Since I was a little girl I always knew what I wanted to do in life.. there was no doubt in deciding what I should do for a living. Dance. That's all I wanted to do since i was a little girl. I would dance to anything and anywhere, no matter who's around. But back then I, a little girl from a small town in Russia, could only dream about being a professional ballet dancer in one of the top companies in America, the country where dreams come true. I could only dream about all the big buildings I used to see in movies and about all the opportunities that my country couldn't give me. After a lot of hard work and a lot of struggles, that every dancer goes through, here I am today. A Vaganova Ballet Academy graduate, one of the best and oldest ballet schools in the whole world, living a dream as a company member of The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago...
Baby Valeria as a studnet at the Vaganova Ballet Academy
The Daily Grind //
My day usually starts around 8:30 am and from the the first minute I wake up the first thought that pops up in my head is "I need coffee"! This is something that definitely helps me go through the tough day, full of rehearsals. I always get coffee on my way to work or I just make it myself at the Joffrey (thank God for the coffee machine that we have). I usually don't eat breakfast, I prefer feeling light and skinny in class so I would just snack in between rehearsals and after class before I actually eat my lunch. What do I like for snacks? Let me be honest with you, I am a foodie and not the healthiest one but it is important to take care of your body and be aware of what you eat. I like string cheese, Greek yogurt or some almonds - it gives you energy but doesn't fill you up as much so you can still feel light. Our company class starts at 9:45, I prefer to be in the studio at least 10-15 minutes before class to stretch and warm up my body.
Company class is 1,5 hours long and I always do every combination on center and every jump twice to work through details and important qualities. I also always put my pointe shoes on for center but prefer to jump on flats, because I feel like I can roll through my feet better. I try to always finish class, even if my body is exhausted. I personally think that when your body is tired and you're still pushing yourself you're becoming so much stronger. But don't confuse it with being hurt and still trying to push, I can't say how important it is to be smart and carefully listen to your body.
After class is finished at 11:15 we have a 20 minutes break before first rehearsal of the day starts. Right now we are getting ready for a tour to NYC, we are performing Romeo & Juliet at Lincoln Center along with a Gala performance which includes Myles Thatcher's "Body of Your Dreams" that I am going to be a part of.
So today, for the first 2 hours we have a full run of R&J, I am dancing one of the Montague's women. After the run is done we have a full hour of notes from our artistic staff, they will always find something we can improve. After the first 3 hours of the day is done we finally have an hour long lunch break. I am sure majority of the dancers will say that it's the most exciting part of their day :)
What do I eat for lunch? I always try to save money and cook my lunch at home which is sometimes annoying because I am not a fan of cooking, so I always make something easy like a sandwich with some ham, cheese, salad and ranch sauce or a buckwheat. Buckwheat is one of my favorites, it is traditional Russian meal and it's really tasty and healthy. We also have PT during lunch which I try to do every day to simply have my calves or shins massaged or work on something that's really bothering me. Again, it's super important to listen to your body and stay on top of possible injuries. After our lunch break is over we have another 3 hours of rehearsals. Today I have 1 hour rehearsal of "Body of Your Dreams" and 2 hours of creating process with Alexander Ekman who's creating his new ballet "Episode 47!" on us. My hair is down for this piece and It includes sharp moves of the whole body and I already know I'm going to be sore tomorrow.
It's 6:30pm, time to finish. After a long day of dancing non-stop my day is not yet finished, I am going to the PT room to work out and do my exercises. I prefer doing them after work when I don't have to rush and can take my time. It usually takes me an hour to finish my work out including running on the elliptical for 15 minutes. It keeps me in better shape and my exercises make me feel so much stronger in class the next day, I feel my muscles much more engaged which helps improve your technique. After I'm done with my work out it's time to go home to rest. When I get home the first thing I do is take a shower, and afterwards I normally cook something simple for dinner. My evening is usually very chill, I am trying to recharge for the next day of work and non-stop dancing. In order to do so I love watching movies or tv-shows before I go to bed, it relaxes me and definitely distracts my brain from going back to work and going over the choreography. I always try to go to bed at 11, the latest, but to be honest with you I never end up going to bed this early and end up falling asleep at midnight or so. The next morning I swear to myself that I'll never do that to my body again... but it always ends up being the same. Sometimes when I think about what I get to do for a living I feel very blessed. There is nothing in the whole world that could make me happier but dance. I am definitely a lucky girl; don't ever take anything for granted, you never know what's going to happen tomorrow.
Pointe Shoes Routine//
Pointe shoes are definitely one of the main things every ballerina has and cares about the most, and I am not an exception. I recently switched my shoe brand - after wearing Gaynor Mindens for nearly 8 years I finally decided to switch to Freed of London. The decision was totally mine, I thought that dancing in Gaynors was almost too easy and I had a tendency to sit in the shoe and not completely engage all my muscles. This transition was definitely a hard one, from how I used to sew shoes to how I could make it work the best for my feet. After struggling for quite a bit now I know how to make my feet pretty. This is what I do:
Since I'm still looking for my perfect shoe and perfect maker, I have to work with whatever I have and make it work the best it can. After I break the shoe and step on it to make it softer I always remove all the nails and cut at least 1/4 of the shank, that way the pressure from my heel when I'm on pointe is less and my shoe will last longer.
After that I put a bunch of tape and duck tape over it so it won't stab me in the heel when I'm on pointe. I'm always trying to make it feel as comfortable as possible.. pointe shoes don't always have to hurt :)
After that I sew ribbons and elastics normally, I personally don't have any tricks for that. When my shoes are fully sewn I jet glue them. I'm still figuring out how much glue my shoes actually need, because you don't want them to be super hard neither too soft. I always glue the tip inside, that way I don't feel the floor with my toes and it doesn't hurt. I also sometimes jet glue the middle of the shank on the back (depending on the shoe maker) and always the sides on the back of my shoes. For those who don't know jet glue makes pointe shoes a lot harder and that way they last longer.
After all of it is done the final thing is just to try it on and break them in, and then you're ready to go. It may seem like a long process but once you've done it a couple times it becomes part of your routine and it ends up being very easy. Finding the perfect shoe is a long and hard process so don't worry if you still haven't found yours, you surely will!
One of my favorite parts of my day is company class. That's when you work the hardest and the smartest, thinking about every detail and every little muscle trying to improve your technique daily. I personally cannot start class unless my body is warm, therefore I'm in the studio at least 10 minutes before class starts. My warm up routine is simple but necessary. I start with normal split sideways, after I feel that my muscles are getting softer I switch to a different split with the right and then left leg in front.
After that I must warm up my ankles and stretch my calves, I also roll each of my feet on the foot roller, that way the bottom of my feet feel warm and more awake. Then I stretch my hamstrings by reaching my upper body forward and clasping my hands behind me and letting my arms fall forward.
The last thing I do before I start is I stretch each leg standing up front, side, and back.
I can never start class without doing all of that beforehand , it is important to prepare you body and to get your blood flow circulating before you start class... even if you're really tired or feeling lazy - never ignore it.
I can't say how much my PT exercises and my work out routine help me feel stronger and more energetic. No matter how tired, or sometimes lazy I feel, I always push myself to do it. I usually like to work out after work so I don't feel rushed, or sometimes if I have a long break in between rehearsals during the day. We have a lot of equipment at the studios which makes it so easy and I don't even have to go to the gym, I can do everything I need right at work. I start with my arms: one of the exercises is with a green band, wrap it around your wrists and have your arms right infront of your shoulders on the wall, then start "waking" with your arms sideways 10 times each direction. I usually do 2 or 3 sets.
One of my least favorite exercises is planks, but I always try to do those with my work out buddy Cara, who's also a company dancer at the Joffrey. Somehow it's a lot easier when you're doing this with a friend, we usually have a timer infront of us and we hold our planks 10 times for 10 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between.
Oh, and don't forget about the side planks, 5 times each side for 10 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between.
One of my favorite exercises called a "dead bug", I do it first on a foam roller and then with a ball on top of my knees. Those are great for your abs. Band you knees and have your arms above your head laying on the floor with your back on a roller. Start with the opposite leg and arm touching your knee, then switch sides. Feels pretty satisfying after you do it 20 times each side.
One of the exercises I must do every day is clams with a band and walks sideways with a band wrapped around my ankles. Those are for my glutes. Since I naturally have a very arched back it is important to feel my glutes engaged every single time I do a step in class. After I finished with all of my exercises I go running on the elliptical for about 15-20 minutes. Feels great to sweat it out and don't forget to roll your quads on a foam roller after you're done. Timing wise the whole thing takes about 45 mins to an hour but I can't say how rewarding it feels afterwards. I almost feel like I'm less tired after I work out. You should definitely try it :)