BEING A BALLET DANCER is lots of hard work

Maryanne Maina

Maryanne Maina

Ballet is a performed dance that started in the 16th century in the French courts. It is primarily performed to the accompaniment of classical music taught in ballet schools globally.

"I started ballet dance when I was four years old and became a professional at 18, meaning it is my livelihood," said Burnise Silvius, a dancer at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre.

Ballet portrays music through its dance movements. A ballet studio has large mirrors and wooden bars placed next to the mirrors.

The first step into the ballet world is by becoming an aspirant, then a corps de ballet, a soloist, senior soloist and then the principal, but all these depend on the company.

"The bar represents your dance partner. It supports you while the mirror enables you to criticise your dance steps," explained Silvius.

"Most people think ballet dances are vain because we are always looking at the mirror, but it's there to help us become better ballet dancers."

Silvius joined the State Theatre Ballet (then PACT Ballet) in 1994, and won the Madge Cade Award for the Most Promising Aspirant Dancer and graduated to the corps de ballet.

She was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1999. As a professional dancer, she competed in the 1997 Sanlam International Competition in Pretoria and was placed second in the professional category, and won the Best Solo Performance Award.

After the closure of The State Theatre Ballet in 2000 Silvius was invited to dance with the Hong Kong Ballet and joined the company as a senior soloist, participating in a European tour.

"Ballet demands a lot of discipline and posture if you want to excel.

"It's a graceful movement.

"We dance on pointe, which means dancing on our toes. We wear pumps and pointy shoes."

Ballet, said Silvius, requires one to be musical, a team player, to have body coordination, mental stability, calmness to manage the pressure, and passion for ballet.

"You have to be mentally alert because it's nerve-wracking, especially when the lights come on and you face a large audience."

Her working hours vary from day to day and end usually at 6.30pm.

Silvius is now performing as Cinderella, and to prepare for it she starts her rehearsals at 10am with an exercise workout for one-and-a-half hours before.

"You have to drink enough water, eat enough carbohydrates and have an adequate amount of sleep," she explained.

"On the day of the performance I come to work 3-4 hours earlier. Then I exercise, do my make-up, prepare mentally, then I am ready for the performance."

Being a very physical job, it requires one to constantly look after his or her body.

"It's challenging because you are prone to several injuries. I have torn several ligaments while dancing," said Silvius.

"It is hard work and people are always criticising us, so you have to be brave. Also, we are yet to get more people to appreciate it and come to watch it.

"It is very magical and helps to uplift people, especially during the current economic hardships we are going through. Children love it because of its enchanted feeling."

The Royal Academy of Dance is the association preferred for training ballet aspirants.