Tell us a little bit about yourself :)
I am a 13 year old aspiring ballerina from a suburb of Chicago, IL (Long Grove). I began dancing at 3 years old in tot ballet program, which was really cute and began training in a pre-professional program when I was 8. I have danced in numerous Nutcrackers over the years, including last year when I was "Clara".
I also have competed in ballet competitions and placed 1st at Youth America Grand Prix Regionals when I was 11 and placed 2nd at YAGP Regionals in the Junior division last year. I was blessed to win the YAGP/Discount Dance Model Search in 2016. In addition to Discount Dance, I am also a Russian Pointe Brand Ambassador.
How did you get introduced to your Ballet?
My mom danced when she was young, so ballet was on the list of activities for me to try when I was a toddler. I began at 3 with Chicago Park District "Mommy and Me" ballet that my nanny would take me to. Then after I liked it, my mom moved me to Fairytime Ballet, which was even better as we got to act out our favorite Disney characters.
After we moved to the suburbs, I got away from ballet for a few years and focused on hip hop, jazz and gymnastics. This is very funny as I am so far from a "hip hop" girl, but I eventually found my way back to ballet and a really great program with teachers that all danced professionally. With the right teachers, more time in class and performance opportunities, I found that I really thrived in the structure and the elegance of ballet.
When did Ballet get “serious” ?
When I was 8, I auditioned for Illinois Youth Dance Theatre's "The Nutcracker" and was cast as Party Girl, Gingerbread, Attending Cherub and a Mouse. I didn't realize at the time that that first Nutcracker would re-shape my passion, but when the lights went up, I knew that performing on stage and being in character was magical.
Ballet became so much more than a hobby, so much so that they next year I dropped Girl Scouts, Gymnastics and other activities to focus on ballet. It's been wonderful learning the value of live performance and growing up in the land of sweets. Performance experience also helped me prepare for competitive ballet, which I have done since I was 11.
Can you share your biggest challenges?
In the fall of 2016, I suffered an injury to my adductor muscle. I hadn't taken a break post Houston Ballet Summer Intensive and started immediately back into my YAGP training. That was a mistake. I was working with a new teacher and he forced my turn out early in a private. A few weeks later, I re-injured it again by working too hard and not verbalizing my pain to my teacher. It has been a long fall of rehab, PT, acupuncture and scaled back dance.
It's been emotionally even more difficult, as there is nothing that I'd rather be doing than dance. But, it's taught me patience and I am learning to engage more of my core and glutes when I dance and it's given me more time to really focus on my port de bras, which sometimes is hard to be artistic at a young age.
How do you handle pressure ?
All dancers experience pressure. Dance is an art and it's subjective. Everyone always wants to be perfect on stage, but perfection isn't possible. I've learned its more important to try to be my best self that day. You will make mistakes, but if you are in the moment and enjoying the dance, it won't matter if you fell out of a turn a little early.
Can you share your thoughts on self consciousness ?
I still have some nervousness and adrenaline before I go on stage -- not nearly as bad as my first year competing, where I was so much more nervous. Now, I try to channel the adrenaline into the character and think about my steps and the mood I need to be in to dance my best. Visualization is important for me.
What was your most embarrassing moment (in regards to Ballet of course ;)
I was performing a Kitri variation (from Don Quixote) and while trying to be a sassy, spanish girl who is so confident and has it all, I dropped my fan in the middle of my performance. I found a way to not so gracefully pick it up and proceeded to curtsy at the end of the performance and dropped the fan a second time in 20 seconds. #oops #dropsie #kitrifail
How did your Ballet influence your life in other ways ?
After finding my true love (ballet), I finally feel like I fit in, where I didn't always with friends from school or girls that were doing dance more recreationally. Ballet (and modeling) has taught me body awareness, self confidence and the importance of good nutrition.
What does your daily routine look like?
I am homeschooled, so I have a little more flexibilty in my schedule than public school dancers. I typically will wake up, stretch, foam roll, have breakfast and do school from 8:30 -11:30, then will eat lunch and go to a private lesson for an hour, followed by 3 hours of class.
On days that I don't dance (or dance less), I try to schedule physical therapy or acupuncture. My mom spends a lot of her day in the car and we usually get home at 10PM. I try to always get 8 hours of sleep. Generally, I train 20-25 hours a week.
And what about your flexibility training? Where does that fit in?
Stretching is a big part of being a ballerina. You need to know when to stretch and when to stop a stretch. For example, over split training is important, but you should never hold over splits more than 2 minutes. I am now using a foam roller to loosen my muscles, which I didn't before. Dancers should also foam roll to work the build up of stress in your muscles that you don't realize when you are dancing.
What keeps you motivated?
I loved Michaela De Prince's biography, if her story doesn't motivate you, nothing will! We all get down from time to time whether it's a bad class, an injury or a performance mess up. As young dancers, we need to remember that every expereince makes us better prepared and sometimes we just need to focus on the end goal.
My sister rides horses and sometimes falls off, the most important thing is to get back on the horse, the same holds true after you have a ballet set back. I am inspired by @greatness_within and @bestdance_quotes, as well as all the wonderful ballet feed by professional companies and dancers.
What are your future plans/goals/dreams?
I'd like to dance professionally for a major US company and one day hope to earm my way to a principal role.
Any tips for passionate ballerinas starting out?
Ballet is a sport/art that requires focus and commitment. If ballet is your dream, then you need to commit at a young age. Many other athletes train 12-18 hours a week, most professional dancers train 30 hours a week and then have another 10-15 hours of performances. It is incredibly hard to make this form look effortless.
Anything you’d like to share?
Please follow me @marinahalama -- DM if you have questions, would love to share my passion for ballet!