Insights From the Stage: Ballet Dancer – Connor Williams

Welcome to my brand new blog series ‘Insights From the Stage’ which focuses on engaging Dance/Theatre Professionals to learn about their experiences and what advice they would give to any aspiring professional performers.

Today I am honoured to speak with Professional Ballet Dancer Connor Williams.

Connor is a Professional Ballet Dancer currently with the Estonian National Ballet.

What Age Did You Start Dancing and at Which School?

When I was three, my childminder used to take some of the girls to ballet and tap class. Eventually, I joined as well, but it didn’t last very long! That was it until about five years later when my friends and I joined a local disco dancing club. I loved it; we got to learn lots of new dance moves and stuff ourselves with sweets. Unfortunately due to a clash in activities I had to change schools and had to leave. My passion for ballet came, however, when I joined Stalder Academy of Dance and the Performing Arts.

Where Did You Study Dance?

I started my professional training at 16 when I got my place at Elmhurst Ballet School.

Who or What Has Been Your Most Significant Influence?

As a child, I always loved the Royal Ballet. To me, it showed me what a career could look like as a professional ballet dancer. Edward Watson was a big inspiration to me; I loved the way he moved; it was so different and exciting. He was the perfect dancer as he could do both classical and contemporary work. I loved how physical he was; to me, he was an athlete.

Who Do You Dance for Now? How Did You End up There?

I dance for the Estonian National Ballet. When I was in my graduate year at Elmhurst, we were encouraged to go on as many auditions as we could.

I went to so many different company auditions. Some I progressed very far with some promising offers while at others I was told I wasn’t the right height or that they didn’t have any available contracts at the time. So lots of rejection and lots of positive but still insecure offers.

Then I suddenly got the opportunity to go to the Estonian National Ballet, and they offered me a job on the spot!

What Is the Best Thing About Being a Professional Dancer?

Well, it’s nice to get paid for something that you enjoy doing. I like meeting dancers and choreographers from around the world. You get to learn new and different things. And in this industry, it’s always good to have as many contacts as you can.

What Is the Worst Thing About Being a Professional Dancer?

Rejection, whether it’s for a job or a role. It can make you think that you’re not good enough and make you doubt your abilities. You ask yourself ‘What am I doing wrong?’ ‘What are they doing that I’m not?’. But you’ve got to get through it and work harder. I think people are afraid to ask what they’re doing wrong or what more they can do to improve. Communication is key. But once you get that opportunity, it’s the best feeling!

What Is Your Best Experience as a Professional Dancer?

It has to be performing at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Getting to travel and perform in such an iconic theatre was truly surreal. Everyone knows Russian ballet is a significant presence in the ballet world, so it was terrific.

What Does a Typical Day Look Like as a Professional Ballet Dancer?

I usually wake up, have some breakfast then head to work and start warming up for ballet class. There are lots of rehearsals for most of the day, either learning new choreography or going over choreography for upcoming shows. There are costume fittings in between too.

If we have a performance in the evening, we will finish rehearsals early for the day, have a few hours break and then head back to the theatre. Oh and I try and find time to eat, go to the gym and do anything else that might come up.

Professional Ballet Dancer

How Important Is Acting During a Performance? Do You Work on This as Well as Dancing? 

Acting is something that I need to work on because in reality, when you’re performing most of the audience look at your face and the story you’re telling and not the beautiful technique. It’s essential because you need to guide the audience through the story.

I try to work on this in the studio because by the time it comes to going on the stage, you want to feel like you’re genuinely embodying the character. So it’s always essential to research and learn about the role you’re about to perform.

What Separates Good Performers From Great Performers?

For me, it’s when a performer gives everything they have to each performance. It’s when you see a dancer genuinely embodying the character and giving all their energy.

When it reaches the point where you can’t take your eyes off them, that’s what separates good and great performers.

How Do You Feel About Male Representation in the Ballet World?

Male representation in the ballet world is growing. I had a teacher that used to say at the end of the day when a man and a woman walk on stage; there is instantly a story. We need each other.

How Do You Try and Evolve as a Dancer?

Age and experience help a lot. Picking up wisdom from fellow dancers, who have been in the same position as you, is vital. To truly evolve, you should recognise your flaws and work on improving them consistently. You then become more rounded and can take your dancing to the next level.

Who Is Your Favourite Current Dancer/Performer?

At the moment one of my favourite dancers is Marcelino Sambé, who’s a principal at the Royal Ballet. As well as strength and physicality, he is beautifully fluid when he moves. He’s effortless and so easy to watch. I think all ballet dancers should aspire to be like him.

Matthew Ball is also another dancer I admire. He has a significant presence on stage that I’d love to have, one day.

What Professional Aspirations Do You Have as a Dancer?

I want to see as much of the world as I can and dance as much as possible. I want to progress and reach the top of my field.

I want to be a dancer that people find reliable and someone who always delivers. Through great performances, I want to entertain every spectator.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted You Both Mentally and Physically?

I was very fortunate to live with my girlfriend, so I didn’t have to quarantine alone. My mental state has stayed pretty much intact. Physically it was hard at the start of lockdown. As time went on, my joints and muscles got tighter and tighter. Not being able to go to the gym didn’t help. The restriction generally is never a good thing. I could go running, but it wasn’t the same.

My company did, however, give all the dancers harlequin flooring so we could dance at home which helped.

Throughout the whole process, I always tried to remind myself that I wasn’t the only person going through it. It was the entire world.

So, yes, it was hard, but it was for a great reason, to slow the spread of the virus.

How Are You Ensuring You Maintain Your Edge, Mentally and Physically?

I was lucky that in Estonia, we could go back to work to start training in mid-May. Even though we couldn’t perform, we could still get into shape, which was important.

Generally, I think it’s essential to keep to a schedule. When I was in lockdown, my aim was that everyday one drop of sweat would fall onto the floor. I would also try something new, so my girlfriend and I tried painting, baking and cooking new recipes. I would always remind myself one day I would be back doing what I love.

How Do You Think COVID-19 Will Change The Dance Industry?

I think everyone will have a deeper appreciation for the dance and arts industry. We are entertainers, and we help raise people’s spirits. People realise that our careers/jobs as performers are in their life always in one way or another. We are on your TVs and Radios; we are everywhere, you can’t escape us. We want to entertain, and if our performance can help someone through a difficult time, then it makes it all worthwhile.

Do You See Any Opportunities for the Dance Industry Coming Out of COVID-19?

I see lots of opportunities. The sooner we can get back to live performances, the better though.

I think the online platforms that the dance industry has created for the public is fantastic, and I believe that the social media presence needs to stay. The audience needs to have that personal connection to the dance industry. If we’ve learnt anything from COVID-19, it’s that staying connected is essential.

Where Can People Go to Find Out More About You and the Estonia National Ballet?

There’s a website for Estonian National Ballet: http://www.opera.ee/en/estonian-national-ballet/

I’m on Instagram @connor_mw

Send me a message if you read the interview and I’ll happily answer any more questions.

What Advice Would You Give to an Aspiring Ballet Dancer?

Take it all in. As a dancer, you meet people from all over the world who have had a very different journey to you. You also meet talented choreographers. They come with so much information and wisdom. Whether you agree with what people say or not, you can learn from it. At the end of my career, I want to say that I worked hard. I worked hard to get into a ballet school, I worked hard to get my first professional job, but I didn’t do it alone. I had family, friends and teachers pushing me to be the best I could be. So take everything you can get from them. I’m eternally grateful for everything they have done for me.

Some people will give you praise, and some will provide you with criticism, but if you can learn from every situation, you will come out a better person at the end of it.

*Photos used are not mine*

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. My name is Paul and I own Centre Stage. I am a Full-Time Dance Photographer located in Northumberland. Please feel free to view my work on this website. If you would like to discuss any dance shoots please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Insights From the Stage: Ballet Dancer – Connor Williams

Welcome to my brand new blog series ‘Insights From the Stage’ which focuses on engaging Dance/Theatre Professionals to learn about their experiences and what advice they would give to any aspiring professional performers.

Today I am honoured to speak with Professional Ballet Dancer Connor Williams.

Connor is a Professional Ballet Dancer currently with the Estonian National Ballet.

What Age Did You Start Dancing and at Which School?

When I was three, my childminder used to take some of the girls to ballet and tap class. Eventually, I joined as well, but it didn’t last very long! That was it until about five years later when my friends and I joined a local disco dancing club. I loved it; we got to learn lots of new dance moves and stuff ourselves with sweets. Unfortunately due to a clash in activities I had to change schools and had to leave. My passion for ballet came, however, when I joined Stalder Academy of Dance and the Performing Arts.

Where Did You Study Dance?

I started my professional training at 16 when I got my place at Elmhurst Ballet School.

Who or What Has Been Your Most Significant Influence?

As a child, I always loved the Royal Ballet. To me, it showed me what a career could look like as a professional ballet dancer. Edward Watson was a big inspiration to me; I loved the way he moved; it was so different and exciting. He was the perfect dancer as he could do both classical and contemporary work. I loved how physical he was; to me, he was an athlete.

Who Do You Dance for Now? How Did You End up There?

I dance for the Estonian National Ballet. When I was in my graduate year at Elmhurst, we were encouraged to go on as many auditions as we could.

I went to so many different company auditions. Some I progressed very far with some promising offers while at others I was told I wasn’t the right height or that they didn’t have any available contracts at the time. So lots of rejection and lots of positive but still insecure offers.

Then I suddenly got the opportunity to go to the Estonian National Ballet, and they offered me a job on the spot!

What Is the Best Thing About Being a Professional Dancer?

Well, it’s nice to get paid for something that you enjoy doing. I like meeting dancers and choreographers from around the world. You get to learn new and different things. And in this industry, it’s always good to have as many contacts as you can.

What Is the Worst Thing About Being a Professional Dancer?

Rejection, whether it’s for a job or a role. It can make you think that you’re not good enough and make you doubt your abilities. You ask yourself ‘What am I doing wrong?’ ‘What are they doing that I’m not?’. But you’ve got to get through it and work harder. I think people are afraid to ask what they’re doing wrong or what more they can do to improve. Communication is key. But once you get that opportunity, it’s the best feeling!

What Is Your Best Experience as a Professional Dancer?

It has to be performing at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Getting to travel and perform in such an iconic theatre was truly surreal. Everyone knows Russian ballet is a significant presence in the ballet world, so it was terrific.

What Does a Typical Day Look Like as a Professional Ballet Dancer?

I usually wake up, have some breakfast then head to work and start warming up for ballet class. There are lots of rehearsals for most of the day, either learning new choreography or going over choreography for upcoming shows. There are costume fittings in between too.

If we have a performance in the evening, we will finish rehearsals early for the day, have a few hours break and then head back to the theatre. Oh and I try and find time to eat, go to the gym and do anything else that might come up.

Professional Ballet Dancer

How Important Is Acting During a Performance? Do You Work on This as Well as Dancing? 

Acting is something that I need to work on because in reality, when you’re performing most of the audience look at your face and the story you’re telling and not the beautiful technique. It’s essential because you need to guide the audience through the story.

I try to work on this in the studio because by the time it comes to going on the stage, you want to feel like you’re genuinely embodying the character. So it’s always essential to research and learn about the role you’re about to perform.

What Separates Good Performers From Great Performers?

For me, it’s when a performer gives everything they have to each performance. It’s when you see a dancer genuinely embodying the character and giving all their energy.

When it reaches the point where you can’t take your eyes off them, that’s what separates good and great performers.

How Do You Feel About Male Representation in the Ballet World?

Male representation in the ballet world is growing. I had a teacher that used to say at the end of the day when a man and a woman walk on stage; there is instantly a story. We need each other.

How Do You Try and Evolve as a Dancer?

Age and experience help a lot. Picking up wisdom from fellow dancers, who have been in the same position as you, is vital. To truly evolve, you should recognise your flaws and work on improving them consistently. You then become more rounded and can take your dancing to the next level.

Who Is Your Favourite Current Dancer/Performer?

At the moment one of my favourite dancers is Marcelino Sambé, who’s a principal at the Royal Ballet. As well as strength and physicality, he is beautifully fluid when he moves. He’s effortless and so easy to watch. I think all ballet dancers should aspire to be like him.

Matthew Ball is also another dancer I admire. He has a significant presence on stage that I’d love to have, one day.

What Professional Aspirations Do You Have as a Dancer?

I want to see as much of the world as I can and dance as much as possible. I want to progress and reach the top of my field.

I want to be a dancer that people find reliable and someone who always delivers. Through great performances, I want to entertain every spectator.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted You Both Mentally and Physically?

I was very fortunate to live with my girlfriend, so I didn’t have to quarantine alone. My mental state has stayed pretty much intact. Physically it was hard at the start of lockdown. As time went on, my joints and muscles got tighter and tighter. Not being able to go to the gym didn’t help. The restriction generally is never a good thing. I could go running, but it wasn’t the same.

My company did, however, give all the dancers harlequin flooring so we could dance at home which helped.

Throughout the whole process, I always tried to remind myself that I wasn’t the only person going through it. It was the entire world.

So, yes, it was hard, but it was for a great reason, to slow the spread of the virus.

How Are You Ensuring You Maintain Your Edge, Mentally and Physically?

I was lucky that in Estonia, we could go back to work to start training in mid-May. Even though we couldn’t perform, we could still get into shape, which was important.

Generally, I think it’s essential to keep to a schedule. When I was in lockdown, my aim was that everyday one drop of sweat would fall onto the floor. I would also try something new, so my girlfriend and I tried painting, baking and cooking new recipes. I would always remind myself one day I would be back doing what I love.

How Do You Think COVID-19 Will Change The Dance Industry?

I think everyone will have a deeper appreciation for the dance and arts industry. We are entertainers, and we help raise people’s spirits. People realise that our careers/jobs as performers are in their life always in one way or another. We are on your TVs and Radios; we are everywhere, you can’t escape us. We want to entertain, and if our performance can help someone through a difficult time, then it makes it all worthwhile.

Do You See Any Opportunities for the Dance Industry Coming Out of COVID-19?

I see lots of opportunities. The sooner we can get back to live performances, the better though.

I think the online platforms that the dance industry has created for the public is fantastic, and I believe that the social media presence needs to stay. The audience needs to have that personal connection to the dance industry. If we’ve learnt anything from COVID-19, it’s that staying connected is essential.

Where Can People Go to Find Out More About You and the Estonia National Ballet?

There’s a website for Estonian National Ballet: http://www.opera.ee/en/estonian-national-ballet/

I’m on Instagram @connor_mw

Send me a message if you read the interview and I’ll happily answer any more questions.

What Advice Would You Give to an Aspiring Ballet Dancer?

Take it all in. As a dancer, you meet people from all over the world who have had a very different journey to you. You also meet talented choreographers. They come with so much information and wisdom. Whether you agree with what people say or not, you can learn from it. At the end of my career, I want to say that I worked hard. I worked hard to get into a ballet school, I worked hard to get my first professional job, but I didn’t do it alone. I had family, friends and teachers pushing me to be the best I could be. So take everything you can get from them. I’m eternally grateful for everything they have done for me.

Some people will give you praise, and some will provide you with criticism, but if you can learn from every situation, you will come out a better person at the end of it.

*Photos used are not mine*

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. My name is Paul and I own Centre Stage. I am a Full-Time Dance Photographer located in Northumberland. Please feel free to view my work on this website. If you would like to discuss any dance shoots please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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