About the Women Taking Leaps series:
This blog - my life - would not be what it is today without the inspiring women in my life. Near and far, close friends and new acquaintances, incredible women have come into my life in my later years and opened a realm of possibilities for me, simply living by example. This blog series is the first of (hopefully) many to highlight the females that are forging onward, creating lives they love, and making a positive mark on this world.
This week, I've interviewed Livia Gil, a professional ballerina with the Hessiches Staatsballett - originally from Rio de Janiero, Brazil - living in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Interview: Livia Gil, Professional Ballerina with Hessisches Staatsballett
Taking the leap to live halfway across the world to dance full-time
Share a bit about your life before becoming an international dancer:
I always wanted to explore more than my own country in the arts scene. In Brazil, there are few possibilities for dancers, while in Europe there are so many ballet companies and lots of investment in the arts and culture. I knew giving up living at home would be a challenge, but if I wanted to make a more interesting career in dance, with better opportunities and to gain more recognition, coming to Europe would be the right choice for me.
Was there a growing pull or a single moment that moved you to fully pursue your dream?
When I was 15, I injured my left knee while practicing. I snapped the anterior cruciate ligament and decided to not take surgery, so I would recover faster and teach my body to work with the missing ligament. Overcoming that injury took me 7 months, at which point I could dance fully. During the process, I had no doubt that if I could get through physical therapy and rehabilitation, I would forever be passionate about dance and would make all efforts to become a professional ballet dancer.
How did those around you react when you told them what you planned to do?
Both my parents were always supportive of my dreams. My dad was the one who took me to my first audition to state ballet school (Theatro Municipal) in Rio de Janeiro. He always pushed me to go for my passion and he was the one to make the application for the Prix de Lausanne competition in Switzerland that allowed me to get a scholarship to the English National Ballet in London.
Most of my friends and family back home admire my choice. But, I had to hear a few times phrases like: "Oh but besides ballet, what do you actually wanna do for a career?" or "Ballet School? But aren't you going to go to University?" Never from close people, though. I'm very lucky to have had all support when I was growing up back home.
What’s been your greatest challenge (personal or otherwise) so far?
To find the strength to keep my self-esteem during 5 months of being unemployed. After my first contract as an apprentice with Leipziger Ballett, I wasn't renewed for the following season. I had to keep my head up in the hope to find another job offer, with a time limit, due to visa and financial issues. Again, I'm very lucky to always have incredible people around me. I had my grandma sending me a small allowance and my boyfriend, (also a ballet dancer, still working with Leipziger Ballet) helping me with a place to live - plus being my therapist during those hard times. I would cry almost every night for the rejection and not having a place to fulfill my passion and dreams.
I got a guest contract in Augsburg Ballet and the following week with Hessisches Staatsballet, where I currently work.
Acknowledge your greatest success since you began living abroad as a ballerina:
All of my failures and injuries led to my biggest achievements so far. I've always managed to come out on the other side. If things don't go as I planned at least I find other ways to make it work.
I'm a professional ballet dancer. That's my full-time job. I pay my bills with dance and I live a good life in Germany. I do have doubts some days. I keep moving around and I still intend to keep on moving till I find a place where I'm willing to invest all my energy in it. But, I'm already successful.
After all, I'm living the dream of the 15-year-old girl that promised herself she would make an international career.
Describe a day in the life of a full-time dancer in an international ballet company:
We always start with a ballet class, to warm up for repertoire and work on technique. Most companies start at 10 am and will have from 7 to 8 hours of working time. There is a full schedule of rehearsals throughout the day till 6/6:30 pm with a one-hour lunch break from 2 pm to 3 pm. On stage rehearsal days, we get a split day working from 10 am to 2 pm and then from 6 pm to 10 pm. It changes from company to company, but that’s the basic model - at least in most German companies. Apart from the actual work, you have to always keep protecting your body with preventive work, so you give yourself fewer chances of possible injuries. Despite being primarily an artist, our physical demands are just as high as athletes.
What advice do you have for others who are considering a life abroad, especially in the arts?
It’s a very competitive in the arts industry; especially demanding on those of us coming from overseas due to visa issues. You have to work a lot and give yourself the best chance. It’s a lot to do with luck, being at the right place and the right time. But, hard work and being passionate will push you further.
If you don’t get in straight away where you hoped to be, it is not a death sentence, as in you always other places. You are never stuck. All countries are so close together in Europe, which makes it easier to just get on a train and travel around. Once you get a scholarship or a job and sort out your visa, you are in.
Who is your biggest inspiration in the realm of professional ballet?
I have many. But 3 are always in my mind.
- Tamara Rojo is a big name in the ballet world. She is Artistic Director and Principal dancer with English National Ballet. A aery strong woman, full of personality. She's doing an amazing job with the company while still dancing. There are very few women in positions of directorship and she's a fantastic example of how we need more females out there.
- Laura Costa Chaud, who works in Leipziger Ballet and Isabelle Brouwers, my best friend and dancer with English National Ballet. Two fantastic examples of hard work and passion. I always admired more the dancers who had to work for it, who appreciate their opportunities and make the most of it when they perform. You can see the fire in their eyes while they dance. Always gives me goosebumps.
Thank you so much for joining us for the second of four in the Women Taking Leaps: Interviews & Inspiration series.
Be sure to check out the first interview in this series: Manuela Baron of The Girl Gone Green. Subscribe to the blog to get the latest posts each Friday.