A chronic stress fracture in his shin forced Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) dancer Jamie Delmonte to rethink his day-to-day, and with the start of 2022 came a major pivot for one of the company’s most recognisable young dancers. Delmonte has taken on a new role as Dance Educator for the organisation, travelling to the many communities of Aotearoa New Zealand as an ambassador for the RNZB and for the art of ballet, to pass on his love and knowledge of ballet with young people and ballet lovers across the country.
Born in Brisbane to New Zealand parents, Delmonte started ballet at the age of three. When he was 14, he moved to Melbourne to train full time at The Australian Ballet School, graduating as School Captain in 2018.
While a student, he performed with The Australian Ballet in the corps de ballet for Coppélia and The Merry Widow. During 2019, he was a Jette Parker Young Artist with Queensland Ballet, performing in iconic works including Jiří Kylián’s Soldier’s Mass and George Balanchine’s Serenade, as well as the company’s new choreography season for young and emerging artists, Synergy.
His first production with the RNZB was in 2019, as a guest dancer for Hansel & Gretel by Loughlan Prior. He subsequently joined the company as one of two inaugural Friedlander Foundation Scholars in 2020 and in 2021 was promoted to Artist. Here, get to know Delmonte a bit more!
Can you tell us about your new role?
“My main job as one of two Dance Educators with the RNZB is teaching dance workshops to either schools or any organisation that would like an introduction to ballet, in any spot across Aotearoa. At the moment, New Zealand’s in a ‘Red Light’ COVID setting meaning we’re unable to teach in schools physically. So, to make use of this time, we’ve been working on some video resources for primary and secondary schools involving repertoire from works the ballet company has performed in the past.”
How has the transition from dance been for you?
“I wouldn’t say I’ve fully ‘transitioned’ away from dance, more just put my career as a dancer on the back burner. The job change came about because of a stress fracture I sustained to my left shin in early 2020, which forced me to take a few months away from the stage. Cut to the middle of last year and the fracture was still plaguing my dancing, which had me step back to consider what my shin really needed to properly heal. At first, it was hard to accept the reality that it was in my body’s best interest to give full-time ballet a break, but this job has proven to be the next best thing, meaning I can still play a part in this organisation while remaining connected to all my dancing colleagues whom I love so dearly.”
In what ways has your deep knowledge of what’s on stage helped you thus far in your new role? In what other ways do you think your work as a dancer will impact your work as a dance educator into the future?
“Yes indeed, my knowledge of the industry has and definitely will help me in teaching. I’ve grown up with the art form, slapping on my first pair of ballet shoes at three, so I feel well equipped to answer any question that comes my way, no matter how far out. I’ve heard them all! And not so much a way in which dancing will impact my teaching, but something I’ve recognised is just how similar being a performer and a teacher can be. All eyes are on you, and one key similarity I’ve found between performing for an audience and teaching a group is just how much confidence one needs. Both fields require you to command the space and attention of those watching or learning from you. Just like preparing for a show, I’ve learnt that teaching involves quite a bit of preparation and practice to make sure you feel as comfortable as possible when giving the class. And above all else, energy and the right amount of it is vital to delivering both jobs well. In other words, both roles require an awful lot of snacking!”
You have a particular interest in boys learning ballet — shaking off stereotypes. Tell us about how you will approach this as an educator.
“All I can hope for is that any boy, no matter what their age, gives me the chance to show them just how much ballet can give them – strength, discipline, rhythm… and also just how much fun it is! Yes, it definitely helps for them to see a man demonstrating what has long been dubbed a feminine art form, but just like anything in life, I can’t change their mindset unless they give it a fair go. That being said, having the chance to change an individual’s perception of ballet is priceless, and I’ve already witnessed several young boys come into a lesson with a bad attitude or preconceived ideas of what ballet is and then leave with big smiles on their faces having loved the class. It is thrilling to see just how much of an impact ballet can have on people.”
Do you still continue with dance or related training, personally?
“Yes, I’m still able to take ballet class with the company every morning, which gives me an ample dose of physical exercise and artistic fulfillment. If I’m honest, I’m not very good at sitting at a desk for very long, so being able to move my body to get the day started is a huge benefit to the job.”
What is something you have learned in the job so far?
“The biggest and best thing I’ve learnt so far as an educator is just how rewarding teaching can be. The smiles and laughter I get back when giving something as simple as a warm-up make me so happy. Being able to teach a good class means being able to think on the spot, adjusting in the moment to what you can see a group is or isn’t enjoying, skills that will stand me in good stead wherever I go in life.”
What are three pieces of advice you’d give young dancers?
“Never lose the joy of dancing. There will be days when this art form will test you, but if you can come back the next day and find the love for it, you’re doing the right thing.
Keep perspective. There will always be someone with a greater jump or higher développé (two things I’ve struggled with personally), but it’s what you do with what you’ve got that will set you apart. A stunning port de bras is invaluable!
Have fun with it! If you’re lacking inspiration, go home, turn on your favourite boppy tune and let yourself go. Ballet in all its beauty has the tendency to feel quite upright and stuck. Find out why dancing in your living room is so enjoyable and inject it into your ballet.”