A Day in the Life of a Ballet Dancer

Olivia Cowley Ballet Dancer Day in the Life

What are your favourite Christmas traditions? For me, it has to be baking gingerbread with my girlfriends, ice skating at Somerset House and watching The Nutcracker. It’s my favourite ballet, and always gets me into the festive spirit!

Recently I was lucky enough to speak to Olivia Cowley, a soloist at The Royal Ballet, who is currently dancing in The Nutcracker and rehearsing for Sleeping Beauty. Olivia walked me through her typical workday, and her schedule is sure to blow your mind. Seriously, few people work harder than ballet dancers! And if you don’t believe me just read on and prepare to be amazed…

MORNING:

“I arrive at The Royal Opera House every morning at about 9.45am and do 45 minutes of pilates before ballet class begins at 10.30am. Every dancer attends morning class, because you need to warm your body up before rehearsals begin. Class lasts for an hour and a quarter, and rehearsals usually run from midday until 5.30pm.”

“At the moment we’re rehearsing for Sleeping Beauty, which is our next production, and in the evening we’re performing The Nutcracker. So it’s a very busy time.”


Olivia Cowley Ballet Dancer
A Day in the Life of a Ballet Dancer

Left: “My outfit for the day. Comfortable with loads of colour.” Right: “Some extra coaching in my break. It’s like taking a daily multivitamin tablet for your technique!”


LUNCHTIME:

“We often have costume and wig fittings during our lunch breaks, so we’re prepared for the next production. And I also write a blog called ballet.style, which I work on during my lunch breaks. It’s really refreshing to split up my day and focus on something that doesn’t involve my body!”

“Any free time I have during the afternoon is dedicated to blogging. I write everything on my phone, and then once I get home in the evening I put it all together and publish the content. I’ve got a good system going throughout the day that allows me to keep it running. And all of the dancers like to be photographed, so they’re a great help to me. I love documenting their outfits, because dancers naturally have a really lovely style about them. It must be because we look at ourselves in the mirror all day, so we really understand our bodies and what suits us.”

AFTERNOON:

“We’re currently in rehearsals for Sleeping Beauty, which I’m really excited about. I’m going to be playing Carabosse, which is a new role for me. So at the moment I have lots of one-on-one coaching sessions in the afternoon. A lot of my rehearsals are with Monica Mason, the ex-director of The Royal Ballet who played Carabosse many times throughout her career. She’s able to give give me very personal corrections, and I really value our time together. Our sessions are intense, because you have to be so focused, but they’re really good.”


Ballet Style Olivia Cowley
Royal Ballet Day in the Life

Left: “In a full call rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty, which is coming up soon.” Right: “A bit of physio before The Nutcracker.”


EVENING:

“It takes me two hours to get ready for The Nutcracker. Even though you’ve done a full day of rehearsals you still need to warm up, because your body cools down while you have dinner. So I always do another ballet class before a show. And it takes an hour to get into costume, because we have quite intricate wigs and the makeup has to be heavy because of the lighting. We all do our own makeup, unless we’re playing a particular character that requires a lot of work.”

“Usually the curtain goes down at 10.30pm, and it takes half an hour to shower, take my makeup off and cool down. So I normally leave the Opera House at 11pm. However, The Nutcracker is only two acts, and finishes just before 10pm, which allows us to get out earlier.”


Olivia Cowley The Nutcracker
A Day in the Life of a Ballet Dancer

Left: “I always do my own hair and makeup before a performance. Tonight I’m the lead flower in The Nutcracker.” Right: “Before I preform I always go back into the studio and do a full ballet class to warm up.”


DOWNTIME:

We have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off this year, and those two days are really valuable. It’s hard though, because you can’t really do anything – it’s just a rest period. And if a dancer has a big show coming up on the 27th they’ll still go in on the 25th and 26th to rehearse. But I’ve never done that because I feel like my body needs the rest more than anything.”

My boyfriend is an ex-dancer, so he understands my need to hibernate on my days off. I literally can’t do anything on a Sunday. It’s a total shut down! I’d love to visit more museums, but when I have a day off I need to rest my body and mind.”

Find Olivia on Instagram at @missoliviac and check out her blog ballet.style. Tickets for Sleeping Beauty are now available at roh.org.uk. It runs from December 21st until March 14th (with a live cinema screening on February 28th), and prices range from £5-£100.

P.S. My 9 to 5 with Marianela Núñez, a principal dancer at The Royal Ballet

{Featured image by Rick Guest. Styling by Olivia Pomp. Courtesy of The Royal Ballet.}

  • Madalina

    Great article!