My 9 to 5 | Marianela Núñez, Ballet Dancer

Marianela Nunez My 9 to 5

Just imagine what it’s like to decide what you want to do with your life at the tender age of five, and then spend your entire childhood working 18-hour days until you reach that goal. It’s hard to picture, but for a professional ballet dancer it’s simply the norm. And it’s exactly how Marianela Núñez, a principal dancer at The Royal Ballet, grew up. 

In-between performances of The Nutcracker, Marianela kindly found the time to share her fascinating career story with Coco’s Tea Party. Her passion and dedication are sure to inspire, so this is one #My9to5 interview that you won’t want to miss…

When did you start dancing? And at what age did you realise you wanted to become a professional ballet dancer?

I started dancing when I was very little, I was about three-years-old. I grew up in Argentina with three older brothers, so when I arrived my mother was desperate for a girl. She was like, “Enough of boys!” She dressed me in pink every single day and she sent me to dance lessons at a little studio close to my home.

By the time I turned five I had decided that ballet was the path for me, and my teacher took my mum aside and said, “Marianela actually has a lot of talent, and she’s very dedicated, so you should train her properly and present her to the main ballet school in Argentina.” And that’s what we did.

What was ballet school like? Was it hard to be so disciplined and committed to something at such a young age?

I lived quite far away from the main ballet school in Argentina, so my mum would wake me up at 6am every morning, cook me breakfast and put my hair into a bun whilst I lay with my head on the table, half asleep. I had a pillow and a duvet in the back seat of the car, and I would sleep for another hour on the way to school. Then I would do four hours of dance lessons, before my mum picked me up at midday to drive me to my local school for academic lessons. My grandma would prepare lunch for me every day, which I’d eat in the car. It was always waiting, warm and ready.

Then, after school, my mum would pick me up again. We’d get back in the car, where I would eat dinner, and we would head into the city so I could take more ballet lessons until 9.30pm. Then I would return home to do my homework, see my brothers and my dad, and go to sleep for six hours before starting the day again.

That was my childhood. And I was so happy. Sometimes my parents would say, “Are you tired? Maybe today you shouldn’t go to ballet today?” But I would always insist. I was very passionate.

Marianela Nunez Swan Lake

How did you make the leap from ballet school in Argentina to The Royal Ballet in London?

When I was in my fifth year at the ballet school in Argentina one of the biggest stars in Argentinian ballet, Maximiliano Guerra, chose me to dance with him. So I didn’t actually finish school, because I joined the main ballet company in Argentina when I was 14.

And while I was there everyone would say, “With your kind of talent you should aim for an international career.” And Maximiliano said to me, “London will be the right place for you. Especially The Royal Ballet Company, because they will look after you, they will train you properly and they will make you grow as an artist.” So I auditioned for The Royal Ballet when I was 15, and got my contract.

But when we started the paperwork for me to move to London we realised I was legally too young to work in Europe. And The Royal Ballet Company didn’t want to lose me, so they enrolled me at The Royal Ballet School for one year, and as soon as I turned 16 I joined the company.

Did you have to start from the bottom again when you joined The Royal Ballet Company?

Yes, I joined right at the bottom, which was hard. It had already been hard to go back to school, because I was dancing main roles in Argentina, and then it was straight back to the corps de ballet (the lowest-rank of dancers, who perform as a group and have no solo roles). But looking back on that time now I see that it was the perfect thing for me to do. I was a baby, and I needed to adapt. I had lots to learn.

And I was very lucky. I only stayed in the corps de ballet for two years. Carlos Acosta asked to dance with me, and everyone was like, “She’s only 17, she won’t be able to cope with the pressure.” But Carlos believed in me, so I danced with him and after that performance I got promoted to First Soloist. So at 18 I was already a First Soloist, and two years later I became a Principal Dancer, which is the highest rank.

Marianela Nunez Boodles


SHOP MARIANELA’S STYLE:


What does your typical workday look like?

I wake up every morning at 8am, have breakfast and then head to The Royal Opera House where we start every day with class at 10.30am. That class will wake up the body, and it’s a chance for you to work on your technique and anything that you need to fix. After class we begin rehearsals, which run until 6.30pm. Usually we are rehearsing 3-4 productions at a time.

However, if I’m dancing a full-length ballet in the evening I won’t attend rehearsals. I’ll do my class in the morning – then maybe get some physiotherapy or do a little bit of pilates – and rest my body until I start getting ready for the performance.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a professional ballet dancer?

For me it’s having a career in which you are so exposed. I have grown up in front of people’s eyes – I was 16 when I joined the company, and I’m 33 now, so people have seen me grow as an artist and as a woman. This is fantastic, but it also means you have to bring something new every year, and you constantly need to improve. And that, for me, is a big challenge because I want to stay fresh and have people say “wow” when they see me dance.

Marianela Nunez The Royal Ballet

And, on the flip side, what is the coolest thing about your job?

I think just to be able to do what I love, actually. There is nothing that I’m more passionate about than ballet. This is what I love to do. People come to the theatre and I am able to give them three hours of pleasure. They can forget about all of their problems for an evening, and that is something really cool.

Your job is so physical and demanding, so how do you unwind after a long day?

I’m a real girly girl, so I come home, light candles and put on nice body lotions. And I love watching documentaries. I’m a bit OCD, so I’m always organising things and making my flat look gorgeous. I live in Highbury, so on weekends I go to Columbia Market and buy lots of flowers. I usually get home after shows around midnight, so I’ll eat something quickly and then busy myself arranging flowers and displaying them all over the flat to unwind.

And, finally, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

Be passionate about what you do. Work hard and don’t take no for an answer. If you get a no you just have to work harder until you get a yes. When someone has worked with honesty, dignity and passion you can see the result, because only good can come out of that.


Follow Marianela Nunez on Instagram at @marianelanunezofficial and visit roh.org.uk for information on The Royal Ballet’s 2016 schedule.

And you can catch up on the previous My 9 to 5 interviews here >>

{Studio images by Charlie Dailey and courtesy of Boodles, who photographed Marianela for their Pas de Deux collection, inspired by The Royal Ballet. Second image of Marianela Nunez in Swan Lake, photographed by Tristram Kenton, courtesy of ROH.}

  • Ellen M.

    That’s amazing! Nela is one of a kind, you can’t find a better ballerina, and she is so authentic.

    • cocos_tea_party

      She truly is. And such a lovely woman too!