So many of us girls dreamed of growing up to be a ballerina when we were tiny. For many of us, it wasn’t even about the dancing, it was purely the tutu. Little did we know that ballerina’s at the top of their game live the lives of athletes, making huge sacrifices, often far from their families and need discipline, determination and commitment to succeed If you don’t believe us watch the delightful eye opener that is ‘First Position’ on Netflix
Zoe Ashe-Browne is a professional ballerina with Ballett Vorpommern in Germany and a graduate of the English National Ballet. Originally from Dublin, she has dedicated her life to her art. We had a chat with her about her growing up as a ballerina with big dreams and the challenges she has overcome…
Hi Zoe. Describe your teenage experience in 3 words…
Fun, Exciting, Emotional.
When you were 15 where did you hope to be by now?
I did hope I’d be in a big city and in a big dance company. As it turns out I’m in a small city and in a small company, but 8 years of living, working an training in London happened, and I’m in a quieter place for a reason. Its a really cathartic thing to experience for a while in your life. But make no mistake, my 15 year old self would have snubbed the idea of moving somewhere smaller! Having said that, a lot of what I wanted at 15 I have. I’m a ballet dancer, and have a lovely relationship with my boyfriend, I have a small business, I dance for a living and I’ve a puppy! What more can I ask for?
Things have never been as straightforward as I imagined. But my winding path has allowed me to meet so many fantastic people and taught me a lot about who I am. So things have worked out.
Who were your greatest influences growing up?
So many famous dancers and people I trained with. The ones I remember very clearly are Marienella Nunez, Cynthia Harvey, two very famous ballerinas. My teachers Fiona Chadwick and Anya Evans. I also remember watching my first Jíri Kylian piece (a very famous choreographer) when I was 17 and walking out of the theatre with goosebumps. I think I just kind of floated all the way back to my youth hostel after that show. There were more, but my teenage years were quite a while ago sadly!
What is the biggest challenge you have overcome?
Well, I suppose getting over a very unhealthy relationship with food was a big one for me. I was very very thin at one point, and then, too big for a while (its what often happens when you’re trying to overcome disordered eating). I tend to suffer from panic and anxiety. I think its common enough in my profession, but I’m proud of myself for finding what works for me and I’m glad that I’m finally in a place where I can talk about it without feeling ashamed by it.
Whats the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Don’t compare yourself with others. Its the hardest thing to do, but in my profession you can drive yourself mad if you look around too much. There are so many talented passionate and driven people all around you, and you can really do yourself damage by always telling yourself x and y are so much better than you. By all means, take inspiration from people around you, but I guarantee that comparing yourself to your peers about appearance, talent, intelligence, whatever, will leave you feeling miserable.
If you could invite 5 women, living or dead, to dinner who would it be?
Both my grandmothers, Mae West, Meryl Streep, Michelle Obama.
Who is your go to person when you need a shoulder to cry on and why?
My two friends Zoe and Nancy. They’re unfortunately in Belgium and New Zealand. But we lived together in London as teenagers and Skype almost every week. We even try to see each other at least once a year which is quite an achievement. Its lifelong friendship, and I cherish it so much.
What do you love most about being a girl?
Forming strong female relationships. I’m not sure what a bromance friendship feels like. But my close female friendships mean so much to me, and I think we shouldn’t take for granted the fact that its socially acceptable for us to really vent to our fellow girls about anything. Its something I don’t think boys feel they can really do yet, hopefully that will change with time.
If you could say anything to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
Relax. Listen to your teachers. Work hard but enjoy yourself. Keep eating in ballet school. Be humble, but don’t apologise for being who you are. Everything is going to work out.