Your bio says you started dancing at 3 years of age. You later entered the Paris Opera school for training. At what age did you decide Ballet would be what you wanted to do? Would you also tell us about when this decision was made, what changes did you make in your life to achieve this goal? Thanks! – Valerie Lee
Every time I see you dance, my mind is filled with questions. What effect has your height had on your career? Are some things harder or easier? Have you ever been passed over because someone thought you were too tall? Also, where do you see yourself in five years and ten years – Suzanne Gerhold
I started dancing at 3 when my mom put me into classes at the dance studio where my sister was taking classes (a good way to keep her kids occupied!). Obviously you can’t make any rational decision about anything at that age, so when I entered the Paris Opera Ballet School at 8 it was an opportunity for me, but mostly an opportunity for my family. In France the Paris Opera School is one of the most prestigious schools (completely supported by the government) so it made for a very appealing option for any family to send their kids there. I honestly can’t remember a life before dancing, or ever really “choosing” to do this, but I do believe I always liked dancing. I think though, it really became a part of me around 15 with my first very big part in Jiri Kylian’s “Return to a Strange Land”. I was so young and it was so foreign for me to dance contemporary work when everything at the Paris Opera focused on pure ballet technique. But I quickly fell in love with the art form.
When I left France at 18 I knew that it what I wanted to do. I had a back pack and didn’t speak the language, but I had decided to take control of my life and pursue my dream to dance professionally. I have loved every company I have been with, but it was with the Joffrey Ballet that I could finally say “I love what I do”.
At 16 I started growing very fast and almost completely reached my current height of 6’6″ only one short year later. But if you can imagine it, my weight was not even close to where I am today so it made me look more like a shrimp than anything else lol. But in all seriousness, my height was the reason the I did not join the Paris Opera. For them, it is a more of a priority to create an ensemble then to pull together the best dancers (though they are phenomenal dancers, all looking the same phenomenal dancers lol). There were no bad feelings about it however, since to me, waiting 5 years minimum to become a soloist or a principal was too frustrating and long and nearly the life time for a dancer. The Paris Opera reputation is based on their impeccable ensemble, with height, body type, and line being very key.
So my departure to the US was mostly because my height, and at first I was always feeling the disadvantage of “I am tall”, “he is too tall”. It was always the same issue, but as I look back, it’s funny how the very people that said such things before are now pursuing me for work, lol. Now that I have proven myself and have the experience and reputation in the professional world behind me, it seems people are interested. But thank you, Mr. A for seeing beyond my height being a “problem” and giving me everything I have today at the Joffrey. And now today you can find more and more very tall dancers with amazing virtuosity, technique, and speed. It’s nice to see the change and acceptance in the profession.
So where will I be in 5 and 10 years? No one can predict the future, but I have quite a few things in mind that all still involve dance, but are more in the business direction than they are now. I see a lack of great programs in the US that include academia and ballet/dance together, so I have been working on my own curriculum and a way to develop ballet technique and partnering I can impart to others. I have learned a lot in my 26 years of training, and I have a vision for how things could be. I am really looking to develop this niche for the younger generation and place them into a successful academic system that sets them up for success as a professional in this field the way in that I grew up. Now let’s see how to bring this sort of idea into reality in a country where most people think art is unnecessary….sigh.