Most little girls dream of becoming a ballerina during childhood. This dream only becomes a reality for a select few, which leaves the rest of us dreamers wondering, what’s it like to be a professional ballerina? We spoke to Danielle Bausinger, 29, of the Kansas City Ballet to learn more about her experiences.
When did you first start your formal dance training? I started when I was 3 years old.
Was that just at a regular dance studio in your neighborhood or was it at a school more specific to ballet? I first started because my sister was a dancer and I wanted to dance around like she did and so I went to my local ballet school. I did ballet, tap and jazz. And then when I decided that I wanted to focus on ballet I was about 6 or 7 years old and I quit everything else and just focused on ballet.
I auditioned when I was 12 years old for San Francisco Ballet School and I got accepted, although you were suppose to be 13. My mom wanted me to have auditioning experience before I actually auditioned and she didn’t think I was going to get accepted. So when I did she called and said, ‘Well, she’s 12 years old. She’s not 13.’ They were like, ‘Well, have her come anyway.’ We lived locally so I attended my first summer program and then I got accepted to the year-round school. I trained at San Francisco Ballet School for six years—from age 12 to 18.
Wow. Was that a boarding school or were you able to go home at night? Because I was local I was able to go home at night but classes started at 12 so I had to do partial regular school and partial home school.
So at age 7, did you know then that you wanted to be a professional ballerina? Yes. My mom specifically has a story, that I don’t remember, but she said that when I was 7, I came home one day from class. It was after a week of doing ballet, tap and jazz. She said I came home and said, ‘Mom I really need to talk to you.’ She said she thought something was wrong but I was like, ‘I don’t want to do anything but ballet. I know that all I want to do is ballet and I want to be a ballerina.’ So she was like, ‘Are you sure?’ And I was like, ‘Yes I want to quit tap and jazz and I just want to do ballet.’ So that’s what I did.
I did character class because that kind of came with the ballet territory but I pretty much knocked off all the other excess dancing that wasn’t really related to ballet.
How much time a week would you say you spent practicing at the San Francisco Ballet School? I was there Monday through Saturday at least four hours a day, and sometimes we’d have rehearsals which were an extra two hours, and then we had performance opportunities with the company there so sometimes it would be an extra four hours. The minimum was four to eight hours a day, six days a week.
So there is a concept of it taking at least 10,000 hours to master something. Have you found that to be true in your career? Yeah, I think the nice thing about this career is that you really can continue to grow and learn — even, I think, when you do get to the top because we have our basic technique that we do every day. We have our class every day and the foundation is right there. In class you can work to improve that and then when we perform we are always constantly performing different roles and different ballets. So it is trying something new. Sure, it’s using our technique and our foundation and doing it on a daily basis, but with a variation. It’s in a different order and it takes a different level of strength and ability so even thought it’s the same steps, it’s constantly changing so we have room to grow all the time. I don’t think as a dancer that we ever say master everything, but that’s the goal. You know, we get a variation and then we try to master that variation. Then we move on to some other ballet and we try to master that. We are constantly evolving.
What brought you to the Kansas City Ballet? I got my first job at Cincinnati Ballet when I was 18 and I met Devon Carney, who is the artistic director here. He was our ballet master at the time and while I was in Cincinnati he was a choreographer. We would do his Sleeping Beauty, as we are doing here. We would do his Giselle and some of his ballets and when it came time to cast his ballets he would see potential in me that maybe I didn’t see in myself. Or he’d give me a role that would challenge me or make me a better dancer. And I really appreciated him for that — especially at a young age, you know getting pushed whether you perform it or not even if you just learn it in the studio. He saw potential in me to grow. I was really grateful. That’s what you want. You don’t generally as a dancer want to stay in the same roles your whole career, unless you are a principal and then that’s the top and you don’t go anywhere else. When you are young you are building up to those higher and higher levels. And he saw something in me and it really challenged and pushed me and made me a better dancer.
He left and got the artistic director job here. I stayed there another season and I was kind of feeling like I was not growing in a way that I wanted to in Cincinnati. I auditioned in other places as well as here and I was 26 at the time. My now husband, and then boyfriend, and I were very serious about staying together and he had been with Devon, too, in Cincinnati. That’s where we met. So we were trying to also get jobs together. It makes it very hard. When you audition, sometimes they want one of you or they only have a contract for one — a guy or a girl — it just depends on location and what money they have and this and that. We auditioned here and we both got jobs and it was kind of a no brainer. We like working with Devon. He saw potential in us when we were in Cincinnati and we wanted to start over but not start completely over with a new director. We were familiar with him and he was familiar with us so we were coming in on kind of a knowing basis, which was nice. It’s nice to like go to a new place, and a new environment, and know people.
So, yeah, we made the move. I spent eight years in Cincinnati and this is my third season with the Kansas City Ballet.
What do your days look like as a professional ballerina? We are here from 9:15 in the morning to 11 to take class every day. We work Tuesday through Saturday. Then we have rehearsals from 11:15 to 6 o’clock at night with a one-hour lunch break.
What is your favorite part about being a ballerina? Well, that’s hard. I love moving to music. I guess that’s one of my favorite things. There is something about classical music that just makes you wanna move — at least me, or any sort of score. And to be able to move around and dance to such wonderful pieces of music and create art. I guess the goal is to always bring the music to life — not saying that the orchestra doesn’t always do that. But to physically bring it to life — instead of just hearing it, seeing it. And that’s I think one of the most wonderful things is being able to move to this beautiful music but then to create a piece of art for an audience to watch you be the music.
Ballerinas to some extent have been associated with perfectionism. How do you find a healthy balance between that perfectionism and reality? Well, of course yes, the goal is to be perfect all the time, but yes it’s not realistic. You have to know that you are going into something and you are trying your best. And some days it doesn’t matter how hard you try it won’t turn out the way you want it to. So you have to come back and say, you know what? I tried today and it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to but I will try again tomorrow. I think if you just come in not expecting perfection and just strive for it, it keeps a healthier mindset. If you strive for it and you get whatever perfection is for you then it’s a good day. It’s a great day. But if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t mean that it is the worst day in the world. It just didn’t happen today.
As someone who many little girls and boys look up to, what is a message that you would give to the young people who admire you? I was always wanting to dance and I got to a certain age where my body changed and it changed in a way that wasn’t really going to benefit me for this kind of career. And I was told repeatedly that you know you are strong, you are talented, you do everything we ask, you do everything right, but your body type is not ideal. It doesn’t mean it won’t work, but your body type is not ideal. And for awhile I let it really put me down and said maybe this isn’t the path I need to go. But my heart and my gut told me to just keep trying and just keep going because it’s your passion and it’s your love and you have already spent so many years training. There is no harm in trying. Because if one person’s opinion is all that matters to you then I could have easily stopped, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to. And I told myself, ‘You know what? This is just one person’s opinion. I’m going to go see in the ballet world what other people think.’ And I went and got a job and have had a job for now 11 years. I’m so grateful that I didn’t listen to that one person’s opinion and I went and did it for myself.
Do you have any upcoming events that our readers would like to know about? We have a show here at the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity called New Moves. It is a bunch of smaller works by local choreographers and after that we are performing Sleeping Beauty at the Kauffman Center in March — the full length Sleeping Beauty. Those are the two that we are preparing for right now.
Arley Hoskin has lived in the Kansas City area for 15 years. She enjoys taking her toddler to area parks and book stores. Hoskin currently resides in Raytown with her energetic and outgoing 2-year-old daughter.