Breaking Pointe's Katie Martin on Taking the Plunge Into Ballerina World

You may know her as the spunky ballerina from Breaking Pointe whose season contract was not renewed. But Katie Martin's energy, resilience and firery passion is exactly what pushes her forward in the ballet world. Katie spoke with dance writer, Rachel Hellwig, for Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins to talk life, dance, barre and more!

Photo by: Mike Reid

How did you first become interested in ballet?

I started ballet when I was a little girl, but I didn't focus on it until I was about 16. Once I built up muscles and confidence, I couldn't get enough of it! My family was very much into trying everything, so I played a lot of sports and joined a lot of clubs. My parents really encouraged my sisters and I to get out there and experience life, even from a young age. So, I'd say I started to focus on ballet very late in the game. I had to play a lot of catch up, my peers had been to summer programs and participated in competitions. I didn't know either existed until I was a teenager.

At what age did you realize you wanted to become a professional dancer?

I realized I wanted to be a professional dancer when I was 18. I was applying for colleges and just was not interested in the applications or college experience. I wanted to dance. My parents sat me down and we had a serious conversation, ending with me taking the plunge and attempting to become a professional dancer.

How challenging was it [as a ballerina] to “play catch up?"

Playing catch up was very challenging. It's hard to put your pride aside and go into a lower level class because your technique isn't where it should be. I did a lot of work on my own. I stretched every day and cross trained with swimming, Pilates, yoga, and cardio/weight training. One of the best tools I found was just observing my peers and people I looked up to. I would look for the girl who has my body type, watch what she did, and see how it worked for her. I am very long and limber, so I like to learn from people who can control their legs and flexibility. And hard work pays off, I am confident in my technique and feel I can hold my own on the stage.

Did you have doubts about whether you would “make it” or not?

Of course I had doubts, I still do. Ballet is a fast paced career. There is always a younger, better dancer out there. It's my job to convince my directors I'm worth it, and worth keeping around. Confidence is key, I also love the saying "power of positive thinking".

In ballet 2+2 does not equal 4. Ballet is formed off opinions and feelings and art. One person may like what you put out there, and 10 may not. It's important to find a director who appreciates what you have to offer, and sometimes that's an uphill battle.

Where did you train?

I trained at a local studio growing up. It's called Dancenter North and is located north of Chicago. After high school I went to the Boston Ballet School for one year. Then I found out I had an extra bone in my ankle, so I had surgery that spring and went to Point Park University to heal my foot. From there, I trained in Salt Lake City with Ballet West for one year. I've been a professional ever since.

How did you come to dance at Ballet West?

I was at Point Park University and my teacher, Cynthia Ridler, told me to audition at Ballet West. She said the company had a lot of tall girls with long legs and I'd fit in. So, I auditioned and went to their summer program.

Photo by: Mike Reid

What was your favorite role that you danced for Ballet West?

My favorite role was dancing the lead in The Little Mermaid. As the Little Mermaid, I had to express a lot of emotions, and I was on stage for pretty much the whole ballet. It was a very important role to me. We actually performed the ballet during Season 1 of Breaking Pointe, but the producers didn't decide to film it.

It was, no doubt, very hard to be released from Ballet West. Can you tell us a little about that?

To be honest, I was relieved when my contract wasn't renewed at Ballet West. I had a gut feeling the season prior that I wasn't going to be with Ballet West anymore. I was very much miserable with the unknown. When I was released I felt like I could finally breathe.

What advice would you give to dancers who have recently been released from their companies?

I would say to keep your head up!

You are now a member of Ballet Idaho. What roles have you danced for this company?

I am dancing significantly more with Ballet Idaho than with Ballet West and I love it. I am getting the opportunities to understudy and perform lead/soloist roles. It's very exciting to have constant training and hard work pay off. My favorite role I've performed so far would be the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland. The character was very sweet yet very much in charge. The role was fun to play around with. And I was able to wear this beautiful cake top white dress. I felt so pretty.

What roles do you dream of dancing in the future?

I love Balanchine, so performing anything by him would be fabulous! I also really like Romeo and Juliet, and, of course, Swan Lake. To be the black swan/white swan [Odette/Odile] would be such an intense role, definitely a milestone in my career.

What are some of your non-dance hobbies?

I love painting my nails! Yoga, reading, stretching, and cooking also make me happy. I like to do things that relax me when I'm not working. Ballet can be stressful and time-consuming, I like to honor my away time by breathing and recovering.

What’s on your iPod?

I actually don't have an iPod. I have an iPhone but I don't hold music on it. I'm a Pandora girl and I have a stack of 90s music CDs in my car!

If you could design a ball gown based on a classical ballet costume, which costume would you use for inspiration?

Oh my, the first thought that came to mind was a feathered gown based off of Swan Lake. Then I'd add a dramatic train, it would have both the intensity and daintiness that Odette/Odile brings to the stage. Ballet Idaho has a themed Masked Ball every year, I would love to get my hands on a gown like that.

What is your favorite part of ballet class?

I love barre! I hated it growing up, but I just love it now. I can do tendus for hours. I love warming up my body and feeling all the muscles firing and working as one. I completely geek out with barre.

What inspires you to keep dancing despite the fact that it’s a difficult career?

Why do I keep dancing? Sometimes I wake up and ask myself the same thing.

Ballet is intense, cruel, and wonderful at the same time. That's why I love it. You have to be driven and willing to work above and beyond everyone else. A dancer sacrifices her whole world to conquer her dreams. Dancers are a rare breed, I'm happy to be part of the pack.

Rachel Hellwig is a freelance dance writer. She is studying English and writes for her blog Clara's Coffee Break.

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