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Making Dance

The Inside Scoop

Jennifer Fournier:
A Day in the Life of a Professional Ballet Dancer

Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Jennifer Fournier began her ballet training at the School of Dance in Ottawa. At age 13, she moved to Toronto to attend the National Ballet School. She graduated in 1985. While still at the National Ballet School, Jennifer became an apprentice with the National Ballet of Canada. She joined the company as a member of the corps de ballet in 1986.

Now a principal dancer, Jennifer has danced many of the best-known ballets ever created and she has performed with some of the world's most respected dancers. She has also spent countless days in the studio.

There are two very different workdays in the life of a professional ballet dancer.

A Rehearsal Day

7:30 am

On most days, Jennifer is awakened by her four-year-old daughter Olivia. She spends the next hour busily getting both Olivia and herself washed, dressed, fed and ready for the day. Packing a lunch and whisking Olivia off to kindergarten for 9:00 am is all part of being a working mom.

9:30 am

After dropping Olivia at school, Jennifer arrives at the National Ballet of Canada's studios to begin her workday. Her first stop is always to check the bulletin board, where the daily schedule is posted.

Different sections and different casts rehearse separately, so Jennifer notes her rehearsals for that day. She also determines whether she must attend any costume or wig fittings. Jennifer quickly changes into her leotard and tights, adding layers to insulate her muscles. Then she heads into the studio to warm up on her own before ballet class begins.

10:00 am

Professional ballet dancers take a ballet class every day to keep their bodies in top physical condition. Jennifer uses this time to focus on her body and to centre herself for the work ahead.

She equates the class to having a complete breakfast: a good ballet class helps dancers prepare themselves for the day of rehearsals and performances. Between exercises, Jennifer quietly sews ribbons onto her pointe shoes. She finds that there is never enough time to prepare the over 150 pairs of pointe shoes she will use in a year.

11:30 am

For every minute on stage, there is usually one hour of rehearsal in the studio. Jennifer finds that learning a new ballet is not only physically challenging, but also requires a lot of thinking. Figuring out new steps, listening to the music and interpreting the nuances of different characters are all part of the rehearsal process.

As the dancers get closer to an actual performance, the momentum of the rehearsals increases. With an opening night approaching, Jennifer takes part in full company run-throughs. During these rehearsals, everyone comes together in the studio to dance the ballet from start to finish. Jennifer recalls that some of her best memories have been dancing in the studio environment with her fellow dancers, looking on and supporting each other.

2:30 pm

A professional dancer cannot rehearse or perform for hours on end without eating properly. Jennifer prefers to have small meals throughout the day. She might have a bagel and coffee for breakfast and some chicken and salad for lunch. Staying hydrated is also very important and she carries a large bottle of water with her everywhere.

Lunchtime is not only a time to replace some of the calories expended in vigorous rehearsals. It also provides a break in Jennifer's day. If she can, Jennifer leaves the building for a few minutes or goes for a massage.

3:30 pm

Periodically, Jennifer also has fittings for costumes, wigs and headdresses, which are scheduled into her day. A costume has to fit perfectly so that the dancer can move freely in performance. Rarely does a dancer get the opportunity to wear the actual costume until the dress rehearsal, just one day before the opening performance. Therefore, all alterations have to be perfected by the National Ballet's wardrobe department well in advance.

Seeing the costume sometimes helps Jennifer better understand the character she is portraying. She uses this knowledge in her rehearsals that fill the rest of the day.

6:30 pm

When the workday is over, Jennifer quickly showers, changes and heads for home. On the way, she may need to run a few errands or pick up groceries for dinner. By 7:30 pm Jennifer, her husband Marty and Olivia sit down to a family dinner together and discuss their days. After a bath and a story, Olivia is in bed by 8:30 pm. An hour or two to unwind with her husband and Jennifer says goodnight as well.

A Performance Day

11:00 am

When the dancers move to the theatre to perform, the workday begins a bit later. Jennifer still visits the bulletin board first, but this time it is to check the casting for the performance. She must be sure that she is performing her expected roles, and also find out if she is needed to replace a sick or injured dancer.

Ballet class follows. Again, Jennifer uses this time for herself, like a meditation, and does not worry about the performance that will follow.

12:15 pm

After class, Jennifer goes to her dressing room to put on her make-up and style her hair. A detailed make-up application can take up to an hour to do expertly. If she is wearing a wig, a wig supervisor will assist her and make sure it is pinned tightly so it will not fall off. Jennifer's costume is waiting for her in her dressing room. She steps into the dress or tutu and a dresser, waiting for her in the hallway, closes the fasteners.

1:30 pm

A stage manager announces over the loud speaker when it is half an hour before the matinée performance start time. Jennifer tucks the ribbons into her pointe shoes and makes her way to the theatre's rehearsal hall to do a final warm-up. When the sets, scenery and lighting are all ready, she is briefly allowed on the stage to mentally prepare for the performance, practice any difficult steps and receive any last minute corrections.

 

2:00 pm

When the curtain goes up, Jennifer's hours of preparation are summed up in the brief magic of a live performance and completed with the audience's applause.

4:30 pm

Jennifer returns to her dressing room where the wardrobe assistant attends to her costume, washes her tights and steams out any wrinkles. The wig supervisor helps her remove her wig and takes it away to be restyled. Jennifer rushes to shower and change into street clothes so she will have enough time to grab a quick dinner.

5:30 pm

The routine begins again, this time without a formal ballet class. Jennifer does her own warm-up in the rehearsal hall.

7:30 pm

The sound of a single note rises from the orchestra pit as the orchestra tunes. People scurry to their seats as the lights in the auditorium dim. The conductor enters under the beam of a spotlight to begin the overture. The curtain rises for the evening performance and Jennifer is ready to dance again.

10:00 pm

When the performance day is over, Jennifer showers, changes and hurries home. Some dancers like to go out for a bite to eat after a show or visit with friends, but Jennifer prefers to unwind at home with a glass of wine and some late night television. Exhausted, Jennifer makes her way to bed by 11:30 pm.