Today I present an interview with a lady that was a continuous source of inspiration for me as a young developing dancer. She was my first "hero" as a child studying at the Tasmanian Academy of Dance. Rebecca Martin is a talented and intelligent woman who was my role model and an embodiment of all the things I wanted to aspire to. She is currently the Marketing Manager of Sansha Australia, writes for Dance Informa, has danced with Ajkun Ballet Theatre in New York and is also a graduate of the Australian Ballet School.
A very big thank you to her for participating ~ much love, J xxx
Rebecca Martin ARAD
|Ajkun Ballet Theatre's Le Corsaire|
Tell us briefly about your background in dance.
I took my very first dancing class in Newcastle, NSW when I was six after seeing a friend of my sister in her ballet concert. I remember saying to my mother "that's what I want to do" and from then on all I wanted to do was become a ballerina. After moving to Launceston, Tasmania, I trained with Allison Gibson at The Tasmanian Academy of Dance. I moved to Melbourne for one year of full time training at Dance World 301 before being accepted into The Australian Ballet School's three year full time vocation course. I graduated from there in 2000.
As a young ballet student, you were one of my first role models and one of my favourite memories of you is when you visited us after spending some time at the Australian Ballet School. I will never forget that image of you stretching at the barre and that was all it took to keep me motivated for the next few years. Who were your role models as a young ballet student and how important were they in your process of becoming a ballet dancer?
It's always amazing to hear things like that, and I'm so pleased that I was able to motivate you to achieve your dance goals. My first role model was also a fellow student and her name was Bryony Coleman. She was a few years older than me but I adored her, and would write letters and give her gifts. I also looked up to Lisa Pavane, who was a Principal Dancer with The Australian Ballet before joining The English National Ballet. To me, her technique was perfection and her artistry mind-blowing. I think that her influence was fundamental in overcoming dark days and times of doubt when inspiration was lacking. I remember the light-bulb moment when I watched Lisa perform Swanhilda in Coppelia on tv. There is a very clear line that distinguishes my life before this moment and my life after this moment. She literally changed everything for me.
Apart from the obvious technical and performance skills/knowledge that students acquire at ballet school, what other “life lessons” do students learn during their time studying full time and are these “hidden lessons” equally if not critically important in the development of a well rounded dancer?
If you are attending a full time ballet school during your formative years as an an adult (15-19) as I did, then you learn a lot about yourself as a person, and about the world and others in general. You get shaken out of your comfort zone where you were previously a big fish in a small pond at your old ballet school, and become a small fish in a big pond (in the case of The Australian Ballet School). Your eyes open to so many different experiences that come with the process of growing up, but in this kind of scenario, everything is done on a more micro level, with greater self analysis and self criticism. It is very easy to become overtly critical and get bogged down in negativity, but part of the learning experience is finding ways to overcome this and become stronger and more resilient to challenges. Places like the ABS are essential for weeding out dancers that don't have the ability both mentally and physically to have a career in dance, so while technique and talent are entirely critical, it is definitely important to learn these things about yourself, which you discover while training full time. As for becoming well rounded dancers, I think that comes with learning that there is more to life than dancing, and having other interests and experiences is what makes you well adjusted.
Do you think resilience honed through ballet training is just as useful to ballet as it is in the outside world?
Absolutely. Well trained dancers are adaptable, capable, disciplined and motivated, which are desirable traits in all aspects of life. They also have much higher pain thresholds so they roll with the punches with greater ease than most people. Dancers can apply these skills to new fields of work, daily chores, relationships, and general goals.
Do you think people under-estimate the intelligence and emotional strengths of ballet dancers? Why so?
Of course. Dancers are often tainted with the same "dumb" brush as models by the general public. They also receive the eye-brow-raising "and what do you do for a living" question, as though dancing is not a valid or viable career. The majority of dancers are intelligent and emotionally tough. They have to be. How else would they put up with long days, late nights, physically demanding work, constant self-criticism and perfection-striving, blisters, bone fractures, torn muscles, pulled ligaments, bunions, fatigue, casting disappointments, ice packs, heat packs, dietary restrictions, and looking at themselves in the mirror in the bare minimum of clothing for 8 hours a day? A dancer also requires intelligence to learn and remember choreography, improve their technique, and bring some interpretation to each role.
It is assumed that dancers are dumb because they are doing what is perceived to be a solely physical job. They aren't behind a desk curing diseases or writing dissertations.
What was it like finally graduating from the Australian Ballet School?
A combination of amazing, fulfilling and sad. It was also a relief to finally be done with the training side of things.
Was it difficult to find work in other ballet companies?
To some degree, yes. Students of The Australian Ballet School are so highly trained and sought after all over the world that we were at an advantage. The problem arises when there are no jobs available. Certainly in Australia, there are only a couple of ballet companies and a handful of contemporary companies, so I chose to go overseas where there were more opportunities. The difficulty I found was finding a place that fit - some companies were too modern for my classical training and some were too strictly classical with 90 dancers which meant little chance of climbing the ranks.
What made you decide to go to university?
I was always a bookish child and often thought about pursuing an academic career when times got tough at the ABS. I remember one day in my second year there when I decided that I wanted to study psychology. It made sense to me to continue my dance studies first and see where that took me. You only get one chance to dance, but study and office jobs can be done at any time. After living overseas for a while, I just decided that the time was right to commence a degree at university, because I found that my passion for psychology and study was increasing. I'm now doing a double degree in Psychology and Criminology.
How did you come to your position at Dance Informa and Sansha?
I began working at Sansha in the store, and have worked my way up by learning everything I possibly could about the business side of things; staying after hours, going in early and doing things on my own time to increase my skills. I'm now the Marketing Manager and I run an online and print newsletter called To the Pointe. I used to write for Dance Train magazine, and I met Deborah Searle (Dance Informa owner/editor) at a Dance Expo in 2009. I showed her some of my previous work and I now write reviews and articles for Dance Informa. It's a fantastic job that allows me to see many amazing shows and interview very interesting people. Currently Dance Informa has 20,000 subscribers both in Australia and the US. Working for both Sansha and Dance Informa lets me indulge my passion for dance and use the knowledge I have about dance, while not having to put in the physical effort of actually dancing!
Do you think that career advice for students is lacking in professional dance institutions and that not enough is done to prepare students for the harsh realities of the dance profession?
To some extent. When I was at the ABS, precious little was done to help us make the transition from student to professional dancer. Many less prestigious full time dance schools in Australia have a tendency to sugar coat the reality of making dance a career. I see many students without the necessary physical attributes being accepted into these schools and then they become crushed when they leave the school and discover that it's a cut throat world and they cannot find a job.
Having said that, in an institution such as the ABS, the physical workload is very similar to that of a company, while touring and performing is done so students get a taste of life in a company.
What would be your advice to a young ballet student looking to pursue a career in dance?
Look after your mind and body. You'll need them both. Also, get the best training possible. Poorly trained dancers can't rely solely on artistry, and will always stand out for the wrong reasons in a corps de ballet. Make sure you have interests outside of dance. Someone with life experience will be a better performer and be stronger psychologically. Take every opportunity that comes your way. Too many dancers have one lofty goal that they are aiming for but don't realise that it may not be a possibility, or that they need to do other things on the way to achieving that goal.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
On a beach sipping pina coladas.