I am absolutely thrilled that I was able to interview Gabrielle Sharp, the co-director of Dayton Ballet II! She has so much wisdom to offer and I am so glad she chose to share it with me in this interview! We'll start with a short introduction by Ms. Sharp:
I'm Gabrielle Sharp, co-director of Dayton Ballet II. I now teach dance at Dayton Ballet School, as well as freelance, and also compete as a ballroom dancer. At age 17, my career started and I was asked to train with the professional company of Dayton Ballet. After dancing professionally for a few years and gaining knowledge and experience, I retired and started teaching, shortly after I became co-director of our second company. I've had the opportunity to train and work with lots of choreographers, teachers and dance masters, and now I get to pass that on to my students.
How old were you when you started dance, and how were you introduced to it?
My first dance class was a ballet class and I was 4 years old. My mom mainly put me in dance for posture and coordination and at the time I actually hated it. I was not a fan of dance, but my mom made it a huge deal to follow through with my commitments, so I stuck it out for a year, and by the end of the season I started enjoying the class and I was hooked after that ever since.
2.) Where have you trained for dance?
I’m from a small town in Ohio, so my first dance class was actually in someone’s house where she converted her basement into a studio, after dancing there for a few years, I moved on to a competition studio — that’s when I started getting more serious with dance. Being a good dancer though means having good ballet training, no matter if you want to be a hip hop dancer or ballerina — everything starts with ballet — so I started going to Dayton Ballet a few years later, which was an hour drive from where I lived. So it took a lot of time, energy and dedication from not just me, but also my mom. And ever since then, I have been at Dayton Ballet. It’s a weird, but also exciting feeling to have grown up as a student through the school and now be a teacher and co-director of our Dayton Ballet II.
3.) What is your favorite role you have ever danced?
Ah, one season we performed Dracula, which is an uncommon ballet, but I was cast as Dracula’s wife and it was such a dark and eerie role that it really challenged me as an artist and an athlete — so that has to be my favorite role!
4.) What is the biggest difference between being a dancer and being a director/teacher? Can you please elaborate on the responsibilities you have?
The biggest difference is that you are now at the front of the room relaying all the information you’ve gathered from your experiences and now you get the chance to pass on everything you’ve learned to the younger generation. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also a great reward to see your students improving and working hard. Not only do I teach, but I also have the chance to choreograph and cast people in certain roles. As a dancer, the majority of the time you just have to worry about yourself and your role, but as a director/teacher, I have to direct lots of people — from 1 person to 100+ people, so it’s very different.
5.) What does your typical day look like as a director/teacher?
My weekdays are little calmer when comparing to my weekends and it also depends on what ballet or performance we’re working on. That’s one thing I love about the dance world is that it’s always fresh —I imagine working a cubicle job/9 to 5 job would get monotonous. My late afternoons to evenings are spent at the studio teaching classes from ages 6 to 20 years old. Usually during the day, I am planning my classes or working on choreography/preparation for an upcoming performance. My weekends, however, get a little bit busier, especially when we’re preparing for a show such as Nutcracker. Those days I’m usually in the studio almost all day.
6.) How and when did you decide you wanted to pursue being an artistic director/teacher?
I always had the idea of wanting to be a teacher, but I didn’t really have a timetable for that goal. It honestly just kind of happened. Luckily, I had the opportunity to teach for about 5 years and then the previous director of our second company left, which meant the position was open. So really, I was just there in the right place at the right time, and I am very grateful for how smoothly everything worked out because I enjoy my job so much.
7.) Do you think it is necessary for a dancer to attend college? What advantages has having a degree given you?
This answer has changed a lot throughout the years for me. When I was younger, I felt like college was not for me and that it really wasn’t necessary, but the older I get the more I feel like besides the education part, I think college in general is a great way to mature and prep yourself more for the dance world. People used to be so concerned with getting into a company right away since a dance career is very short, but I think it’s almost better to get experience at a college in order to mature and have the opportunity to network, so that you’re ready for the “real world” — because that “real” ballet world can be cruel sometimes if you’re not mentally, emotionally and physically ready. I have a communication degree, but I didn’t get it until after retiring from dancing professionally. It’s still such a huge asset in my life and career because I have so much more knowledge, plus it gave me another opportunity to keep expanding my horizons.
8.) What is the biggest lesson you have learned as a dancer, and then what is the biggest lesson you have learned as a director/teacher?
The biggest lesson I learned as a dancer was to stop comparing myself to others and embrace my strengths. As a young dancer, I always found myself judging my body, technique and flexibility and comparing it to others. Finally, I started realizing I was the one holding myself back and started understanding that admiring someone else’s strengths didn’t mean that I couldn’t make it as a dancer. The biggest lesson I have learned as a teacher is that it is really about learning to trust your process. So many times I have wanted instant gratification or to achieve a goal right away, but things take time and you have to trust that you will get to where you want to go, but maybe just not as quickly as you’d like or not as quickly as your fellow dance mates — don’t worry, just work hard and be patient.
9.) As a director/teacher, what do you look for in a dancer?
Obviously good technique is important, but if you’re serious about dance then it has to be more than that, especially the older you get. The quality and artistry of your movement is so important otherwise you have no spark, which is what people want to see. Also persistence, determination and respect have to present in my classes.
10.) What advice would you offer to young dancers who aspire to have a career with a professional company?
It’s a hard industry, but it also can be filled with rainbows and butterflies. It all depends on how you look at it and where your mindset is. The most helpful thing is finding a mentor in the dance world, the guidance you gain from this mentor will be so helpful for you mentally and emotionally, which sometimes needs to be a higher priority than your physicality. Also taking as many classes as you can will only give you more experience as a dancer. Sometimes we have our eyes set on such a high goal that we miss the small opportunities that might help us get to that bigger goal — don’t ever throw away an opportunity just because it might not be what you exactly wanted.
11.) Do you think it is necessary for an aspiring dancer to be in a trainee program or large school?
I don’t think it’s necessary, but I do think it provides a huge advantage. It’s prepping you for such an important part of your career. You get training, coaching, experience and knowledge on what it’s like to have a career in dance. Can you “make it” in the dance world with our a traineeship? Absolutely, with hard work and dedication, but it will be easier to transition from student to professional dancer if you’ve had to the opportunity to be a trainee.
12.) I love how, on your blog, you discuss that ballet is beneficial even if you do not plan to pursue it as a career. Can you please discuss this a little bit?
This is so important! It’s no secret that the dance world can be an intense place, but it’s also filled with great knowledge that will prepare you for life in general. You’re learning about your struggles and your strengths, you’re learning how to overcome obstacles, you’re learning how to take care of your body by fueling it with nutrients, as well as exercising, and you’re working toward achieving goals. All of these things will benefit your life inside and outside of the studio.
13.) Were you ever afraid to pursue your passion? If so, can you please offer advice/ encouragement to those who have felt afraid to follow their dreams?
Absolutely! Fear and embarrassment always were both in my mind. I didn’t want to mess up, but I tell my students class time is where you’re allowed to make mistakes, it’s a place to grow and learn — I wish someone would’ve told me that when I was younger because I think I would’ve taken more risks in the studio. Vulnerability in general is an extremely hard thing for lots of people, and dance is probably the most vulnerable thing someone can do. It’s unlike singing or writing because in dance we show up and dance our hearts out and get judged not just by our art form, but also our technique, passion and body image/look. Everything is being judged for something that we simply just love to do, but that’s the thing, we all love dance and to just be given the gift to move and to make one person in the audience smile or feel an emotion is the greatest reward — it’s all very much worth it.
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