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Q&A With Australian Ballerina Hannah Saito

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

Q1: When did you start ballet?

When I was 3 years old

Q2: Where do you currently dance?

I train at the Prima Youth Classical Academy

Q3: How long have you been en pointe for?

I have been pointe for about 2 and a half years

Q4: What pointe shoes do you currently wear?

I wear Grishko 2007

Q5: How did you first get involved in ballet?

I started dancing with all of my friends from Pre-School

Q6: What is your favourite variation?

There are so many variations I love it’s impossible to choose!!!

Q7: What company would you love to work for?

As long as I am a ballerina and dancing everyday I am happy anywhere!

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

My favourite moments are when you come off stage after a performance and knowing that you did your best and that your hard work was so worth it!

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

The dancers that inspire me most are Fumi Kaneko, Yasmine Nagdhi and Skylar Brandt

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

To always believe in your self and know that if you put the work in you will always get what you put in

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

To always think about artistry! Sometimes I would only just think of the technique and forget about the artistry but ballet is an art form.

Q12: Best thing about being a ballerina?

The feeling of knowing you have done your best!

Q13: Hardest thing about being a ballerina?

There are times you will feel discouraged but that’s Ballet! One thing that makes ballet so addictive is the rollercoaster of emotions.

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”?

I have never really thought about another life. I just love ballet so much and I all I want to do is to be a ballerina!

Q15: Classical or romantic tutu?

Ooh!!! I love both but I I would have to say I do love a classical tutu!

Q16: Have you ever suffered a serious injury?

I have always been very lucky to have never been seriously injured

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

I love going on walks with my family by the beach and playing with my little pet cat!

Q&A With American Contortionist Eva Lou Rhinelander

I had the pleasure of asking the incredible American contortionist Eva Lou Rhinelander some questions about her journey as a contortionist. Eva 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. Eva is an incredible performer and has an incredible future ahead, she’s one of only a handful of American contortionists who can do the Marinelli Bend . Below are her responses.

Bio: Eva Lou Rhinelander is an 11th grader from Boston, MA. She has toured for 6 summers in the Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour where she performs hula hooping, contortion, handstands, wire & clowning. During the school year Eva competes in dance and is a Level 9 rhythmic gymnast

Instagram: @evalouhoops

Q1: How long have you done contortion for?

I started learning contortion around 2016, when I first began to take handbalance lessons. I was 11 years old. 

Q2: How did you start contortion?

I started rhythmic gymnastics when I was 10, so I was already learning moves that are considered contortion. But it wasn’t until I auditioned for the 2016 Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour that I learned the circus term contortion. I couldn’t hold a handstand, and I didn’t know anything about contortion. After that audition, I enrolled in handbalance lessons, so between the strength and stretching, I was able to start doing contortion tricks. 

Q3: What inspired you to start doing contortion?

I was already a naturally flexible kid, so after my first year at Circus Smirkus, the coaches and directors asked me to start learning contortion so I could be in the act the next year. It was a natural fit!

Here’s a link to Eva’s first contortion act (the Octopus Act in the 2017 Circus Smirkus show): https://youtu.be/0kmw3fuvEI8 (Eva is in the middle in the starting position as the head of the Octopus)

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

I train an average of 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, in a variety of skills that all help with contortion. These include rhythmic gymnastics, dance, acro, handstands and contortion. 

Q5: What is your favorite contortion move/trick?

My favorite contortion move is contortion pushup. I had to work a really long time to be able to muscle up, so whenever I do a contortion pushup, it is a reminder of the payoff. 

Here is a video of Eva doing contortion pushup and mouthpiece in an act: https://youtu.be/EewRtLL9-oM

Q6: What has been your best contortion experience?

My best contortion experience was learning from so many amazing coaches during the “quarantine” from the spring of 2020 through summer 2021. I started training online from my house, and improved so much. 

Here is a video of a hoop contortion act Eva developed while learning at home: https://youtu.be/GqcTM5mEinw

Q7: What is your ultimate contortion goal/dream?

My ultimate contortion goal is to have solid one arms on both sides, and be able to move around into different positions in one arm. I love balancing handstands so much and want to master them.  

Q8: Best advice you’d give someone interested in contortion?

My best advice is to just keep practicing. You won’t be able to reach your goals unless you work for them, so keep training! And do 100 push-ups everyday!

Q9: Best advice you’ve received?

The best advice I have learned/received over the years of training contortion and handstands is to train on both sides. It is so important to have equal strength and flexibility on both right and left shoulders, splits, wrists, legs, etc. because it is really easy to fall into bad habits which limits the tricks you can do, and you can also injure yourself in the long run. 

Q10: Biggest contortion inspiration?

It is really hard for me to choose just one contortion inspiration. There are so many amazing people who do contortion, as well as so many approaches and techniques to the tricks. I am inspired by the variety of learning that contortion provides. 

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

A usual day of training consists of me going to school in the morning, coming home from school and doing homework for maybe an hour, and then rushing off to either gymnastics or dance until 9 p.m.. On days where I train contortion, I stay home and take online classes. 

Q12: What is your preparation for a performance like?

Preparation for a performance consists of planning the theme of the act for the particular show or event, then choosing music, and shifting my act to fit it. I have a couple baseline acts that are always ready to go, so I’m always happy to be in a show! 

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

My biggest motivator in contortion is the feeling of getting stronger and achieving new tricks. I love to keep improving, and being challenged all the time is why I love contortion so much. There’s always something new to learn.

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

I actually try my best not to think while I perform contortion. I can get really easily distracted or psych myself out easily, so as long as I am just doing what I know and remembering my act, everything will go accordingly. 

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

I do get nervous before shows, but more in an excited sort of way. The best way that I can calm myself is to think through my act and practice my hardest tricks before I go on. 

Q16: Describe yourself in 5 words

Motivated, Perfectionist, Sleepy, Hungry, and Sassy

Q&A With Russian Aerialist Svetlana Mikhaylova

I had the pleasure of asking the incredible Russian circus performer Svetlana Mikhaylova some questions about her journey as a performer. Svetlana is an amazing performer 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. Svetlana is an incredible performer and has an incredible future ahead. Below are her responses.

(Translated using Google Translate)

Q1: How long have done contortion for?

I have been learning rubber elements for half a year, and developing flexibility for 5 years

Q2: How did you start contortion?

I sat on the splits, bent my back, and then I started trying new elements

Q3: How often do you attend training and for how long?

training every day for 5-7 hours

Q4: What has been your best contortion experience?

The best experience with Alesya Lavercheva

Q5: What is your ultimate contortion goal/dream?

I don’t have a dream, there are many goals to which I go

Q6:  Best advise you’ve received?

If I suffer for a long time, then everything will work out

Q7: What does a usual day of training look like?

On weekdays: 14:00-15:00-acrobatics 15:00-16:00-rubber 16:00-22:00 aerial gymnastics Weekend: 9:00-16:00 – aerial gymnastics 16:00-18:00 – acrobatics 18:00-19:00 – rubber

Q8: What is your preparation for a performance like?

First I do my hair, then make-up and go out to perform

Q9: What or who is your biggest motivator in contortion?

Alesya Lavercheva

Q10: What goes through your head when you’re doing a contortion performance?

Think about your mistakes, how to avoid them

Q11: Do you get nervous? How do you overcome your nerves?

All nerves go through training

Q&A With Russian Contortionist Ekaterina (@ekaterina_19910)


I had the joy of asking the incredible Russian contortionist Ekaterina some questions about her journey as a contortionists/aerialist. Ekaterina is an amazing contortionist/aerialist 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 an incredibly talented performer with a bright future ahead. Below are her responses.

(Translated using Google Translate)

Q1: How long have done contortion for?

3-4 years

Q2: How did you start contortion?

Came to the circus studio, They taught this genre there

Q3: How often do you attend training and for how long?

5 times a week for 2-3 hours

Q4: What is your favourite contortion move/trick?

Triple fold

Q5: What has been your best contortion experience?The best performance was when I performed for the very first time

Q6: What is your ultimate contortion goal/dream?

I strive to learn how to stand on one hand

Q7:  Best advise you’ve received?

1% of talent – 99% of work

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

Warm up, work on the table (if that was meant)

Q9: What is your preparation for a performance like?

Calmly

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

Quite a lot of people

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

I am completely in the performance. Therefore, there are no thoughts. Only about what to do next in the room, I guess

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

Of course, it happens. It helps me to be calm

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