How I Got My Job: Zoe Ashe-Browne, Ballerina
Zoe started ballet when she was six and now she's a full time ballerina. She chats to STELLAR about what it's really like to live in her pumps and a follow a career in dance.
Name: Zoe Ashe-Browne Age:26 Occupation: Ballerina with Ballett Vorpommern Insta: @zoeashebrowne
Name: Zoe Ashe-Browne
Occupation: Ballerina with Ballett Vorpommern
Tell us about becoming a ballerina?
I started taking classes when I was six. It was purely because my older sister, who’s now a ballet teacher, was taking ballet lessons and I was jealous. It started with a 30 minute class a week and just naturally progressed from there. I definitely didn’t want to become a dancer at the beginning though. I’d get frustrated and bored because it requires quite a lot of concentration. If we weren’t given fairy wings or wands, I lost interest! But when I was about 12 or 13 it just sort of clicked. I suddenly became obsessed with trying to understand technique and improve all the time.
Was it a difficult process?
I trained in Dublin until I was 16 and that was a joy, I honestly couldn’t say any of it was difficult. But I was a big fish at home, so arriving in London to a school on international level was a huge kick in the teeth. Seeing the girls from Russia, in particular, was eye opening. I remember wanting to leave straight away. My very supportive parents reminded me how rare of a chance it was, so I embraced it, and did everything that was asked of me. I was so determined to succeed and the experience has been one of the most rewarding of my life.
What does your work schedule look like?
We start work at 10 but we’ll normally get in around 9.15 to warm up for class which is about 90 minutes long. Class is basically daily training to keep your technique and stamina up to standard. After that we have rehearsals until 2pm. Then we have a four hour break, so I sometimes teach an adult beginner ballet class or take a German lesson, or just go home and nap. Work starts back at 6pm until 9.30pm so it’s a long day. On the weekends we have performances so we’ll start work at 5pm and finish around 10pm. We normally get one or two days off a week.
What’s the environment like? Are the people around you supportive?
Dancers tend to be incredibly supportive of one another. Nobody, other than colleagues will understand how you’re feeling, so I’ve often felt a strong sense of empathy in the work place. But, the environment differs from company to company and the vibe is normally filtered down from the top. If your director and rehearsal masters are fair people, then it normally makes for a positive working environment. However, if they like to put pressure on people, and think that being harsh will make you better, then everyone tends to toughen up for self preservation. Ballet companies tend to look very cold to an outsider, but if you’re there everyday, you understand why everyone is behaving the way they are.
Is it competitive?
The ballet world is very competitive, it’s the nature of the game. Some people are very personally competitive and if they’re talented, it will stand to them. But again, the competitive nature is kind of bred into us from school. I remember when I was 16 our ballet tutor said to us “Girls, you’re all lovely people. That’s not good enough”. She didn’t like that we all got on so well so she tried to make us more cut throat towards one another. I think healthy competition is great but there can be ripple effects when a role that you wanted goes to someone else, it’s only natural.
Is it a lucrative industry?
I wouldn’t say anyone goes into this profession for the wage. I recently read an article that said freelance dancers make on average 5K a year from dancing, and their other income has to come from elsewhere. Most classical dancers in Germany working in a full-time theatre, start on about 27-32K a year with a steady enough pay rise. In other countries like Russia, Estonia, and Romania, they have wonderful theatres, but their pay would be much less. I’d guess that only one to two percent of Ballet dancers are capable of making a six-figure salary. These dancers would be world famous though, so very rare.
What’s the best part of your job?
I think being a part of a new creation is the best aspect of the job for me. Getting to work closely with creative people and bringing something to life is what it’s all about. Even if it’s bad, it’s new, which is awesome. Nobody has done it exactly that way before.
What’s the most difficult?
Probably dealing with a serious injury. All dancers will face injury in their career and when it happens, they tend to get very low. Suddenly you feel like you’ve taken it all for granted and it can be horribly frustrating trying to get back what you think you’ve lost. On a normal day-to-day basis, the shoes are very painful and cause ache, blisters and bleeding. They’re pretty sore. We also get spoken to quite badly by our superiors sometimes. I’m not sure how many other work places in the western world would tolerate it. If you’d like an example, give the channel 4 documentary Agony and Ecstasy a watch!
The most rewarding?
Performing. I must have performed close to a thousand times now. But there’s nothing more exciting than live theatre. I’m so lucky that this is my job. When an audience genuinely reacts to a show, it’s the best feeling ever.
Do you follow a certain diet? Do you have to be strict?
I’d be lying if I said I had a strict diet. I have to be careful on holidays as the tendency is to completely relax. If I’m not burning energy, then I’ll see it pretty quickly! When I’m working and training I eat porridge in the morning and try to eat low GI foods like eggs, nuts, brown carbs and protein bars as I don’t want to crash with my long working hours. I also have to drink a lot of water.
Are you able to go out socialising?
If there are shows on the weekend, going out can be made difficult but it doesn’t tend to stop us! We had two shows this New Years so when I finished at about 11, I threw on a dress, kept my show make-up on, and ran straight to a party. I don’t tend to drink alcohol during the week though as it really messes my training up, so I save it for holidays and weekends.
Do you do any other form of exercise?
Our training is five or six days a week so it’s pretty consistent. If our timetable is quiet, then I try get to the gym and do some back and arms. Every morning I do pilates to strengthen my back and stomach. I also enjoy Gyrotonics which is a form of exercise on a pilates type machine. Non-dancers can also do it, it’s a very relaxing way to work out as you’re constantly reminded to breathe.
Have you experienced any setbacks getting to where you are now?
Plenty. I’ve gone for many auditions and been rejected. I’ve even worked on short-term contracts hoping to get kept on and then not. It is a brutal industry and there are so many wonderful dancers out there. But as I’ve gotten older and watched other people who I fiercely admire suffer setbacks, I realise none of us are immune to it, so I accept this is part and parcel of what makes up an artist’s life.
What’s next for you?
Asides from work, I’m focusing on choreographing for a dance film I’m making with Irish Film maker Howard Jones, with an original score from the band Cloud Castle Lake. We don’t film until August, so I’m just piecing material together and figuring out the logistics of dancing outdoors. It’s really exciting to do something creative back home again. There are also a few amazing, world-renowned choreographers that I’d love to work with; hopefully I’ll get that chance in time. I feel like I’m on the right track to it. Other then that, I’ love to come home more and contribute to the dance community that offered me so much from a young age. I’m not sure whats on the horizon but I’m very happy with the present so maybe that’s why.
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