Training to be a ballerina

Carlie Sack | Staff Writer

As a sophomore, Katie Pilone is already training for a career: a career as a professional ballerina. Pilone said she usually trains about 24 hours each week. In addition, Pilone must balance this highly intense dance schedule with attending school.“It’s so stressful,” Pilone said. “But I’ve been working through it because I just want to [dance] so badly.”

Pilone said she is a part of the Cincinnati Ballet Academy, where she takes classes focusing on ballet technique and pointe work. Pilone said her main focus is in ballet, but also studies modern ballet and jazz.

But this year, Pilone said she was asked to perform with the Cincinnati Ballet’s professional company in The Nutcracker.

“[The company told me to] just come to rehearsals [and] learn in the back [of the room],” Pilone said. “[They said,] ‘We’ll see how you do and maybe you’ll get a performance.’”

Pilone said she watched the professionals’ rehearsals, in addition to attending her own classes. According to Pilone, her hard work was worth it.

“I just worked really hard; I worked my butt off,” Pilone said. “I finally achieved getting a performance, and they asked me to go to Detroit [as a part of the company].”

Pilone said this is her first company role in a performance.

“Normally I play kids’ parts, but the company has asked me and some other students to perform with the company, as a company role,” Pi lone said. “But I’m not in the company, I’m just dancing with them.”

Achieving a company part in The Nutcracker was a dream come true, according to Pilone, but the professional schedule is demanding.

“[The director] expects you to be at rehearsals because you are almost a company member, but he doesn’t understand that I have school to go to during the day,” Pilone said.

But Pilone said she is willing to make sacrifices in her schedule for dance, while still making sure her schoolwork stays on track.

“I guess I have time-management skills because I know exactly what I need to get done for school and when I can fit that into my schedule,” Pilone said.

For her recent performance in The Nutcracker, Pilone said she missed school periodically for rehearsals and for a full week to travel to Detroit for performances.

“You just do what [the company] tells you to do,” Pilone said.

Pilone said her ballet schedule is demanding even without the additionalNutcracker rehearsals.

“Without this whole Nutcracker thing, normally I have classes Monday through Saturday,” Pilone said. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I stay later for rehearsals at night.”

Although Pilone’s current ballet training is preparing her for a professional dance career, she said she still aspires to get a college degree.

“I plan on going to college,” Pilone said. “Most dancers don’t go to college, but I want to.”

Pilone said she is thinking about attending Indiana University because of its esteemed dance program. She said a college degree would always secure her a job, even if she suffers from an injury at any point in her career.

“It’s risky because you are going on your talent; you could break an ankle and you would lose your job,” Pilone said. “That’s why I want to have college to back me up.”

According to Pilone, the chance of getting injured is high in a professional ballerina’s intensive career.

“I’m always careful with what I’m doing,” Pilone said. “I make sure that I don’t do anything when it starts to hurt. I won’t push it, because I don’t want to risk getting injured.”

Injuries, along with aging, can prevent a dancer’s professional career from lasting past middle age, according to Pilone.

“[A] dancer’s career is so short; maybe it’s [over in] their late thirties,” Pilone said.

Even though a dancer’s career ends when most others’ are just starting, Pilone said she wants to stay involved with dance.

“I guess once my career is over, [I could see myself] becoming a teacher or a choreographer,” Pilone said.

Pilone said she is willing to make the sacrifices for a career as a ballerina, just as she already sacrifices other parts of her life for ballet. According to Pilone, her dedication outside of school often interferes with other activities, like social events.

“It’s just afterschool activities [that I miss],” Pilone said. “I’d rather go to a Black Hole basketball game sometimes, instead of going to a class or rehearsal, but I work it out and find a way to do both.”

But the strain of balancing school, social life and the training of a ballerina is something Pilone said she would never give up.

“When I am performing on stage, I am reminded [of] how much I love [dance],” Pilone said. “I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It’s just a great feeling.”

Along with the reward of performances comes the unique friendships with other dancers, according to Pilone. Pilone said she admires the professional dancers with whom she trains and that they give her something to strive towards.

“You learn a lot from watching,” Pilone said. “I’ve improved a lot since I’ve been in [professional] rehearsals.”

Although dancing with professionals could be viewed as intimidating, Pilone said she considers it a learning experience.

“They are all amazingly beautiful dancers,” Pilone said. “[Practicing with the professionals is] not as much intimidating [as it is a chance for me to]look at what I could work on to get to that point, so I can hopefully one day be one of them.”

Pilone said she made friends with the company members, and is able to learn about her possible future career.

“I’ve made a lot of friends in the company,” Pilone said. “It’s really cool to get to know [the professionals] personally and ask them questions.”

Pilone said that her involvement with dance probably stemmed from the support from her family.

“I have a great family all around, [even] my grandparents,” Pilone said. “They are not telling me that I need to focus on school, they think [my ballet training is] a great experience.”

According to Pilone, her mom studied dance during college and advises Pilone in her ballet skills.

“She’s very, very supportive of me,” Pilone said. “I’m very thankful for that.”

Pilone said she also appreciates support from her friends.

“[My school friends] understand completely,” Pilone said. “I’ve explained to them what I’m doing and they think it’s so cool that I am focusing on my career now — it’s not what many kids do.”

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