The Young Ballerina Life: Robbie Downey's Ballet Babble

Robbie Downey is a 14-year-old ballerina in training. Dedicated to the ballet life, Robbie chronicles her experiences through Ballet Freak, an online community of ballerinas dedicated to learning and discussing the art. Robbie recently competed at the Youth American Grand Prix. Read about her adventures!

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Photo: Robbie Downey; Photo by: dancereportage.com

How old were you when you started ballet, and why did you pick ballet?

I was about 4 when I started ballet. My mom put me in a ballet class just for the fun of it!

When did you realize ballet was something you wanted to dedicate your time and energy to?

I was about 10 years old when I started to become more serious about my ballet training.

What does a day in your life look like?

I do online school now so I can focus on ballet more and try to graduate school earlier.  Usually on Mondays and Thursdays I have private lessons: One hour on Mondays and half an hour on Thursdays.  On Mondays, I will have my private earlier in the day and just hang around the studio until class time.  I have class 6 days a week and they are normally 2 to 2.5 hours long.  Right now we are currently rehearsing for our June show and we are doing Coppélia so we have rehearsals on Saturdays and Sundays now.

On the difficult days, what do you tell yourself to get through, keeping going?

On difficult days, I tell myself that I can get through this and tomorrow will be a better day.

If my pirouettes are off one day, yes I will get frustrated, but I just have to keep moving on with the class and try again the next day.

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Photo: Robbie with Maxim Tchernychev at San Diego School of Ballet, Photo by: dancereportage.com

What is the best ballet advice you've ever received from a teacher?

The best advice I have ever gotten was from Mr. Edward Ellison and I have it written down in a notebook.  He said to not get all up in your head and get self conscious. Don't question yourself and don't build yourself up too big in your head. You have to stay focused and present and dance all out!

What do you think of when you're in ballet class?

When I am in my ballet class I am trying to focus on my corrections and make sure I am in the correct position and trying my hardest.  I also have to remember why I'm dancing.

Why do you dance?

It is my passion and I love it. It's just a part of me and I can't imagine doing anything else. Especially when I'm performing, I feel I can really express myself.

How would you describe the ballet life to those who don't know anything about it?

It's hard!  If you don't enjoy ballet then it's even harder.  It is something that you really have to want.  You will definitely go through pain and tears, but if you really love it, you can make it more enjoyable.  To me ballet is something that I love so much and it is apart of me and I definitely think it is hard but I can deal with that because I love it.

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Photo: Robbie with Barbara Chatelain at San Diego School of Ballet, Photo by: dancereportage.com

What are your dreams for ballet? What would you like to accomplish?

My dreams for ballet are to dance in a major company.  I would really like to accomplish dancing Juliet in the ballet Romeo and Juliet.

What has been the most difficult part of your ballet life?

Overall ballet is difficult, but I think the most difficult part of my ballet life so far was becoming more comfortable on pointe.  Pointe may be scary at first and now I definitely feel more comfortable in my pointe shoes.  Something that is still somewhat difficult it my flexibility.  I am not crazy flexible so I am still working on becoming even more flexible.

What has been the most fun part of your ballet life?

I think the most fun part of my ballet life so far has been all of the performances.  We do not perform too much so it is really exciting and fun when we do.

How many hours do you train a week? Do you ever feel like you're missing out on "the regular kid life?"

I train about 14-15 hours a week, and that is not including rehearsals. During the summer it is up to 6 hours at day, 5 days a week. I don't really think I am missing out on the "regular kid life." Sometimes I may think I am because I do not go to regular school, but most of the time I don't think so.  I also do not like school too much so I am happy to be home schooled!  When I go away during the summer, that is like my "high school" experience, kind of!

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Photo: Robbie with Duncan Cooper Modas Dance, Photo by: dancereportage.com

How do you balance school and dance?

I am very lucky to home school.  I actually do like online school and the program I am in. I am focusing on one subject at a time so I can try to graduate sooner.

Growing up in a competitive dance field, what keeps you focused on your personal goals?

Something that keeps me focused on my personal goals is to not focus too much on how other people dance, you have to focus on yourself more.  Especially during a competition, for me, it’s not about the placing, it mostly about the experience.  It is for myself to become a better dancer.

Are you attending a summer intensive?

I'm returning to Ellison Ballet Summer Intensive in New York City. I also attended last year. Mr. Ellison has a really strong program that compliments my training I get at my home studio. It is Vaganova based and Miss Forrest and Mr. Ellison are amazing teachers and I respect them very much. Some incredible dancers have trained there. Then, like last year, I will complete the final week of Mr. Max's intensive at my home studio for a total of 7 weeks of training. Going away has made me realize how lucky I am to have such a qualified teacher at home. A lot of kids don't have access to proper training year round and I feel very lucky to have Mr. Max (Maxim Tchernychev).

What intensives have you done in the past?

My first summer intensive, I was 12 years old. I actually wasn't planning on going away because we didn't think I would get in anywhere worth going away to since it was my first year auditioning. I was accepted to American Ballet Theatre NY and luckily my friend was too. I was able to go because her mom was able to chaperone us for the full 5 weeks. There are no dorms or chaperones provided so it can be tricky. I was very lucky to be able to attend.

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Photo from Ellison Ballet Summer Intensive.

Why are summer intensives important for ballet students?

Summer Intensives are good because you get to hear things explained a different way and sometimes that just makes things click. You get a new set of eyes on you and I just think that is good for well rounded training. Also, it is good to be exposed to other kids your age to get an idea of where you are at. It pushes you to work harder and it is also inspiring plus you make a lot of new friends. Some of my best friends are from Ellison. Attending an SI also prepares you for being away from home and being on your own and for me I get exposed to other classes like contemporary, character, Pas de Deux, conditioning, music and variations that I don't have year round.

We're dying to know! How was YAGP?

It was a great experience overall! For me, it wasn't all about placing it was about getting the chance to perform on stage. I really enjoyed it actually! I was a little nervous for my first time but I was happy when it was over. I felt like it was pretty good for my first time! I am kind of mad because I bobbled my last turn in my variation...oh well! I enjoyed the master classes, especially our variation class from Misty Copeland! It is good to get used to taking classes from different teachers. It was my first time competing in YAGP and just a great experience to get used to.

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Fun Facts About You:

Your favorite dance snack: Z-bars

Your favorite barre exercise: I'm not a huge fan of barre. I like center better, but if I had to choose one it would have to be plies.

Your favorite ballet: I love them all, but I would have to say Coppélia.

Your role model(s): Polina Semionova, Maria Kochetkova, Natalia Osipova, Misty Copeland, Isabella Boyelston, Diana Vishneva, and so many more!

If you didn't do ballet, what would you do: I think I would like to get into acting more if I didn't do ballet.

Greatest accomplishment you're most proud of so far: Competing in YAGP for the first time.  Also getting my triple pirouettes more consistent.

Dream accomplishment: To dance in a professional company some day.

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Follow Robbie's Dance Journey:

Twitter Account: @Balletbabble
Facebook: facebook.com/balletbabble
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/mydancetv
Instagram: balletbabble
Blogger: www.balletbabble.com
Website: www.balletfreak.com

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