By Rain Francis.
How to Be a Ballet Dancer is a brand new book, sponsored by Capezio and covering “absolutely everything you wanted to know but didn’t know who to ask.” Aimed at younger dancers, new professionals and parents, it includes interviews with some of the world’s top dancers and choreographers as well as expert advice from nutritionists, physiotherapists and other affiliated professionals.
Easy to follow and full of practical advice, this is a great learning tool and companion for a dancer of any age. Topics covered include self-esteem, stage fright and diet, as well as audition tips and even how to prepare yourself for a life after dancing. Each chapter also includes a ‘mind workout’ – exercises aimed at increasing mental strength and clarity.
Author Alexandra Cownie had a successful, international career as a ballet dancer before sustaining an injury that would cut her career short. Born and raised in France, she now lives on the Gold Coast of Australia with her husband and daughter. Alexandra dedicates her life to educating ballet students about the professional world of dance. She is a renowned master class and classical repertoire teacher. Alexandra also loves challenging dance students using her experience as a professional contemporary dancer by exposing them to experimental contemporary dance classes and guided improvisations.
So how did someone who – only seven years ago – didn’t speak a word of English, come to write such a comprehensive and enlightening book?
You have had a very impressive career as a dancer. Do you also have a background in writing?
I’ve always loved writing, but have no formal training in it. This book isn’t about the writing, it’s about the message I wish to share with young dancers. This book is about the real life of dancers, with practical tools to use and succeed in a dance career. It’s about fulfilment and happiness too!
Have you always wanted to write a book? What gave you the idea for this?
The idea came to me after I started to recover from my dance injury about one year ago. It was obvious to me that many dancers were suffering unnecessarily because they didn’t know how or where to look for the support and information they needed. It was more a “mission” than a dream. After interviewing many dancers and teachers over the past year, it became obvious that I just had to do it.
It’s a very comprehensive book covering many aspects. How long did it take you to write?
It took me about 2 weeks to write the actual content of the book. But it took about 10 months to do the research, know exactly what I was willing to say in terms of messages and action steps, plan out the chapters and find the right contributors for the interviews and conversations within the book.
What do you hope readers will gain from How to Be a Ballet Dancer?
I hope that they will take action on the teachings, be inspired by the different stories and become professionals with healthy minds, bodies and spirits. I want dancers to live happy and healthy lives before, during and after their careers. Suffering is too commonly taken for granted in the world of dance – physically but also mentally and emotionally. I am hoping that with my teachings, the world of dance will become an even better one.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered during writing and research?
Having the courage to approach the huge names in the world of dance. Many of the principal dancers and choreographers I interviewed were my idols while I was a dancer myself and I felt intimidated to make contact with them. As often in life, my biggest challenge became my strength. Seeing the support and encouragement of amazing dancers grow day after day really built up my confidence and belief that this project was worthy and highly needed amongst dancers.
Did you ever wonder about or plan for what you would do after your dance career?
I was always interested in other topics, like art history, architecture and natural therapies. But never had I thought that an injury could have stopped me the way it did. That was one of the most difficult times of my life. Today, I am very glad it happened that way.
So when your career ended prematurely, would say you were not prepared for the change?
I was certainly not prepared for it and denied the seriousness of my condition for many years too. Because no proper diagnosis was made on my injury, for years I was left to figure out on my own without support and resources how I should to take care of the injury and what to do with my life.
Dancing was all I was. And I chose my word carefully. I made the mistake to associate my identity with what I was doing (dance!), therefore when I couldn’t dance professionally anymore, I lost track of who I really was. It took me years to figure it out. But I grew stronger, wiser, much happier and definitely more determined to do whatever it takes to avoid this happening to others.
What’s the best advice you can give to young, aspiring dancers?
Remember to always be yourself, no matter what. It will be rewarding, will inspire others and take you on the journey that was made for you and only you. If you can do that, you’ll win at the game of life.
What’s the best advice you can give to dancers who are transitioning after a career in dance?
Life as a dancer and life in the outside world are both the same thing. What made you a strong dancer will make you strong in the outside world. All you have to do is figure out how to best apply your strengths to this world. Be optimistic, be curious and never be afraid to ask for support, because people care much more than you’ll ever know.
To find out more about Alexandra Cownie and her new book, go to http://howtobeaballetdancer.com/