Q&A With Ukrainian Contortionist Maria Floka

I had the pleasure of asking the incredible Ukrainian contortionist Maria Floka some questions about her journey as a contortionists. Maria is an amazing contortionist and when she takes to the stage and performs and showcases her astounding skills, she leaves the audience in awe and mesmerized by what the human body can do. She is one of a select few Ukrainian contortionists who have learnt how to do the Marinelli Bend. Maria is an incredible performer and has an incredible future ahead, she had the opportunity at the end of 2021 to audition for Ukraine’s Got Talent. Below are her responses.

Q1: How long have done contortion for?

II have been doing it for 8 years

Q2: How did you start contortion?

Being engaged in circus art, performing various acrobatic elements, I began to succeed and I chose this particular type for myself.

Q3: What inspired you to start doing contortion?

Directly, so that there was no inspiration then, I just tried, tried.

Q4: How often do you train and for how long?

I train a lot, I get older more and more drivers in this attachment

Q5: What is your favourite contortion move/trick?

I love to combine flexibility and strength

Q6: What has been your best contortion experience?

The best experience for me was participation in a talent show

Q7: What is your ultimate contortion goal/dream?

I have many goals that I want to use in this transport and conquer new heights.  I dream of a future hero in the best circuses in the world, Cirque Du Soleil

Q8: Best advise you’ve give someone interested in contortion?

I can say that you always need to listen to yourself and your desire, then everything will work out

Q9: Best advise you’ve received?

It is precisely in this that I respect the advice of professional artists that I receive, they satisfy me, and almost everything that is important is not to give up, even if something does not work, the main thing is to try and try

Q10: Biggest contortion inspiration?

Desire

Q11: What does a usual day of training look like?

The very basis is always a good warm-up, after this, the execution of the elements, the passage of the number

Q12: What is your preparation for a performance like?

Well, probably like everyone else.  Make-up, hair, warm-up, a few elements done, and go

Q13: What or who is your biggest motivator in contortion?

My main motivation in everything is my family.

Q14: What goes through your head when you’re doing a contortion performance?

I direct all my attention during a speech to observations

Q15: Do you get nervous? How do you overcome your nerves?

Of course I’m nervous.  I try to fight, but most often, when you go out, everything goes away

Q16: Describe yourself in 5 words

Well, I don’t know, probably kind, stubborn, cheerful, proud, purposeful.

Q&A With Russian Contortionist Rita Schedrina

I had the pleasure of asking the incredible Russian contortionist Rita Schedrina some questions about her journey as a contortionists. Rita is an amazing contortionist and when she takes to the stage and performs and showcases her astounding skills, she leaves the audience in awe and mesmerized by what the human body can do. She is currently performing a part of Circus Fantastic in Moscow. She is one of a select few Russian contortionists who have learnt how to do the Marinelli Bend. Below are her responses.

Q1: How long have done contortion for?

I’ve been developing flexibility since I was 5 years old

Q2: How did you start contortion?

In rhythmic gymnastics

Q3: How often do you train and for how long?

Monday to Friday, 12 hours a day

Q4: What is your favourite contortion move/trick?

To be honest, I don’t like to bend. I have no favorite techniques

Q5: What has been your best contortion experience?

I tried myself as a model

Q6: What is your ultimate contortion goal/dream?

Not fond of this genre

Q7: Best advise you’ve received?

Take care of your back

Q8: What does a usual day of training look like?

-choreography -workout -voltage -equilibrium -pump

Q9: What is your preparation for a performance?

I set myself up for a good performance

Q10: What or who is your biggest motivator in contortion?

Nobody, I motivate myself.

Q11: What goes through your head when you’re doing a contortion performance?

Nothing

Q12: Do you get nervous? How do you overcome your nerves?

Yes, I’m nervous, before going to the arena I kiss the toy (mascot).

Q&A With American Ballerina Leahnees Miller

I had the opportunity recently to ask Leahnees Miller some questions about her journey as a ballerina. Leahnees is an amazing dancer, she graces the stage with poise and elegance. Her love for ballet is incredible. Below are her responses.

Q1: When did you start ballet?

I started ballet when I was three years old

Q2: Where do you currently dance?

I currently dance at a pre-professional ballet school- Kingsport Ballet

Q3: How long have you been en pointe for?

I have been on pointe for 7 years. I got my pointe shoes very early at age 9

Q4: What pointe shoes do you currently wear?

I am currently wearing Gaynor Extra Flex Stiff ( the yellow bag).

Q5: How did you first get involved in ballet?

When I was three years old my mother enrolled me in dance classes where I would go once a week; the school was an hour away. The next year I started taking classes at a local studio, where I stayed for 2.5 years. Finally, my mother and I decided that if I wanted to become serious with ballet I would need to go to a serious school so at age 7 I was enrolled in Angelina Ballerina Camp (a two week summer intensive for little kids) after that I was enrolled in the fall program and I have stayed at Kingsport Ballet ever since.

Q6: What is your favourite variation?

My favorite variation might come as a shock to most because it is known for it’s infamously aggravating choreography- the red fairy (or the finger fairy) in Sleeping Beauty

Q7: What company would you love to work for?

My dream company is Ballet Met! I would love to dance with them!

Q8: Do you have a favourite memory/moment in ballet?

Yes! I love whenever the rehearsal season is very busy and we have to come into the studio in the morning to rehearse our variations. I loved rehearsing Sleeping Beauty in 2019

Q9: Who are your ballet roles models? Dancers that inspire you.

In the ballet world, I look up to Isabella Boylston, James Whiteside, Natalia Osipova, and Kathryn Morgan!

Q10: Best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?

Some of the best advice I’ve received might sound a little harsh but it’s that the audience does not care about what is going on in your personal life or backstage they only want to see a good performance, not all the drama behind it. Once you enter the studio you are in the studio and when you leave the studio that is personal life

Q11: Advise you’d give a young version of yourself?

Don’t listen to your teachers too much, most things they say shouldn’t be taken to heart, be nice to yourself- you are so beautiful

Q12: Best thing about being a ballerina?

The hard work!

Q13: Hardest thing about being a ballerina?

Body image and criticism are the hardest parts of being a ballerina. Its important to separate yourself from ballet sometimes and see yourself for who YOU are and not just as the ballerina or what you want to be, what your teachers want you to be, or what you aren’t

Q14: It seems like such hard work, did you ever have days growing up where you were like “ugh maybe I’ll just pick an easier career so I can be like a normal teenager”?

That is certainly a thought that I think that should be more normalized. I have thought that many times and that’s okay. At the beginning of every fall season I used to get very unmotivated to go to class and listen to all the criticism and do the same thing over and over. A good thing to keep in mind is that ballet is not everything. You are a person with a life that could be potentially filled with many beautiful diverse experiences. There’s no reason to limit yourself to one career or one life. Ballet is not life, ballet is a part of your life right now and if it isn’t a part of your life in the future that is okay too. There shouldn’t be this pressure to always succeed and always be 100% driven towards a career in ballet.

Q15: Classical or romantic tutu?

Romantic!

Q16: Have you ever suffered a serious injury?

Yes! In the fall of 2017(13 years old), I fell during a fondue combination and my kneecap dislocated and came then came back into socket. Once I fell down I was too scared to get back up so I sat up against the wall and waited for my fellow students to finish their combination and for my teacher ( he was a guest teacher) to come over see what had happened. Once he got over to me he asked if I could bend my leg and I told I couldn’t but he insisted and bent it for me. Later, we found out that when my kneecap dislocated it scraped off a pea size bit of cartilage with it. My former doctor told me that we could either do surgery or start a physical therapy. At the time, we thought the safer option would be to start therapy since the doctors said that having surgery would give me a 50/50 chance of getting the results the doctors wanted. So I started a special type of physical therapy that involves a where a pressure cuff around my thought, above my knee, to move all of the blood from my calf up to injured spot to form a scab where the missing cartilage had left a whole on the inside of my knee. So fast forward to this year, I had assumed that my knee was okay since we did everything that the doctor said and but after dancing for 2 years on a knee that was chronically swollen with horrible chronic pain I thought this probably isn’t normal so my mother and I went to a different doctor. It turns out that the pea size bit of cartilage had expanded into over the size of marble, my kneecap was extremely weak and loose, and had arthritis. A month and half later I had a major reconstruction surgery where they scraped and polished the back of my kneecap, removed the extra cartilage, and added in a ligament on the inside side of my knee to secure the patella ( kneecap). I have been in recovery mode since then and I am proud to say that I am officially back on pointe and doing everything that I was doing before!

Q17: What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?

I really enjoy spending time with friends, family, and pets, modeling drawing, painting, swimming, intertubing, boxing, and working out!

Q&A With American Contortionist Jordan McKnight

I recently had joy of asking world renowned, American contortionist Jordan McKnight some questions about her phenomenal career as one of the world’s best contortionists. Jordan is an amazing contortionist and when she takes to the stage and performs and showcases her astounding skills, she leaves the audience in awe and mesmerised by what the human body can do. The joy she has on her face when performing is infectious and her smile brings happiness to many. Jordan has had the opportunity to travel the world performing, from Australia to America. She also had the opportunity to work with some of the worlds best performers in multiple different circus’ and train and learn from renowned contortion coach and choreographer Jasmine Straga. Below are her responses.

Q1: How long have done contortion for?

I’ve done contortion for 9 years

Q2: How did you start contortion?

I started because I saw a video online and thought it looked really cool and fun and then tried it and fell in love with the art

Q3: How often do you train and for how long?

I train 5 days a week, 4 hours

Q4: What is your favourite contortion move/trick?

I don’t have a favorite trick, they are all unique in their own way so it would be impossible to choose!

Q5: What has been your best contortion experience?

My best experience is really hard to choose, I would say working with cirque du Soleil or working in Absinthe!

Q6: What is your ultimate contortion goal/dream?

My goal is to keep working in high end shows, and just to continue on my path

Q7: Best advise you’ve received?

Let me think of this one. There’s a bunch of advice my mom has given over the years that I take to heart!

Q8: What does a usual day of training look like?

Cardio fist, stretching, contortion, and then Pilates

Q9: What is your preparation for a performance?

I don’t really have a specific preparation. Other than making sure I’m completely stretched, and have warmed up my skills

Q10: What or who is your biggest motivator in contortion?

The Mongolians! They are the best!

Q11: What goes through your head when you’re doing a contortion performance?

Not much lol. I pay attention the audience and music more than what I’m doing I guess if that makes sense

Q12: Do you get nervous? How do you overcome your nerves?

You will always have nervousness! You just do it, to out there on stage and enjoy it.

Q&A With Australian Ballerina Kayleigh van Kempen

I had the chance recently to ask Kayleigh van Kempen some questions about her journey as a ballerina. Kayleigh is an amazing dancer, she graces the stage with poise and grace. Her love for ballet is incredible. Below are her responses.

Q1: When did you start ballet?

I started ballet in 2015/2016 and Rad grade 4 was my first exam

Q2: Where do you currently dance?

I currently dance at the European School of Ballet in the Netherlands

Q3: How long have you been en pointe for?

I have been on pointe since September 2017

Q4: What pointe shoes do you currently wear?

I currently wear Merlet pointe shoes and Wear Moi.

Q5: How did you first get involved in ballet?

Ballet was a requirement to be able to do competitions, and I really wanted to do dance with my friends (in a group) and do competitions

Q6: What is your favourite variation?

At the moment my favourite variation is paquita 4

Q7: What company would you love to work for?

I’d love to work for any company in Europe or America

Q8: Do you have a favourite memory/moment in ballet?

I have so many, but one of my best ones was going from Australia to the Netherlands to ESB to audition and getting accepted.

Q9: Who are your ballet roles models? Dancers that inspire you.

My teachers are my role models but actually so are my classmates because I see them all work so hard every day and we all strive to get better which inspires me to give it my best.

Q10: Best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?

I have received so much amazing advice, but I think it would be to listen to my body, and believe in myself and work hard and write down my corrections after class and read them before the next class starts

Q11: Advise you’d give a young version of yourself?

I’d like to give my young self advice to always think before I do something

Q12: Best thing about being a ballerina?

Everything; the dancing, the friends, the ballet world, I love it all.

Q13: Hardest thing about being a ballerina?

The hardest thing about being a ballerina is the amount of pressure that is on you; you need to try to be better then yesterday and sometimes your body just won’t listen as well as you would like 😉

Q14: It seems like such hard work, did you ever have days growing up where you were like “ugh maybe I’ll just pick an easier career so I can be like a normal teenager”?

No I have not

Q15: Classical or romantic tutu?

I like both tutus depending on what the style is. Sorry I can’t pick

Q16: Have you ever suffered a serious injury?

When I went on points in sept 2017 soon after I developed Achilles Tendonitis, but that was it.

Q17: What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?

When I am not dancing I like to be with my friends and family

Q&A With Mongolian Contortionist Aruna Bataa

I had the pleasure of asking Aruna Bataa some questions about her journey and experiences as a contortionist. As a former Cirque du Soleil contortionist, she always amazes the audience with her incredible flexibility and skills. She has been able to honor the long tradition of showcasing the ancient Mongolian art form around the world. Below are her responses.

Q1: How long have done contortion for?

23 years

Q2: How did you start contortion?

Got inspired by contortionists when I was a kid

Q3: How often do you train and for how long?

It depends, right now I’m training 4 times a week for about 2hrs each training session

Q4: What is your favourite contortion move/trick?

Definitely Mouth Trick

Q5: What has been your best contortion experience?

Getting to perform

Q6: What is your ultimate contortion goal/dream?

Don’t know…

Q7: Best advise you’ve received?

Can’t think of anything specific

Q8: What does a usual day of training look like?

Pretty much what you guys see on my IG

Q9: What is your preparation for a performance?

Good warm and conditioning

Q10: What or who is your biggest motivator in contortion?

Don’t know…

Q11: What goes through your head when you’re doing a contortion performance?

It depends how comfortable I am with my act… but usually I’m very focused on my performance so don’t have anything specific in my mind…

Q12: Do you get nervous? How do you overcome your nerves?

Of course, getting nervous means you care about the performance

Q&A With American Ballerina Emily O’Steen

I had the chance recently to ask Emily O’Steen some questions about her journey as a ballerina. Emily is an amazing dancer, she takes to the stage with poise and grace. Her love for ballet is incredible. Below are her responses.

Q1: When did you start ballet?

I started ballet when I was 2 years old!

Q2: Where do you currently dance?

I currently dance at my high school’s college preparatory dance program, the John Carroll school

Q3: How long have you been en pointe for?

I have been en pointe since I was 11, so five years!

Q4: What pointe shoes do you currently wear?

I currently wear Gaynor Minden pointe shoes

Q5: How did you first get involved in ballet?

I first got involved in ballet because like most little girls, I started taking classes when I was little

Q6: What is your favourite variation?

My favorite variation is Lilac Fairy from Sleeping Beauty!

Q7: What company would you love to work for?

I would love to work for the Washington Ballet or American Ballet Theatre

Q8: Do you have a favourite memory/moment in ballet?

My favorite moment in ballet was last year when I was performing Clara in the Nutcracker, I had to do fouettés and I finally landed them perfectly opening night!

Q9: Who are your ballet roles models? Dancers that inspire you.

My ballet role model is Julie Kent! I absolutely love how she teaches and the artistry in her dancing

Q10: Best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?

The best advice I’ve ever been given from a teacher is to perform every single step, no matter if it’s a plié or a grand jeté

Q11: Advise you’d give a young version of yourself?

Advice that I would give a younger version of myself is that all the hard work you are putting in now is going to pay off greatly, so don’t get discouraged

Q12: Best thing about being a ballerina?

The best thing about being a ballerina is the feeling when the curtain opens, or when you notice you’ve improved in your dancing

Q13: Hardest thing about being a ballerina?

The hardest thing about being a ballerina is dealing with burnout, because you focus on dance so much of the time it gets hard to keep motivated. I just remind myself that if I ever stopped, a piece of me wouldn’t exist anymore, and that helps me keep going.

Q14: It seems like such hard work, did you ever have days growing up where you were like “ugh maybe I’ll just pick an easier career so I can be like a normal teenager”?

It is hard work! There were definitely some days where I just wanted to be able to hang out with friends instead of have to go to dance class, but I’m really lucky because my dance is incorporated into my high school! I get to see my close friends every day I go to dance which makes it really enjoyable.

Q15: Classical or romantic tutu?

Definitely classical tutu!!

Q16: Have you ever suffered a serious injury?

I’m lucky to never have suffered a serious injury, I keep working hard to remain strong and prevent injuries

Q17: What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?

I enjoy playing piano, spending time with friends and my dogs in my free time!

Q&A With Swiss Ballerina Joëlle Aeby

I had the chance recently to ask Joëlle Aeby some questions about her journey as a ballerina. Joëlle is an amazing dancer, she graces the stage with incredible poise and elegance. Her love for ballet is phenomenal. Below are her reponses.

Q1: When did you start ballet?

I started dancing when I was about 5 years old. My parents where working during summer so they found a summer course for me which was dance.

Q2: Where do you currently dance?

I am currently dancing in Melbourne with the Victorian state ballet

Q3: How long have you been en pointe for?

I started dancing on pointe when I was 9 years old …. so 14 years already!

Q4: What pointe shoes do you currently wear?

Since I am 15years old I wear my costume made point shoes from freed ( C Pro 90 Special, xxx ,heel pin, by wineglass). I wear between 2 and 5pairs a week

Q5: How did you first get involved in ballet?

My mum says I danced before walking:))) I did move when I hear music. But ballet was at the summer school when I was 5 years old

Q6: What is your favourite variation?

hard question… I love dancing the wedding variation of Aurora sleeping beauty act.3. I did perform this one at a Gala in prague. Beside that Raymonda’s dream variation.

Q7: What company would you love to work for?

I am grateful and so happy to be part of Victorian state ballet and hope to pursue my career as a dancer with this company for many more years. One of my absolute favourite company is the Royal ballet London.

Q8: Do you have a favourite memory/moment in ballet?

Yes few… as example winning gold medal in Germany and receiving a scholarship to join the ballet academic Munich, or when I received the certificate of best achievements from Gailen Stock at the royal ballet summer school, and another one would be performing Aurora at the gala in the nationale opera in Prague

Q9: Who are your ballet roles models? Dancers that inspire you.

Marianela Nunez absolut favourite dancer! Anna-rose O Sullivan, Misty Copeland and many more.

Q10: Best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?

Be yourself and love what you are doing.

Q11: Advise you’d give a young version of yourself?

I would give the same advice plus don’t give up and believe in yourself!

Q12: Best thing about being a ballerina?

There are so many beautiful things a ballerina’s life involves. As I love my job and it is my passion/life. Performing is pure joy.

Q13: Hardest thing about being a ballerina?

Injuries… I had two big surgeries and going through rehab and getting back on stage is a taff and hard way but possible !

Q14: It seems like such hard work, did you ever have days growing up where you were like “ugh maybe I’ll just pick an easier career so I can be like a normal teenager”?

Q15: Classical or romantic tutu?

Classical Tutu

Q16: Have you ever suffered a serious injury?

Yes, Broken hip with fractures and torn muscles and extra bone in my foot. Os trigonum.

Q17: What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?

I am a ballet teacher so I love to teach my students. If not teaching I do like to compose and play piano, cook and enjoy some time off with my partner and friends;))

Q&A With Australian Ballerina Matia Ingrey

I had the opportunity recently to ask Matia Ingrey some questions about her journey as a ballerina. Matia is an amazing dancer, she takes to the stage with incredible poise and elegance. Her love for ballet is amazing. Below are her responses.

Q1: When did you start ballet?

I started ballet at age 5

Q2: Where do you currently dance?

I currently dance at The National College of Dance in Newcastle, Australia

Q3: How long have you been en pointe for?

Approximately 2 years

Q4: What pointe shoes do you currently wear?

I’m currently wearing Energetiks and Grishko’s

Q5: How did you first get involved in ballet?

I actually started playing golf but apparently I danced all over the golf course so I began ballet!

Q6: What is your favourite variation?

My favourite variation is Queen of the dryads

Q7: What company would you love to work for?

I’m not certain yet, I’m working with my teachers to find the best fit for me

Q8: Do you have a favourite memory/moment in ballet?

I have a few special moments, winning the Joan and Monica Halliday RAD Award and the Australian Institute of Classical Dance Award. Also, I was thrilled to be accepted into the Australian Ballet and Queensland Ballet student training programs

Q9: Who are your ballet roles models? Dancers that inspire you.

Evgenia Obraztsova and also Katherina Markowskaja and Maxim Chashchegorov.

Q10: Best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?

That every time I dance, even when practicing I need to imagine I’m performing for Royalty

Q11: Advise you’d give a young version of yourself?

Attend as many workshops and training opportunities as you can to deepen your knowledge of dance. And most importantly, believe in yourself!

Q12: Best thing about being a ballerina?

When the stage lights hit you it feels like magic! Ohhh and wearing stunning costumes, tutus and tiaras!!!

Q13: Hardest thing about being a ballerina?

The forever quest for perfection and doubting your ability

Q14: It seems like such hard work, did you ever have days growing up where you were like “ugh maybe I’ll just pick an easier career so I can be like a normal teenager”?

Yes, however I can’t imagine my life without ballet, so this is my journey.

Q15: Classical or romantic tutu?

I love both but if I had to choose …. Classical

Q16: Have you ever suffered a serious injury?

No, I work hard on keeping strong to prevent injuries

Q17: What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?

Spend time with my friends, watch movies and swimming.