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What life is like at the Royal Ballet School

How do aspiring dancers juggle training and academic work at one of the world's top training institutions?

By Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer)

12 September 2016 at 5.34pm | 7 Comments

It’s that time again: September is suddenly here and the school holidays are over.

But for aspiring dancers at The Royal Ballet School, the hard work continued throughout the summer break. Though the school year ended in July and students returned home from term-time boarding, summer for a dancer allows for no vacation from their vocation.

While other students blew off steam at festivals and on the beach, young dancers spent their long summer days training.

‘It’s less intense than when we are at the school, but you have to keep at it’, says 17-year-old Rowan Shone, who begins his third and final year this September. Shone’s summer was spent at Sadler’s Wells – where he attended the Russian Imperial Ballet Summer School.

'It's a good way to maintain the work we've done throughout the year at school', he says.

It was Shone's elder sisters that introduced him to the world of ballet. The dancer remembers that he ‘just tagged along and never stopped'. But now a career as a professional dancer is his goal — a far cry from his former schoolmates back home in Tring, Hertfordshire.

‘We still keep in touch and see each other in the holidays, but life as a ballet student means I’m pretty busy', says Shone.

The dancer likes the diversity he finds at The Royal Ballet School, which attracts students from around the world:

‘It’s great because each of my classmates have different styles and ways of working.’

‘When I started there were some people that had never even been to the UK before and couldn’t speak English, but it’s so interesting to meet new people and learn about different cultures. Now I’ve got friends from all over the world!’

Read: Principal of the Royal Ballet, Vadim Muntagirov, on moving to London as a teenager

The Royal Ballet School students reunite this week where they’ll be slowly introduced back to their routines.

‘Class is usually a little calmer in the first couple of weeks,’ Shone says, ‘I think the teachers know that we might be rusty, so they go easy to work our muscles back up to peak condition.’

The term ahead will be full-on. Students in the lower years live and take class at White Lodge in Richmond Park, while older students live in Pimlico and commute daily to rehearsal studios in Covent Garden opposite the Royal Opera House on Floral Street.

Each day at the Upper School, where Rowan is a student, begins with morning class at 10am, followed academic work and then more classes, rehearsing key pieces in the repertory. ‘We finish quite late at 6pm. The day is long and the journey after can be quite tiring but you manage somehow', says Shone, buoyantly.

Balancing academic and vocational work is a challenge, which requires students to sacrifice some spare time in the evenings to finish an essay or catch up on reading, but Shone has his feet on the ground and is planning for his future wherever the road may lead:

‘It’s important to have your academic grades as a back-up in case you decide dancing isn’t for you,’ advises Shone, ‘or if you acquire an injury that prevents you from embarking upon a professional career.'

For Shone and his classmates, this year is the last to make the most of the opportunities that a spot in The Royal Ballet School gives – a springboard into some of the world’s top Ballet companies, including of course, The Royal Ballet. Notable alumni of the school include Darcey Bussell, Christopher Wheeldon, Edward Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson.

How does a young dancer cope with this weight of history?

'Take what you’re doing seriously, but never take yourself seriously', he says echoing the great Margot Fonteyn. 'Work hard, but don’t freak out over trivial matters', he says.

With a graduate employment rate of 100% for 2016, the future looks promising for Shone and his fellow Royal Ballet School students.

Watch: What it's like being a Young Choreographer with The Royal Ballet

What are your first memories of ballet?

This article has 7 comments

  1. Sharon Keogh responded on 15 September 2016 at 4:45pm Reply

    A really interesting article. I often wonder if the students once they have graduated and moved on to various companies if they stay in touch, or how their careers have developed. For example the year Viviana Durante graduated or Edward Watson - who graduated at the same time, where did they dance, did they have a fulfilling career? It would be so great to do a 'whatever happened after graduation 1984' Durante's or 1994 Watson's - just an idea..........

    • Kay Wraith responded on 11 September 2017 at 8:52am

      Yep they do. My daughter was at White Lodge and then ENB School, and then Company and is now a soloist with Scottish Ballet. She has a group called the BFF's (Best Friends Forever). They all met at White Lodge or Yorksire Ballet Seminars.

  2. Vanessa responded on 16 September 2016 at 10:26am Reply

    Very interesting. I would also like to hear stories of those passionate students who don't make it, who's hopes were dashed as being not suitable... History rarely tells their story. All the white lodgers of upper schoolers who leave ballet for one reason or another. De Valois was firm about weeding out students and professionals. How do they cope? But in glad that the upper school seems to find good employment for all.

    • Lynne brown responded on 10 September 2017 at 5:56pm

      Yes sometimes it's so painful to leave and it takes along time to get over it that was my daughter now we go to all the live feed in cinema and appreciate the beauty and dedication of the cast but it took a long time and I don't think it's a good idea to assess out in the third year as the student has to start again somewhere else

  3. Hilmar Adriaans responded on 20 December 2016 at 6:30pm Reply

    So good to read your articles . It brought tears of joy and nostalgia when I was at the Royal ballet school in the 60's with great teaching personalities like Ursula Moreton,Harald Turner, Erol Addison, Ninette de Valoir and many others. Never to be forgotten! Now at 75 I sit back and enjoy the great dancers of today. Thanks

  4. Hilmar Adriaans responded on 20 March 2017 at 8:43pm Reply

    Having had the joys of working with the royal ballet will always inspire my life.

  5. Kevin responded on 3 July 2017 at 9:59am Reply

    Please note the obituary of Hilmar Adriaans, formerly of the Royal Ballet School and the Royal Ballet, shortly after these comments were written.

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