Alisa, where did you grow up?
I grew up in a town called Brookline that is right next to Boston, Massachusetts. I went through elementary school, middle school, and high school in the public schools of Brookline. Since it is very close to Boston, it is pretty urban with trains and buses. Brookline is a family-oriented and residential community that is really diverse. Brookline will forever be associated with some really warm childhood memories.
How old were you when you took your first ballet class?
I was 12 years old when I took my first ballet class. Before ballet I did musical theater which included singing, acting, and some dancing. I also did gymnastics as a kid and I loved running track at school. I think ballet was just the perfect combination of art and physical activity. It’s something where your movements can express an emotion, thought, or feeling. It’s absolutely perfect to me!
Did you immediately feel passionate about it?
I immediately felt very focused in class. I ended up quitting singing and devoting all my after-school time to ballet. As I did more of it, I became more and more passionate. I wanted to improve, and my motivation and determination made me work hard. Without realizing it, ballet had become something I thought a lot about, and I became really quite passionate by 13. I steadily increased my focus and the work I did outside just ballet class. By 15, I was accepted in Boston Ballet’s pre-professional program. I also took private lessons to improve even faster.
At what age did you realize ballet was what you wanted to do with your life?
I think by the age of 14 I had become pretty set with ballet becoming something very permanent in my life. I started auditioning for summer programs and reading more about different styles of ballet and the different companies and dancers. It all fascinated me, and I wanted to be a part of the ballet world. I also loved the beauty associated with ballet and it is something that always inspired me on a daily basis.
Becoming a successful ballerina takes lots of hard work starting at a very early age. What qualities do you think are required to be in this industry?
I don’t necessarily agree that you have to start super early. I am a perfect example of someone who started later on and still reached a professional level. The most important thing is always believing in your dream and working towards your goals every day, steadily and diligently. Being able to learn quickly and apply corrections you receive from your teachers is also very important.
I also think that you have to be able to let go of control sometimes and really be able to throw yourself into possibly uncomfortable movements and choreography. Taking risks only makes you better, and you realize your true potential by learning and correcting as much as you can, and then just being able to let go and DANCE!
Who are some of the ballet teachers you’ve studied under throughout you training?
I started at the Boston Ballet School and then transitioned at the age of 16 to a private teacher named Alexandra Koltun. Afterward, I studied at the Brookline Ballet School with Parren Ballard and Trinidad Vives. I also took lessons from a wonderful teacher in Rhode Island named Zhanat Baidaralin. After high school, I moved to New York City and studied at SLK Ballet under the direction of Sara Knight where I ultimately earned a graduate certificate.
In your opinion, what’s special about dancing in New York or Boston?
Each city can really make me feel differently going into class in the morning. When I’m at home in Boston, I feel very relaxed going into morning class. I’m very focused and I feel very comfortable. In New York, I felt overwhelmed at times with the pace of the city and the amount of different dancers there were in the city. In New York, I felt like I was in a very competitive atmosphere which became a motivator for me to work harder and present myself confidently in class no matter how I felt.
How do you put your anxiety aside and embrace the role when you perform on stage in front of hundreds of spectators?
I get so anxious about an hour before each show. I have butterflies in my stomach, and I always want to practice more. Before the curtain goes up I like to practice maybe some harder technical elements with my full costume on and makeup just to get a feel for the stage and feel more confident going into the show.
A few minutes before I have to go on I try to envision myself in a different world, far away from reality. This helps me a lot. I just try to focus on living on stage and enjoying the beauty of it all rather than freaking out about what could go wrong. Just breathe, enjoy, and live the life you are portraying on the stage, and that will shine through to the audience.
What inspires you?
What inspires me is the beauty of ballet and the ability to show certain emotions while dancing. I always loved the aesthetics of ballet. The beautiful costumes, the theaters, the shapes your body makes while you are dancing…so much beauty in it all! I’m always in awe. But another really big part of my dancing is the feelings that come along with it. I love expressing my emotions with the help of the movements and the music. I feel wild and free and I only feel this when I’m dancing. It’s the most liberating feeling in world.
How often do you practice and what is your routine?
I practice every day! I have one day off where I only stretch or do some small exercises, but the rest of the week I have classes and rehearsals. The length of the day can vary. Most days are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some days are even from 9:00 to 7:30. If I have a shorter day, I try to do some extra exercise at the gym and some extra stretching. I also think it is extremely important to watch YouTube videos of ballet in order to see how a professional performs each step so that you can work towards perfecting your work. You can learn a lot from videos and also get really inspired!
What kind of music is on your iTunes or Pandora playlist?
I love to warm up in the morning to The 1975, Tame Impala, and The Neighborhood. They are bands I just really love listening to and I like being in my own world in the morning. When stretching in the evenings at home, I like to listen to some classical music just to feel more relaxed. I really like Mozart and some contemporary classical composers like Phillip Glass.
Do you have any advise for children who would like to pursue a career in ballet?
Never let your dreams fade and always remember to enjoy each precious moment that you are dancing. It can be really hard to come into the studio every single day and feel as though you are not improving and you are not getting where you want to be, but you have to always remember to simply love ballet and love dancing. After all, you cannot inspire others and make others happy if you do not know what that feels like. Keep your dreams in your head and only envision a positive future. Your dreams are like the light at the end of the tunnel that keep pulling you forward and motivating you each and every day. Work hard!
Before we say goodbye, any advice to parents on how they can help or motivate kids?
Be as supportive as possible of your child, and find teachers that can not only teach ballet, but can also be a sort of friend and mentor. I really think that being your child’s number one supporter and fan is crucial.
Photography Credit Chad Edward
Photography Credit Kenneth Brewster Edwards
Alisa, we wish you well and continuing success!
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We’d like to recommend few books:
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
Determination meets dance in this memoir by the history-making ballerina, Misty Copeland. The story of her journey to become the first African-American principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet
Jennifer Homans, a historian, critic, and former professional ballerina, wields a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice.