When I worked with the ballet dancers in ‘Dido and Aeneas’ last month it allowed me the opportunity to get to know Emma McBeth a little better, she’s from New Zealand. Emma is in the third year of her ballet course but we didn’t bump into each other in the first year because she spent her first year of study in Sydney, Australia. During the Easter break I was working out a fitness program and wanted to incorporate some dance, as that’s far more enjoyable for me as it doesn’t feel like a session in the gym because it always passes so quickly, but believe me the after-burn is just as intense. Emma very kindly offered to run me through my paces and we had a fabulous session working out and having fun. I was intrigued to know more about Emma and her training and took the opportunity to find out about her life as a trainee ballerina.
At what age did you first start to dance and how did it all begin?
Formally at eight years of age starting with Tap and Jazz then continuing with ballet. My Mum had lots of ballet videos at home so I started to get inspiration from dancing in the living room. My main inspiration was how I was brought up being encouraged to have fun with dance, just moving around the house and I progressed to proper classes at eight doing exams.
Do you have one significant ballet that was your favourite?
We had all the classics on videos, one of the ones that really stood out to me was Don Quixote all that Spanish flair, one of those ballets that I’ve always wanted to do the solos and the pas de deux etc. I did the pas de deux and solos for one of my productions I did back in New Zealand, at the time I thought ‘oh my goodness this is the best day of my life’ it was so much fun.
How long do you dance each day, do you take weekend breaks; how do you structure your training?
At the conservatoire we dance Monday to Friday 9am until 6pm full time, warm ups are usually 08:30, it’s pretty much advised you also do your own practise too. I come in on a Saturday and practise and now I’m in the third year we also have classes on Saturday mornings with Scottish Ballet on a rota basis. Sunday is usually a day off but I use that time for other projects so I usually occupy myself.
A typical day we would have ballet class for two hours, 15 minutes break, maybe a two hour contemporary technique class, in the second and third year you have release technique class that can involve throwing ourselves around the room it’s a lot of fun and in the first year Cunningham technique strengthening the core and finding out the contractions and release. We then have 30-45 minutes lunch then maybe a solos class or pas de deux, contemporary or ballet repertoire classes, rehearsals for shows and things like that. Two days we have a jazz class for versatility, Pilates on Tuesdays, a wide variety of modules.
In first and second year there is theory work and studies, dance anatomy, music and dance history. We had a workshop on nutrition too which was very beneficial.
When did you start performing on stage or in front of an audience?
From when I started ballet we had end of term productions, my first one was Alice in Wonderland. I used to do competitions each two months and I’d do solos for that so I got lots of performing opportunities from about the age of ten. It is good for confidence, good practise for solo performing and being in front of an audience. When we performed in end of year productions I saw it as a celebration of the year and an opportunity to work together with the other dancers in elaborate costumes, we did Beatrix Potter and the costumes were fabulous, I was a kitten from Tom Kitten, the huge masks were the best fun thing ever, a great production.
The most memorable performance was in 2012, I competed in the Genee International Ballet Competition and I made it to the finals, the top 12. The finals night I performed to a full theatre, fortunate enough to perform three solos in front of a panel of international judges so that was amazing. There was apiece premièred that night and I was lucky to perform that choreography too. It was the most amazing thing and shared with the most incredible people and dancers and that’s when I really knew this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, I knew I wanted to perform professionally.
I finished school and I was 17 receiving university entrance and excellence in my NCEA qualifications and completed all my RAD ballet examinations. I then auditioned for ballet schools elsewhere. I went to Sydney for a year and trained there and then I got a scholarship offer to study in the UK, I auditioned and got accepted into several schools but was really impressed after visiting the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and decided to come and study here, I loved the fact it was a multi-disciplined Conservatoire.
What other subjects did you study?
In my final year I did History, dance, physical education, chemistry, calculus, and English. The dance education I had at school helped me a lot as it included choreography which has been very beneficial, I love choreography. My favourite subject outside of dance was History and I am still fascinated by the subject. We did a golf module in Physical education that I remember, we would spend an entire afternoon playing golf which was great fun. We also went canoeing down Whanganui River for three days which was quite an experience. I play piano too and started when I was eight, I balanced that, school and ballet and many other activities and I am glad that I did. When finishing school I passed my ATCL Diploma in Piano Performance, my knowledge of piano and music has helped with my musicality and appreciation for the class pianists. I collaborate with a girl in the Masters piano course and we worked on a Bridge week project last year and we’re working on another project at the moment, she is a fantastic friend to have and we work really well together. Another great reason to come here to meet such fabulous people and without my piano background we may have not connected in the same way.
What is your proudest achievement/s?
The Genee International Ballet Competition final in 2012. I also proud of being cast in the lead role of La Sylphide in the show last year, it was a very special thing. It was a romantic ballet and I’d never imagined performing a lead role in a romantic ballet. The coaching sessions helped me a lot as a dancer, actor and performer – picking apart the solos and the mime scenes, valuable advice I’ll never forget.
What is next for you?
Since this is my final year at the conservatoire, I’m auditioning for ballet companies in the UK and Europe. I have a final End Of Year Modern Ballet Graduation performance on the 5th and 6th June at the Conservatoire.
Long Term aims?
Perform in a ballet company and keep a professional performance career as long as possible. A ballet career isn’t very long and you need to maintain good health and stay without any injuries that’s ultimately what I’m concentrating on at the moment.
Emma’s Show Reel
I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s fabulous to read how hard my fellow students work here. Emma is such a lovely girl and I really wish her the very best for the future after she graduates this year.