14 things you’ve always wanted to ask a male ballet dancer

The RNZB is kicking off its 2018 season with an unmissable rendition of the acclaimed New Zealand film, The Piano. Reimagined by Jiří Bubeníček and presented in association with the Auckland Arts Festival, we took five minutes to speak to lead dancer Shaun James Kelly. Herein is a glimpse into the life of a male ballet dancer.

What does being a ballet dancer prohibit you from doing on a day-to-day basis, if anything? Ballet is not only a passion but a way of life. Keeping your body in check with gym, Pilates and, of course, daily classes help you to stay in the best possible shape. I am lucky enough to be in a beautifully diverse company as part of the RNZB. If there is one thing I miss every day, it’s my beautiful family all the way on the other side of the world in Scotland. I’m so lucky to have a lovely supportive family but of course I would love to see them every day and have them attend my performances.

Did you always want to be a ballet dancer? Dancing is just something that I loved to do as a kid. I was always singing and dancing to the radio. I started with tap, jazz and Scottish country dancing, then fell in love with the beauty, strength and discipline of classical dance.

What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That it is easy — so much hard work and dedication goes into making dance look effortless.

If not a ballet dancer, who would you be? Ballet is just a part of me. I would love to continue to work on my choreography and grow in that direction as an artist.

What is the end goal/top billing for a career as a ballet dancer? After having a long career dancing I would love to develop more as a choreographer and hopefully, one day, have a main stage ballet. I can’t wait for the day I’m able to hand down all my years of knowledge and stage experience to the next generation and watch them flourish.

How early in life do you need to start with ballet to have a successful career? As a male I believe it is never too late. I started ballet when I was age 11. As long as you have passion drive and love for dance, I say go for it.

What is the pay like? Per show, hourly, cut of the attendance? We are on an annual salary pay scale.

Are the tights comfortable? I wouldn’t use the word comfortable [laughs]. We do get to design and buy our own from places like Yumiko, a dance retail designer website. They have lots of different styles from unitards to shorts, in different fabrics. I do love to wear bright colours — it’s a great way to express yourself every day.

What is the reaction when you tell people what you do? Lots of people are surprised but really excited at the same time. We’re so lucky that our job let us travel, be artistic and have a passion.

What is the greatest thing about your job? To inspire the next generation. I get to do what I love every day — to express myself freely through movements to live music and performance.

And the least exciting? Waking up early.

What does your workout/exercise routine involve? Warm up for 30 minutes into Daily Class, rehearsals from 11am-6pm with a lunch break and small breaks throughout, then a daily cool down and stretching session for 30 minutes at the end of the day.

What kind of foot and nail maintenance do you have to do? Lucky not much for a boy. I have dislocated and broken a few toes.

What is a good posture exercise for people who sit all day at work? If you have a desk job I would suggest shoulder rolls and neck circles, standing up every so often and touching your toes and a wall chair sit — all little things you can do without any equipment.

Watch Kelly perform in The Piano at ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, from 8th-10th March. 

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