March, 2007

Divine Imperfection

kellyannsloanTo paraphrase Robert Browning, a woman’s reach should exceed her grasp, or else what’s ballet for?

Kelly Ann Sloan is a perfectionist, which is precisely why she’s devoted her life to an art form in which perfection remains ever elusive. It’s that challenge that fuels her passion for dance.

Raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, the 26-year-old spent five years with the renowned Cincinnati Ballet before joining the new Los Angeles Ballet, whose summer season begins May 24 with “An Evening of Balanchine.”

In the following interview Sloan sheds light on the life of a ballerina: from her training and diet to what it’s like spending eight hours a day in front of a mirror.

FALA: I read somewhere that professional dancer is considered one of the 20 worst jobs for the reasons of low pay, short career and high injury rate.

KAS: When you have to dance, you do it while you can. If I can have 10 years as a professional dancer, I’ll be happy. But even just having one I’ve achieved my dream.

I wanted to be a Rockette initially. I knew I wanted to be on stage and I loved to dance. Then I saw “The Nutcracker” when I was 12. I went to a summer intensive course and after the first week I was sold: There was nothing else I wanted to do. I was so focused on ballet, but you need to be. When you lose the passion, it’s over.

I’m a perfectionist, and it’s impossible to be perfect at ballet. It’s a constant strive for perfection that you can’t achieve. And I’m so nowhere near being perfect. But it’s the ultimate challenge.

FALA: What are your strengths as a dancer, and what are your imperfections?

KAS: As far as I’m concerned I don’t have any strengths: I’m my own worst critic. But what I’ve always been told is that I have nice stage presence, that my love of dance comes across when I’m dancing. I’m good with the music. My weaknesses are everything: I want to be more flexible, have better feet, jump higher, turn better — what everybody wants. I want my technique to be a million times better than it is.

FALA: You do something so rarified. How does that affect your everyday interactions with people?

KAS: I try not to stand out. I’m not one to say, “Hey guys, I’m a ballerina.” But people are always in awe and ask a lot of questions, and I’m happy to answer them. I’m a big arts advocate and I try to talk about it, because I want people to know about the ballet and become fans.

FALA: What are people most curious about?

KAS: People always ask me to go up on my toes even though I don’t have point shoeskas.jpg on. Or they say, “Can you do the splits?” And I say, “Well, I’m not going to do it here.” But there’s never a dull moment in conversation when they find out you’re a dancer.

FALA: What else would people find unusual about the life of a ballerina?

KAS: Well we stare in front of a mirror all day long. If you’re sitting in a cubicle, at least you don’t have a mirror in front of you. It makes you very aware of everything that’s going on with your body. I haven’t weighed myself for three years. I don’t need that number because I know what I look like.

FALA: What is your training schedule like?

KAS: We have a 90-minute class in the morning at 9:30 AM. That’s your warm-up and way to hone your technique. Then we start rehearsals from 11:30-2:00. Then we have an hour lunch and rehearse for two or three more hours.

FALA: Are you completely exhausted each day?

KAS: I can handle that amount of time each day. Some days I’ll come home and go swimming. Other days when we’re rehearsing a whole show I’ll be exhausted and just go lie on the couch.

FALA: Are you in pain all the time?

KAS: No! I do have aches and pains now and then. It’ll hurt for a day or two. I’ll go to a physical therapist or get a massage and take Ibuprofen. If something lasts longer than about five days, then I know I need to take more action. When I am injured, it’s pretty bad. But luckily I haven’t had to dance in pain.

FALA: So are you a delicate flower that breaks easily, or are you a well honed athlete?

KAS: The idea is to look like a delicate flower while being an incredibly honed athlete. You can’t do it thinking, “Oh, I’m going to break.” But that’s the illusion we try to give.

FALA: Could you go rollerblading in Venice, or is something like that too risky?

KAS: I like to do physical activities, but I enjoy pilates and swimming — non-contact and not pounding into the ground. I have a fear that if I did go waterskiing then I might injure myself and wouldn’t be able to do what I really want to do. But I know ballet dancers who are into extreme sports like snowboarding.

FALA: Will you take a flight of stairs, or is there a constant fear in your everyday life of twisting your ankle?

KAS: I don’t wear high heels because I’m a klutz and would probably twist my ankle, but I’m not going to say, “I can’t walk to the store; I need a ride.”

FALA: Do you have a special diet?

KAS: I try to eat healthy food. When I was a student I was so set on “low fat, low calorie,” and yet I was so skinny! I tend to eat small meals all day long because I’m always hungry. I’m always eating snacks, and a lot of fish, chicken, rice and pasta. My biggest vices are diet Coke, coffee, candy and cake. It’s important to have enough fuel to get through the day. The last show we did was so difficult, if I was starving myself I wouldn’t be physically able to do it.

FALA: Is there pressure to be thin, or is it assumed you’re thin if you’re a professional dancer?

KAS: I think it’s assumed. And chances are the director was pleased with the way you looked when they have you the job. They don’t typically hire you and then say you have to lose weight. Some people are naturally skinny and some muscular, and that’s the beauty of this company: Not everybody looks the same.

FALA: How are you finding Los Angeles?

KAS: It’s just like what you see on television: The weather’s amazing and the traffic is horrible. There’s this laid-back beachy feeling, yet at the same time everybody’s in a rush — like I feel everywhere I go I see some agent trying to get to an appointment. And I’m starstruck seeing celebrities all the time. To do what I love in a new environment that’s exciting has made joining the Los Angeles Ballet a really great experience.

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