’re a victim of circumstances or if you chose to make your own rules and live life on your own terms.

What is the biggest advice you can give aspiring dancers?
Follow your passion and do what feels right for you. Your life is your greatest gift and you can write whatever story you want. Always treat yourself with love and respect. Take care of your body and your mental health. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want, but very often our biggest challenges are also our greatest opportunities for growth.


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CORPS DE BALLET CONFESSIONAL: Alaia Rogers-Maman

alaia rogers maman

If you follow ballet competitions and the budding young talent in the ballet world, you have heard of her. Her photos are all over Instagram, and her videos have been watched thousands of times. After starting late compared to most ballerinas, she secured a spot in the variation selections at the Prix de Lausanne at the age of 15, and then a spot at the Royal Ballet Upper School… Alaia Rogers Maman is proving herself to be a force of nature in ballet. She is now a corps de ballet member at the prestigious Vienna State Opera Ballet Company. She may be young, but she already has a very defined sense of musicality and intensity. Alaia was super great to chat with over Instagram and Facebook to secure our next Corps de Ballet Confessional.

So, let’s begin: 

Name: Alaia Rogers, although my full name is Alaia Rogers-Maman and that is what is listed in Prix de Lausanne blogs and the company’s site
Website: No website yet although I think it’s a project I would really enjoy , updating it with content and blog posts , I just haven’t gotten around to it and I’m not sure anyone would actually read it   🙂
(I’m sure we would all follow it)
Insta: alaiarogers
Company: Wiener Staatsballett -translated Vienna state opera ballet-click here for website
Company Position: Corps de ballet , 2nd season , first company (click here for her company profile)

Ballet Education: I trained with many different teachers and schools , but I would credit my most influential training to Magaly Suarez her school is “The Art of Classical Ballet” in Pompano Beach, Florida. She really changed me as a dancer and made the idea of me becoming a professional dancer into a realistic possibility. Going to the Prix de Lausanne and getting the scholarship to Royal Ballet School was something I never thought I could achieve before her training . So my education in dance I would attribute to her and the royal ballet upper school .

Age: 19
Height: 5’7.5” or 165.7 CM

How do you drink your coffee?
Coffee – latte no sugar … I love my Nespresso machine

What is your favorite dessert?
Dessert – that is a tough one, I love dark chocolate especially with sea salt or pistachio filling

You went to Royal Ballet upper school, what was that like?
RBS was a trying and wonderful experience. I think that you can find great ballet teachers all over the world but at RBS it is more than the teachers it’s level of talent from the students and the comprehensive education provided. Ms. Stock traveled the world searching for the dancers with the greatest potential and then put them all in the same class. I think that might be what made me improve the most there was being inspired and challenged by my classmates . The pas de deux education there is phenomenal , the boys are of such a high standard and our teacher Mr.Pakri made us understand all of the technical aspects and taught us to trust our partners and be there for each other. The education on ballet history , physiotherapy , character dance, arts funding, and all stages and roles within the choreographic process were taught in great depth. It was also a trying time lots of changes were taking place as Ms.stock made her departure from the school. It was very sad to see her go and later hear I of her illness.

What was it like trying to find a job?
Finding a job was a bit scary at first especially when you see how many candidates show up to an open audition. You really think how are they even going to see me in this sea of girls. Also, there are only a few spaces available to dancers each season, I felt like all the odds were against me. I think doing your research is important,  to look for a company where you can see yourself fitting into the repertory

What was your dream company when you are 15?
I think I had a few dream companies at 15 , Paris Opera and ABT were definitely at the top though

What is it like dancing at the Vienna State Opera?
It’s incredible to work here in Vienna . The opera house is beautiful and I love curtain calls when you can just look out into the beautiful theater and take it all in. The Viennese people are huge fans of the opera and ballet and we are always performing for packed audiences. My director is Manuel Legris (former etoile at Paris Opera) and he has a never-ending wealth of knowledge to share with us. We have such a diverse group of super talented dancers which I feel lucky to be a part of. I really believe this is one of the best places to work in ballet. Few companies have our diverse and exciting rep paired with great dancers and a world-class director.

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How often do you perform?
Our performance schedule varies month to month, but I would say on average about 85 shows per year here in Vienna .

What are you currently rehearsing?
Onegin, Le Corsaire by Manuel Legris, Marie Antoinette by Patrick de Bana, snow queen by Micheal Corder , and soon we start with Mayerling.

How does time off work at an Opera House?
Our company is different than most we don’t have scheduled Christmas or mid season breaks. They try to give everyone their free days when possible based on the programs you are cast in. At times, it can a bit annoying because it’s hard to make plans for vacation or family with little notice but when we all get two months of holidays in summer it makes up for it .

What are some of the pressures of being in a ballet school compared to being in a company?
Ballet school, although at the time, I felt was stressful really isn’t  in comparison to being in a company. In school you and your classmates are all practically on the same level it’s like a mini company where you are all the same rank. In school, your teachers are so invested in you and are constantly giving you feedback and you have hours of rehearsal time and you know exactly what you are going to dance and when. In a company you get very little feedback about your personal progress and have to motivate and assess yourself. You also are preparing multiple pieces at one time with limited rehearsals and have to be prepared to jump into other roles, with maybe only 30 minutes notice and hopefully ONE rehearsal. School years were golden years with lots of nurturing and friendships combined with hard work. In the company it is different, but once you adjust you really enjoy the diversity of the things you dance, the mentorship of more experienced dancers, and the feeling that with each role you really can explore your artistry and grow.
royal ballet school 2012

What are some of the relationships you develop in the corps de ballet?
Well, you develop great relationships. Dancing with a new partners you forge friendships with people you wouldn’t have become friends with otherwise. Also, when you work on a piece that has been in the rep for years and it’s your first time dancing it the more experienced dancers can really help you along the way. I think you can learn a lot from dancers in the corps de ballet there are  really young dancers, dancers starting to get their first big opportunities , dancers who have been in the company for more than a decade , and super moms who somehow manage this crazy time and energy consuming profession with motherhood. So you make all sorts of friends in corps.

What is the biggest difference between European dancers and American Dancers?
I think to compare European dancers and American dancers it is not really possible because British, French and Danish dancers are completely different already. I can only comment on the things I felt I had to change myself once I started dancing in Europe . My wrists, they often dropped and didn’t always elongate my line, finding more light and shade in my dancing playing more with the musicality.

When you were a student, what was the hardest thing for you?
Being a student, I think the hardest thing for me was mental. I started ballet quite late and I was always the underdog or the one who had potential but was behind the other students. Mentally, it was often hard to believe I had progressed enough to do well in a competition or be able to stand out in a group of my talented peers, my confidence wasn’t always on the same level as my capability.

Technically? Mentally? Injury Prone to?
Technically I had struggles too but every student and professional does.

I really believe that if you eat, sleep , and work properly you can avoid most injuries . I have been very lucky I have had only very minor injuries. It’s shocking how many dancers as they get older and start a professional career do so little to warm up.

What is in your dance bag?
My dance bag is huge – lots of Bloch point shoes , theraband, box cutters, sports wrap, chapstick, sewing kit , jet glue , icy hot , leg warmers, rehearsal skirt, shorts , ballet flats, foot spray , sisscors, scotch tape , lambs wool toe pads, my keys and phone

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What is your dream role?
I have many roles I aspire to. I would love to dance a dramatic role like Tatiana in Onegin , Marguerite in Lady of the Camillas , or Esmeralda in Notre Dame.

 What do you want out of your ballet career?
I think I am a very ambitious person , and I want out of ballet what I would want out of any other career I could choose . To continue to improve, to be challenged, not to plateau, to always be working toward something. Ballet is wonderful because you can always grow more. Even the best of the best can continue to work, explore, and create. I love feeling that each class or performance was an improvement on the last.

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Corps de Ballet Confessional: JULIA ROWE, San Francisco Ballet

#corpsdeballetconfessional

 

julia roweJULIA ROWE, corps de ballet at San Francisco Ballet/ formerly a soloist at Oregon Ballet Theatre

Photo by Christopher Peddecord (click here to visit his website of stellar work)

I first met Julia Rowe at CPYB, and she was this tiny little thing…. Like she is this short petite girl from PA with a good heart. I saw her in class and knew she was good, probably close to technically perfect. I then saw her Sherry Moray’s Pandora’s Box… and I was like, “hmmm ok.” Then I saw her in like every role in Balanchine’s Nutcracker and was like, “Okay I see you…” Then one day in Alan Hineline’s Sleeping Beauty rehearsal, I was doing something frivolous and we were rehearsing away from the mirrors, so she was facing towards the back where I was sitting. And I noticed that she did these really beautiful, overly turned out ron de jambes, into a fait pas de bourre and they were the most beautiful steps of the ballet; well the entire sequence of steps. She had complete control over everything, and she had this gorgeous resistance in the fait that was gorgeous. My friend david and julia rowe.jpgand I both leaned over at the same time and called it: PERFECTION. On top of that, she was dancing on shin splints. A prom and graduation later, Julia left to SFB and then landed a contract at OBT. She got promoted to soloist and things were going stellar. Small Facebook chats here and there are nice updates… Then she announced that she was leaving her soloist spot at OBT and heading back to SFB… Now at SFB, I get to follow her career closer and hear from her every now and then. But recently we got to catch up and she was willing to answer some great questions… So here it is… Life as Julia Rowe.

 

So, what is it like to be Julia Rowe? INSTAGRAM: @juliamrowe
Age: 26
Height: 5’1”
Training: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, San Francisco Ballet School
Company: San Francisco Ballet, corps de ballet, 3rd Season (click here for official bio)
Previous Company: Oregon Ballet Theatre, soloist for two seasons, three in the corps

What did you have for breakfast? How do you drink your coffee?
JR: I had a green juice for breakfast, and I drink my coffee black.

What is it like being in the corps at SF?
JR: It’s quite challenging, actually. We do three full-length ballets per season and then about five mixed rep programs. We learn all of the ballets in the summer and fall, but we don’t get to perform until Nutcracker in December. Our regular season runs January-May, and during that time we are usually performing most nights of the week and rehearsing for the next program during the day. It can get quite intense, especially for the corps de ballet.

You left being a soloist at OBT for SFB, why?
JR: Because there was a change in direction of the company, and I was ready for something new in my career. I wanted a different sort of challenge. I wanted to know what it was like to dance every day on that huge Opera House stage, and be surrounded by so much diverse talent all the time. I wanted to know if there could be a place for me here.

When you were a student, and you dreamed of a being a pro– does your experience as a professional compare?
JR: It’s funny. Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a student. The kind of personal attention and corrections that you receive at that point in your training are really invaluable. Once you join a company, especially a big one, you are kind of on your own. There isn’t enough time for individual coaching for all 75 dancers, you know? That being said, you learn a lot about yourself when you have to be your own teacher, coach, mentor, and critic. This is especially true when you are in the corps and the emphasis is placed more on conformity than artistic expression. The beauty in corps work is precision and teamwork. Everyone all breathing together as a singular unit. It’s a different mentality.

Julia in 2008 rehearsing for SFB School Student Showcase doing Kitri’s Variation in the dream scene. Filmed by Dylan Ward.

What kind of pressure do you feel?
JR: Luckily, at SFB, it’s not unusual for corps dancers to get great opportunities dancing soloist and principal roles. Choreographers and others setting ballets generally have their pick of the entire company. Because there are so many of us, there tends to be a lot of pressure to “nail it” in front of a choreographer. There is also this sense that every rehearsal is an audition. The margin for error sometimes feels very small, which I know from experience tends to limit my ability to really make the movement my own. I love to work with choreographers who are OK with mistakes during the learning process(most are). It’s incredibly freeing to be given permission to be yourself in the studio and on stage.

In contrast, learning corps de ballet repertory is an exercise in attention to detail and precision. In a large company, you are expected to be able to quickly and thoroughly learn choreography. This can be tough, especially for new dancers. Luckily, there is a sense of community within the corps. We have all been there, and most of my coworkers were extremely kind and helpful when I was swamped with new information.

 

julia rowe ballet


What kind of pressure do you put on yourself, when it comes to being or trying to be promoted?
JR: the more you think about it, the crazier you get

 

What kind of pressure do you put on yourself, when it comes to being or trying to be promoted? Honestly, I try not to think of it in terms of promotion. I try to recognize every opportunity I have to improve in some way. It is tough, though. We all have dreams, after all! It would be great to get to do more challenging roles, and to not have to suffer through standing in B-plus, but not everyone gets to that place. For me, it’s all about appreciating the moments when I do get to bust out and dancing them to my fullest ability. It makes swan corps way more bearable when you know that you are capable of so much more. Sometimes you just need to remind yourself.

Having outside projects can help, too. If you aren’t getting the artistic growth you want from your job, no one is stopping you from doing it on your own. I have met so many inspiring, creative people in San Francisco not just in dance, but other fields as well. Writers, fashion designers, musicians, visual artists, photographers, you name it. I have even met some incredibly inspiring doctors who take physical therapy and training to an artistic level.

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Julia Rowe and Elen Rose Hummel in Tomasson’s Caprice. (© Erik Tomasson) Accessed via blog.cpyb.org

What do you do in your spare time?
JR: I go to school, read, swim, hike, travel and help my boyfriend (@sashaarro on insta!) with his photography in my spare time. I do the LEAP program at St Mary’s for my undergraduate degree it’s a great program geared towards arts professionals. (click here for more information on the LEAP program)

What is in your dance bag?
JR: My dance bag is a mess. I have at least 6 pairs of shoes, three skirts, a pair of shorts, legwarmers, Advil, Voltaren gel, arnica cream, my Lululemon sweatpants, black Uniqlo heat tech shirt, a puffy vest (also Uniqlo) Click here to shop Uniqlo.

Favorite holiday?
JR: My favorite holiday is New Years because I get to spend it at home with my family. We do a delayed Christmas on New Years because I am still doing Nutcracker on actual Christmas.

Any advice to young women who get their corps de ballet contracts…
JR: Advice to young corps members: Remember what your teachers have told you. Really. Corrections and feedback won’t come as often as they did when you were in school. It’s up to you to figure out how you want to dance and to make it happen. Keep your eyes open. Use your coworkers as inspiration. Be respectful of the more senior members of the company, but don’t hide. You have accomplished something very special by becoming a professional ballet dancer. It’s a privilege to be able to do what you do. Make the most of it! Enjoy it!

Personal Note: Greatest part about this interview? It happened in sections- via at intermission during Swan Lake, her days off, and the Academy Awards…
Editor’s Note: Originally when published I credited Pandora’s Box to Alan Hineline, but it is choreographed by Sherry Moray.

If you are a corps de ballet dancer, and would like to be interviewed for a Ballet Education’s Corps De Ballet Confessional, email me at aballeteducation@gmail.com

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Don’t forget to check out SFB’s next program: COPPELIA, MARCH 8-13- CLICK HERE for tickets, preview and SFB’s website.


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