May 30, 2012

HIBC: For the Love of Ballet

Monday morning I reported for volunteering duty at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition (HIBC). As my first job I got to sign in the competitors, their coaches or other accompanying persons. First impression: the young dancers are so polite and sweet, always smiling - which makes our work a real pleasure! Of course, good manners are part of proper balletiquette and instilled into every dancer from an early age. Ballet is hard, and requires both discipline and respect for the art. And Love! Without love for dance there can be no passion, no drive, no soul. When you love to dance, it carries you forward, no matter how hard you have to work for it. And as a volunteer you want to make sure they all have the best experience possible!

Before competitors get to show their skills in front of the judges and audience, there are morning classes, studio rehearsals, stage rehearsals and a lot of commuting between the hotel and various studios in different locations. As volunteers part of our job is to make sure everyone finds their way and doesn't get lost. But the Opera building had us confused at first too. The personnel entrance is level with the street outside, and one would assume we are on the first floor, right? Wrong. The entrance is designated as the 2nd floor, and when you take the elevator down you get to the first floor (dressing rooms). The backstage for Almi Hall is two floors down, which is on K1 (basement 1), but the other big ballet studio is located on K2, which is not acceessible via the same elevator. And the main ballet studio is on the fifth floor, which somehow seems only two floors higher. Well, once you know your way around, it seems simple enough. ;)

I did get a glimpse of some of the classes and rehearsals, and I can tell you that the level of this year's competition is really high! I'm looking very much forward to all the performances, and as I have been getting to know some of the competitors, it's even more exciting! Last Friday, when I took my own class at Dance Center Footlight, there was a new girl.. and you could tell right away that she had come to compete at HIBC. She had insanely long legs and extensions up to the roof, but I was equally impressed by her secure balances and lovely demeanor. I didn't talk to her after class (I stayed for pointe), but it was fun to meet Candy Tong again at the Opera! She asked whether I take class every day, and she told me that she had liked my teacher Gabriella. I'm likely old enough to be her mother, but ballet does make for great bonding!

Yesterday, after I had finished my shift, I toured around the building and found one very young competitor rehearsing in the smallest studio: Katherine Gazda from Canada. Katherine is among the youngest, fifteen years old. From my point of view, still a baby! Nah, not really. It was easy to tell that she's mature beyond her years, in a good way. A ballet dancer's career can take off when others of the same age are still in high school, which is a lot of responsiblity for a young person to handle. Gazda maybe only fifteeen, but she has to focus already on contracts and career opportunities. And if I remember correctly, Katherine has still has some seven scholarships to choose from. Awesome!

Ballet is an universal language and as such international careers are commonplace. One of the senior competitors I picked up from the airport, Machi Muto, is from Japan but danced until this summer at the Norwegian National Ballet. She is now under contract with the Hong Kong Ballet, which is closer to home, but still.. Even though ballet is hugely popular in Japan, you can't expect to get any salary for your work! Only men or foreign stars get paid. No wonder then that so many Japanese ballerinas have emigrated to international companys. We are all in it for the love of ballet, but you can't live from ballet alone.

Next post: First Round


  1. Wow, I had no idea Japanese ballerinas didn't get paid. Each and every ballet dancer deserves to get paid because no one gets to the stage without a tremendous amount of hard work and undying determination.

  2. You are right, of course. Dancing at this level is real work, and deserves to be paid. These ballerinas are no recreational dancers!


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...