The Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal discusses the strength and athleticism required to be a world-class dancer
How fit do you need to be to be a Principal dancer?
It's very athletic. You're lifting girls in a show that might last up to three hours. Obviously there's a lot of technique to it but there is a strong athleticism in dance – the height you have to get in your jumps, your tricks, virtuosity, and strength. So the guys have to spend a lot of time, particularly strengthening their upper body, in addition to all the core training that the girls also do. So you have to be really dedicated to get the most out of yourself.
Partnering in a lead role requires various skills. If you look at the great partners in the company, like Iain Mackay, you might think that he's such a good partner because he's so strong but as well as the strength you also need to have good timing and technique, which is where the hours of rehearsing comes in. So you use your legs as much as your arms to lift a girl.
However, it doesn't always go right and, when that happens in a performance, you cant just say 'hold on let me try that again'. You have to save it, and that's when you're relying on pure strength.
How often do you train during a normal week?
We're scheduled to come in for class at half ten. Rehearsals are from 12 'til half 6 and a lot of us come in soon after 9am to do Pilates. I like to get to the gym before work, then come in and do some Pilates before class. When you're in a heavy rehearsal period or you're working long hours, it can be hard to get up and force yourself to go to the gym. But it's important to put in the extra time, because what you do in the studio isn't always enough to build the strength.
What affect can injuries have on your progress?
I'm recovering from a back injury. It shouldn't affect my career, as long as I manage it well. I recently had five cortisone injections into various points in my spine and I had to take time off to let it settle down. I could have come back sooner, but the idea was to have more time to rehab, and gain enough strength so that, hopefully, I'm ok for the rest of my career, rather than rushing my recovery and being back at square one again in six months' time.
"It's important to put in the extra time, because what you do in the studio isn't always enough to build the strength."Jamie Bond
Jenny Mills, our pilates instructor, gave me a very intense programme, doing about three hours Pilates every day. Nick Allen, the head physio, also gave me two very good back programmes. For about eight weeks I wasn't doing anything dance-specific, so I then had to get in shape in that sense as well because you use muscles in a way that you can't replicate unless you're actually dancing.
Do you take part in any other form of sport or physical activity, aside from ballet?
I used to enjoy swimming when I was young. I find it's the best form of cardio-vascular exercise for me so I still try to go when possible, although I haven't been able to recently because of my back. I love playing golf, but again because of my back injury I haven't been able to play recently. Last summer I spent £600 on a new set of golf clubs that just are sitting there getting dusty!
I'm still very passionate about what I do. If I was to win the lottery next week I would still carry on because I enjoy it and find it rewarding.
We've got Romeo and Juliet coming up in the summer and again in the autumn; Romeo is my favourite role. When you're dancing roles like that it's never just a job, it's a passion!