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MELISSA CHAPSKI'S JOURNEY

Everybody started somewhere. In the My Journey posts we ask an accomplished athlete / star / thought leader how they got where they are now. We hope their stories will inspire and motivate you.

In this fifty seventh My Journey post, we had a chat with Melissa Chapski, a professional Ballerina. We hope you enjoy Melissa's journey.
Melissa Chapski
Tell us a little bit about yourself :)

I live currently in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I was born in a little town outside of Boston, Massachusetts called Medfield. I lived there until I was 16 and then moved to New York City to begin my ballet training at Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program. I trained there for two years and then at age 18 moved to Holland.

I am now 20 years old and starting my third year working with the Dutch National Ballet. Each consecutive year I've been promoted from first year junior company, to second year junior company, to now an eleve with the main company.

How did you get introduced to ballet and when did ballet get serious?

Well, I've been dancing recreationally since the age of 4. In the US, it's very ordinary for parents to put their four year old girl into recreational ballet classes to attend to on Saturday morning and jump over 'ponds' while wearing pink tutus and flower crowns. By the age of 8 or 9, these girls continue to dance with ballet, tap, jazz, and hip hop approximately one hour of each discipline each week.

Once I reached middle school, at about age 12, I begin playing on more time consuming sports teams with my best friends from academic school. I started to dislike dance because I just didn't have the time for it, plus I liked the sports because I was always with my friends. Once I reached age 14, I was only dancing ballet (all year) and playing 3 team sports (one each season). I loved everything too much to give any of it up. At this point ballet class was 3 or 4 times a week, and I would skip either ballet or sports depending on how things were going, I couldn't be at both.

Some of the older girls at ballet used to yell at me for skipping. At age 14, my ballet teacher sent me to my first "summer intensive" literally ballet 8 am to 8 pm, which I ended up loving and that's when I fell in love with ballet. I wanted to do lots more. I tried to play JV volleyball my freshman year at the same time but it was impossible, so I resigned from the volleyball team, and all sports, and went straight for strictly ballet. I loved the intensity and determination and impossible difficulty about it. When I was 16, I realized I needed to leave public high school and start training all day everyday, which is really late for a female ballet student.

I started at Ellison Ballet and was taught everything that I needed. It was an incredibly difficult two years, with SO much hard work, and many tears, but I was taught skill sets needed to carry me through a professional career, most importantly hard work and intelligence. Then it became serious, and I started getting several contract offers once I turned 18.

Can you share your biggest challenges ?

Honestly there are too many challenges with this career to go through them all. I've dealt with huge blows to my confidences, some minor injuries, weakness in my technique, dealing with criticism, dieting, pointe shoe issues, money issues, trying to convince my parents to let me do all these crazy ballet things, incredibly hard decision making, and moving across the world and starting a new life without knowing anyone.

Also simple things like growing up really fast, learning how to manage money, cook for yourself, open a bank account, file taxes; these are all adult things I had to start on my own from the age of 16! I guess I overcame everything by constantly being open about the situations I face. I always know there is a way around it and I absolutely never give up in regards to something I want. Anything is possible, and if you stay open and positive and search for answers, they will come!

How do you handle pressure and where do you find your motivation?

I experience a lot of pressure, yes. Dutch National is seriously no joke, I think it's one of the world's top 5 leading ballet companies. I think that when you perform, that's your time to give audiences a show. Of course you want to impress your coaches and director and ballet masters, but the show is about the audience.

People are paying for tickets to see something that will defy the norm and distract them from reality for the night. It's about portraying a character, embodying a ballet. Then again, being one of the world's top companies there's a very fine technique behind the art of ballet that we constantly strive to perfect. I handle that pressure by literally doing everything possible to make sure I'm heading towards that goal.

I think about what I'm doing all the time, I'm in the gym, cramming as much protein into my body as possible to get stronger, watching videos of my repertoire to learn every part I'm cast for, going over it with friends to be sure we know every detail, talking about technique with others, watching ballet videos, stretching all the time, getting good rest. This art form is not only a full time job, but a lifestyle, every hour of the day is part of work, not just the eight hours that I'm inside that building.

As for motivation, I love what I do so much, that I honestly never need to search for motivation. I believe that people who aren't motivated enough to do this profession shouldn't do it because it's just too difficult on the mind and the body. I'm very open about my career path and know that if I just keep doing everything I possibly can, I will inevitably get where I want to!

What was your most embarrassing moment (in regards to ballet, of course) ?

Oh gosh. Well, I have to say last year (November 2016) we did the production La Bayadere by Natalia Makarova. I was still in the junior company then, and dancing a piece with 8 girls total. I was young and a bit scared of the other girls in the company since I was new. For the piece, out costumes had these big baggy harem pants with slits in the front. They were actually gorgeous, a lilac color with little coins sewn onto them. We had a beautiful headpiece too.

It was one of my favorite parts and every time I danced it on stage I just got so into it. Anyways, I was in the very front for this show. There was one section where my pointe shoe got stuck in the slit of my pants and I couldn't get it out so I fell in a plank position sideways directly to the floor. The noise was so loud that people backstage who couldn't even see it, heard it. I wasn't down for very long but I was SO embarrassed and thought for sure that I was going to be fired after that!

How did ballet influence your life in other ways?

My passion has influenced my life for the best by nurturing me to grow as a person who could reach their fullest potential in all aspects of life. I've learned how to empathize and build strong relationships and bonds with friends and people in general. I'm extremely tech savvy and media/marketing savvy, learning how to become a little entrepreneur. I am very smart and organized, and have learned how to cook lots of different things.

I'm super open and outgoing, and have actually relaxed and chilled out a lot since moving here, in the best way possible. I was completely high strung living in the states, and it just caused me too much stress, I've gotten so much better about that!

What does your typical day look like?

Usually something like:

  • Class 10-11:15
  • Rehearsals 11:15-1:30
  • Lunch 1:30-2:15
  • Rehearsals 2:15-6

If I don't have rehearsals the full time, I go to the gym and do a workout there. When we have shows, we work until 4, have a break until 6:30, then start getting ready for an 8:15 show.

And what about your flexibility training ? Where does that fit in ?

When I was in school I was a maniac training flexibility. These days, I really don't train it much at all because I'm focusing now on strength and stability to get a stronger technique. I still stretch my overspilts because I definitely could be more flexible, but ballet isn't just about the height of the legs, it's about quality and control. When I was in school, I got obsessed with becoming flexible, it HAD to happen. That's the key, is just stretching all the time. Also, some people think they can stretch past their natural limits, but your body has a certain structure, and you can't necessarily bend your bones, some people do have limits, so be cautious.

What are your future plans/goals/dreams?

To become a principal ballerina, hopefully here at Dutch National. However, it isn't solely about just getting promoted for me. I want a long healthy career, where I get to dance many different roles of different ranks, and to earn my way to the top. I would love to also perform with other companies, and dance in lots of galas to travel and explore the world and meet new dancers. I have to dance the role of Aurora before I retire, and I would also really like to dance a super dramatic role like Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and one of the principals in Chopiniana (one of my favorite ballets). I honestly love everything though, so as long as I have a very fruitful career, I think I will be satisfied!

Some day, I hope I can help other people after my career. Whether that be building a foundation to help ballerinas get money to train, or I've always had the ambition to go to Harvard Med School and help find a cure for cancer, specifically Mesothelioma (lung cancer). I would also love to run my own dance/fashion magazine some day maybe, be the CEO and editor, and help collaborate on cool fashion editorials and ballet campaigns, I love that kind of stuff too.

Any tips for passionate people who are starting to practice ballet now?
  • Find a way to balance things so you can stay happy, healthy, and sane. This is most important.
  • At the same time, you need to work like an absolute beast to be a ballerina, so if you see someone is working harder than you, you aren't doing enough.
  • Lastly, don't do this profession if you don't really love it, because it's not a sport, it's an art form, and there isn't space for people that aren't truly passionate.

Focus on everything, seriously. Technique AND artistry. Strength, flexibility, control, stability, grace, elegance, your jump, turns, footwork, barre, center, everything. Nothing should be neglected, which is the key.

I just wish I could've started earlier, but I didn't so I have to deal with that. Everything that has happened to me has had a precise outcome to teach me to be so grateful for everything I have. Every step of my journey has been a lesson for something to be thankful for, and I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. It's made me become the person I am today, sincere, passionate, and incredibly determined.

Anything else?

Nutrition has been a really big part of my journey and through the crossfit community I have learnt a great deal more about how to fuel my body and nourish it. Macro tracking for the first time in my life gave me a whole new understanding of food and what I needed to eat and when I should eat it.

Anything you’d like to share?
Yes! Ballet company

Melissa Chapski

Professional Ballerina with the Dutch National Ballet

Instagram @ballerinachi

Twitter: @melissa_chapski


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2 Comment

  • Author Image
    Laura Posted December 22 2017

    I used to have ballet lessons too, but then I moved and never continued. I wish I hadn’t stopped! Very inspiring story, keep going!

    Reply
  • Author Image
    Sam Posted December 22 2017

    Macro tracking works pretty good to me, too! Great story btw.

    Reply

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