The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Feb 28, 2013

What does it take to be a ballerina?

Posted by kbalcerek

Jamie Dee in last Fall's performance of "Limitless." Photograph by Christopher Record.

What is it like to be a ballet dancer? Pushing your body to extremes? Beginning a professional career while in your teens? These questions popped up time and again over the last few months as I watched the amazing performances of the North Carolina Dance Theatre: “Innovative Works,” “Nutcracker” and “Limitless.” So I went to the source, a ballerina with NCDT- Jamie Dee.

My first question for Dee: “What does it take to be a ballerina?”

She summed it up for me in just a few short words: "personal drive, heart, support," and a generous sprinkling of "masochism."

Jamie Dee began professionally dancing at the age of 17, and she has danced with the NC Dance Theatre (a Knight Arts grantee) for four years. She came to NCDT looking for a change; she wanted something “more interesting artistically” so she “could grow with the material and learn new things.” One major attraction: the innovative and contemporary choreography of Dwight Rhoden. “There is an urgency and freshness here with new work created every year,” Jamie noted.

Dee and the other dancers at NCDT dance seven-and-one-half hours a day, five days a week on average not including performance time on weekdays and weekends. But for Dee that is the best part. “I love rehearsal,” she declared. “I am a fan of the process or the journey you go through to take ownership of the movement.” Though she would not give up performances either. “There is something special about stepping out on the stage to share your gift with the community,” she said.

“Do you get stage fright?” I asked.

“I still get butterflies in my stomach and that rush of adrenaline before going on.” To calm down, Dee reminds herself to “just breath. It is just one more run.”

“What about throwing yourself into lifts with a partner? Isn’t that scary?” Dee assured me it is all about practice with spotters and one even more important element: trust. But not just an individual, silent trust. “You have to share your trust in your partner with him. It is about instilling confidence. And when you achieve a feeling of connection with your partner the movement is natural and easy. Finding that intuition with a partner is really special.”

My final question for Dee: “When did you know that dancing was your life’s work?”

“When I was 13 in a musicality class with this really interesting teacher who had new ideas and movements. He asked us to dance with an orange, and when it came to my turn I really got into the moment just dancing with this orange. I forgot that everyone else existed.” She joked that maybe the story was a bit too corny. But “dancing with this orange was natural and fun. It was just me and the orange. My ultimate goal is to achieve this feeling when I dance and to share something in my heart. The steps and motions are just a vehicle.”

Dee’s parting words to me: “I just love dancing!”

Get to know Jamie Dee: Hometown: Orange County, CA Dancing since: Age 9 Dance inspiration: Erie Killian Favorite style of ballet: Contemporary Career highlights: Juliet in David Nixon’s "Romeo and Juliet," Odette in Nixon’s "Swan Lake," Daisy in Jimmy Orrante’s "The Great Gatsby" Cross training routine: Yoga and Pilates Future aspirations: Becoming a mother

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