I had the opportunity recently to ask Emma Garrison some questions about her journey as a ballerina. Emma is an excellent dancer, she graces the stage with incredible poise and grace, her love ballet is amazing. Below are her responses.
Q1: When did you start ballet?
I started ballet when I was 3, but didn’t start training pre-professionally until I was about 12 years old
Q2: Where do you currently dance?
I’m a member of the Junior Ballett with Ballett Dortmund in Germany
Q3: How long have you been en pointe for?
I started dancing en pointe when I was 9 years old, so it has been 10 years since I slipped on the first pair.
Q4: What pointe shoes do you currently wear?
I currently wear customized Freed Classics made by the wonderful wineglass maker, who I have been wearing for years
Q5: How did you first get involved in ballet?
Ever since I was little, I have wanted to be a dancer. “Ballet” was actually my second word I ever spoke, and since I learned it I didn’t stop asking to take classes until the dance teacher at my local studio finally let me start. My sisters took classes, and I’m sure seeing the pink tutus and ballet slippers is what started my obsession
Q6: What is your favourite variation?
This is a hard one, as there are so many I love to dance, but if I had to choose one I would say the 4th variation from Divertimento No. 15 by George Balanchine. I love the the way the movement feels in my body, and the energy from the music makes it an especially joyous variation to dance. Plus, it was the variation I chose to film for my auditions, and the one that got me my first job!
Q7: What company would you love to work for?
My dream at the moment is to dance for the Vienna State Ballet. I admire so many dancers from the company, and the repertoire is exactly in line with what I’d like to be dancing throughout my career. They have a wonderful mix of classical and neoclassical, as well as contemporary, and living in Vienna doesn’t sound half bad either
Q8: Do you have a favourite memory/moment in ballet?
My favorite memory so far was my first show of Nutcracker with Miami City Ballet. I had worked very hard from the previous year to get the opportunity to perform with the company, and was especially excited because I was performing snow, flowers, and Spanish on opening night. I remember being backstage and having to hold back tears because all my hard work had paid off, and I was going to spend my favorite holiday season dancing away and bringing joy to so many.
Q9: Who are your ballet roles models? Dancers that inspire you.
Marianela Nuñez is my ultimate ballet inspiration. Her dynamic yet graceful movement is something I aspire to, and I can’t help but get lost in the story when she is the one telling it. She is one of the few dancers I can watch without thinking about her technique or the choreography she is doing, and just fully enjoy watching
Q10: Best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?
The best advice I ever received was from a teacher at Miami City Ballet School by the name of Francis Veyette. One of his lessons he taught us was to never play the victim status. You are in control of your body, your emotions, and your reactions, and to think otherwise is to do oneself an injustice
Q11: Advise you’d give a young version of yourself?
I would tell myself, and all young dancers, to start dancing for yourself, and only yourself, each and everyday. As you get older and attention from teachers starts to oscillate, it is most important to enjoy the work itself, not just the reaction from the teacher it may or may not incite. This also allows you to separate yourself from corrections. Now I only think if a class, audition, rehearsal, or performance was good enough for myself, not the teacher or director, or whomever may be at the front of the room. If you hold yourself to your own standards, you will never feel unfulfilled
Q12: Best thing about being a ballerina?
The best thing about being a ballerina is, quite simply, being a ballerina. I love absolutely everything about it, from doing my hair, to the first step at barre, to performing on stage. I love the community that surrounds me each and everyday, and the common struggles we all face that we can help one another through. To be able to say I am a ballerina brings me joy like nothing else can
Q13: Hardest thing about being a ballerina?
The hardest thing about being a dancer is doing the work on the days when you’d rather stay in bed. I don’t mean when you’re sick, or injured, or there’s something preventing you from taking class, but the days where it’s rainy and your back hurts and you just want to stay under the sheets and watch movies all day. Though its always the most difficult to get up and moving on days like this, I find them to be the most rewarding days, where I am truly proud of myself for accomplishing the work despite my reluctance. I always say that one’s strength is measured by what they are able to accomplish when they aren’t feeling up to the task
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”?
Of course I did! However, for me it was never the work that intimidated me. I have always craved hard work, it’s in my nature. The difficulty was choosing between a normal life, and the one I was pursuing. I wanted to go to class, have boyfriends, go to dances and sleepovers and parties; with a pre-professional schedule, this was impossible. I have always been a very social person, and extremely passionate about learning and discussion, so choosing between what I wanted to do and what I was meant to do was the most emotionally straining part of my life. For any young dancers going through this, just know that it’s absolutely normal and even healthy to question your convictions, and to trust that in the end you will do what is best for yourself.
Q15: Classical or romantic tutu?
I love a classical tutu, but not the big huge pancake tutus one might see in Don Quixote or Swan Lake – I prefer shorter tutus commonly referred to as “bell tutus.”
Q16: Have you ever suffered a serious injury?
I have had several serious injuries that have put me out for weeks at a time, but the hardest and most serious one was a major hip repair surgery I had when I was 16. The surgeon told my mom I was never going to dance again, but instead of telling me that which would have ruined my determined mindset, she kept it from me and sent me to intensive physical therapy, and here I am now more flexible, with no pain, and a wonderful career ahead of me!
Q17: What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?
In my free time I do university classes with Indiana University, because as I mentioned before I am an avid learner. I am a self-proclaimed yogi and practice yoga 2-3 times a week for my mind and body, and I love to read, cook, and indulge in some TV when I’m too tired to do anything except lay on the couch. I also have a wonderful group of friends with me here in Germany, and of course I spend as much time with them as I can in between everything. Travel is another thing I love to do, and luckily here in Europe, so many wonderful places and experiences are only a train ride away.