Alys Shee: A Ballerina to Watch

Alys Shee was recently listed by Pointe Magazine as one of the Top 10 Corps dancers to watch. That is because the soon-to-be 19-year-old (on July 4) is capturing the attention of companies and ballet audiences with her stunning extensions, endless turns, and powerful jumps. Shee was born in Toronto, Canada, and she started dancing because her aunt would babysit her while her parents were at work. "Ballet was her idea. I was 3. I loved it," Shee said. At age 13, Shee was already performing flawless fouettes en pointe, which you've most likely seen on YouTube! By age 19, she has already danced with American Ballet Theatre II, Canadian Ballet Theatre (Soloist) and as a guest with South African Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of Canada, Rochester City Ballet and San Antonio Ballet.

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Photo of Alys Shee by: Aleksandre Antonijevic

Shee, who describes her dancing as a "work in progress" and said she wasn't nervous at all on her first day with Birmingham Royal Ballet talked with Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins about growing up in the competitive ballet world.

How has your idea of ballet changed throughout the years?

I don't think it changes as much as it matures.

What was it like going to ballet competitions?

Competitions were stressful but I always thought of them as a performance so I could enjoy them. I can be very critical and my expectations of myself are very high.

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Photo of Alys Shee by: Aleksandre Antonijevic

How did you calm your nerves?

I tend to square breathe and not think about what is to come. Preparation is a big part of keeping those nerves away. I like to make sure I am ready with each detail to avoid being nervous.

Square Breathing: Lying on your back, feet flat on the floor, arms resting over your stomach or simply in a quiet environment, inhale for 4 counts, hold breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold your lungs empty for 4 counts. Repeat.
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Source: Dharma in Every Wave - www.dharmaineverywave.com

How would you describe growing up in the ballet world?

I grew up around dancers and I trained in a unique way. I was always aware of what company life was like. As I was growing up, I saw first hand the difficulties other dancers went through from all levels. I saw when they were happy but also when they were not and why. I was able to form opinions early about what I wanted.

What valuable lessons do you feel you have learned?

Patience is probably the most valuable lesson. I have been fortunate to have amazing people in my life and the lessons from them are not only from their own experience but also other around them.

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Photo of Alys Shee & Jonathan Davidsson (Estonia National Ballet) by: Mirka Kleemola

Can you tell us what it was like the first time you realized you would be dancing a major part on stage with a ballet company?

My first major part was the peasant variation in Giselle in Toronto. I was 12. The memory that sticks out for me is dancing Kitri in South Africian Mzansi ballet production of don Quixote. I was 16 and love the people in the company there.

What does a day-in-your-life look like at Birmingham Royal Ballet?

I stretch in the morning. I have class and any scheduled rehearsals, and school work each day for my bachelor's degree. It's very repetitive. It starts with showing and breakfast. Then stretching and class. The middle of the day is rehearsals, lunch, sometimes some costume fittings. Then I have dinner and get some school work done.

What is the best and most difficult part about being a professional ballerina?

The most difficult part is being patient and finding studio space. The best part are the amazing people.

I think any person who perseveres against odds in any profession makes for an amazing person. -Alys Shee

What is the best advice you've been given?

Oh wow. Depends on the situation. I don't know if there is only one thing off hand. Ev always told me to focus on the work and stay true to the ballet. My mom always wants me to stay true to myself and never be afraid of being honest. Wes Chapman, my director at ABT II, used to tell me to shut up and just dance. All very important people to me even today.

Do you have a pre-performance routine?

Not really. There is usually only a couple of hours to warm up, eat and get ready. There's not much time for rituals!

What would you tell young ballerinas currently competing in ballet?

Don't stress the results. It's not about what others will decide, but what happens to you.

What is something you hope for?

Happiness.

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Photo of Alys Shee & Jonathan Davidsson (Estonia National Ballet) by: Mirka Kleemola

FUN QUESTIONS:

Favorite Disney movie: Aladdin, when I was a child.

Favorite ballet: Romeo and Juliet.

Favorite ballet barre exercise: Tendus.

Least favorite ballet exercise: I don't really have one!

Dream role: Juliet.

What are you scared of: I'm not really afraid of anything.

Your inspiration: Inspiration comes from many different sources. I look for it in pretty much everything.

Your life motto: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit.

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