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Interested in a career in dance? Careers features loads of useful info on studying dance as well as general careers advice.

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Spotlight interview with Vanessa Palmer

Many thanks for all the great questions you sent in for Royal Ballet soloist, Vanessa Palmer. She had great fun answering them and I'm sure we would all like to thank her for taking time out from rehearsals to do so.

Vanessa picked the following question as the winner of the Spotlight competition, so congratulations to Sarah-Jay who will be going to see Vanessa perform at the Royal Opera House, London and receiving a signed photo.

What makes you want to dance? As I dance myself I can't put in words the feeling I get from dance and why I want to push myself to achieve the best for something I can't put in words. As humans we are renowned for expressing our feelings, so why as dancers can't we put into words why we want to dance?

The music makes me want to dance. The characters in the stories we tell make me want to immerse myself in them. Having watched many dancers in many ballets over the years, there are roles I've ached to dance. That feeling you get when you literally dance your heart out. Dancing an Ashton or MacMillan ballet, which feels so natural. It's dressing up in the most beautiful costumes, walking onto a set which is so real and pretending to be something or someone else whilst moving to beautiful music, of speaking without words. It's giving people a gift of fantasy which hopefully makes them want to smile. That's rewarding.

And here are all your other questions...

How long have you been dancing, and what does dancing do for you?
Reece, Accrington

I've been dancing since the age of five. I stopped for a year because all my friends did, but then I wanted to go back because I enjoyed it. Dancing for me has always just been there in my life. It's the music that makes me want to dance. I love pushing myself to my limit or just immersing myself into a character. It's a creative environment of make believe and I love it!

At what age did you know you wanted to be a dancer, and were you worried about not making it as a dancer?
Melissa, Comber, N Ireland

I think at about 7 or 8, although it wasn't a serious thought. Even when I auditioned I had a very grounded approach. It I didn't get in it wasn't the end of the world, there were other things I could do and it meant I wouldn't have to leave home or make new friends.

At what stage in your ballet training did you realise that ballet was the career for you?
Alice, London, age 14

Not until I had to make a decision at 12 whether to concentrate on my academic studies and give up ballet classes in order to study, or have a go at auditioning for the Royal Ballet to see if I could make a career of it.

Have you ever thought (when you were younger) that you may not make the dancing profession? Or have you always been determined to do what you love to do (dance)?

The only times I doubted that I'd make dancing a profession was every year waiting for my assessment results at White Lodge. Waiting for that letter was hideous and I always thought there was something wrong with me or that I wasn't good enough.

How did you feel on your first graded exam?
Name not provided

To be honest, I can't really remember, although as far as exams go I don't really like them at all and I'm not comfortable at all under that kind of pressure!

I would like to ask you if you found it difficult arriving at the Royal Ballet School at the age of 13 when the others had been there for two years already and how did you cope being away from home?
Name not provided

Yes I did find it difficult. I knew a couple of the girls as I'd been to Ilkley Summer School and a few of them were there, but honestly I hated leaving home. I knew to achieve my dream I had to go but I hated it. I was very homesick but I was lucky that I was able to go home every weekend.

I coped by throwing myself into working really hard and trying to improve. I lived for weekends and for the performances we would be taken to. I used to get a parcel in the week from my Mum and I'd phone home a lot. I made friends though and that really helped. My brother was a baby at the time and so weekends were so normal they were medicine for the whole week.

Did you ever dance with the Royal Ballet when you were training at the school, and if you did, what was it like?
Zara, age 14

Yes I did, and it was absolutely fantastic, It just made me want to dance even more and made me determined to achieve my goal of getting into the company. Just being backstage around all the company and seeing the dancers up close was a dream come true.

How did you become professional, because I want to do exactly the same as you?
Lauren, Berkshire

Well, I went to White Lodge, then continued onto the Upper School. I spent three years there, working with both the Royal Ballet and Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, as it was then.

My only advice would be that you can achieve anything you want in life if you want it badly enough. Whatever knocks you get you can learn from them, refuse to give up, prove people wrong but don't get obsessed in your goal. Keep really grounded.

Through your dance career, what was your inspiration/motto that you followed?
Stephanie, Victoria, British Columbia, age 13

Never ever give up, even when you really feel like it.
What it meant to be will happen anyway.
Life outside the theatre is very important and enhances life inside the theatre.

What was your inspiration for your love of dance?
Nicola, age 13, Wiltshire

The music and being taken to The Royal Opera House for birthdays, Christmas and maybe Easter as a little girl.

I am a ballet dancer and I am very keen to take up a career in dancing. Congratulations on your role as one of the two swans. You must have been really excited when you got the role. What do you enjoy about dancing and why choose ballet? What feeling do you get when you go on stage? Good luck with your performance.
Elise, Pinner, age 13

Thank you.
Swan Lake is wonderful to dance because you get a real sense of achievement at the end. It's also quite a responsibility dancing with another girl because one is so exposed and you have to be exactly together so there is enormous pressure not to let one another down. We are human so things aren't always right so you have to grasp the 'art of the cover up'!!

I didn't chose ballet as such, I sort of fell into it. For me though, it's the music, the roles, the metamorphosis into a character, the femininity.

When I'm on stage I just love it. It's like being in a whole different world. There's a sense of freedom. Before I step on stage my stomach hits the floor and the older I get the worse it gets!

Right after giving an outstanding performance have you ever felt that you didn't use the 100% of your potential or thought that you could dance even better?
Aliki, Greece, age 16

I always think it wasn't good enough. I never come off feeling I haven't given 100% but I'm very, very critical of myself.

Obviously, throughout your life you've had an unbelievable number of experiences in dance, but if you had to pick the one most important, memorable, testing, enjoyable or educational experience, what would it be? Would it be your ballet training at Whitelodge, your Upper School training, being a member of The Royal Ballet, dancing in Swan Lake or Still Life at the Penguin Cafe, or is it too difficult to pick a favourite experience?
Celene, Swansea, age 14

My favourite experience was being chosen with Sarah Wildor (whilst we were both at White Lodge) by Sir Frederick Ashton for a piece he was choreographing for the Queen's 60th birthday. It was a dance about the Queen and Princess Margaret when they were little to must that Edward Elgar had composed for the Queen Mother. We had to go (along with two other girls) to the Upper School for rehearsals and he choreographed it on us. However, two days before the gala when the wigs arrived it was decided that the other girls looked more like the Queen and Princess Margaret. So we had to teach them the dance. Sir Fred promised Sarah and myself that he would use us in something else he'd choreographed. Sadly that never happened as he died. The experience though was something to always treasure.

From all the ballets you have performed in which is your favourite role/character and why?
Dani, age 13 and Jamila, Croydon, age 14

Lots! Myrthat (Queen of the Wilis) - Giselle, Harlot - Romeo and Juliet, Big Swans, Mistress - Manon, Katia - Month in Country. I love Myrtha because it's so incredibly physical and technically challenging. She's very powerful and yet vulnerable and feminine.

The Lead Harlot in Romeo and Juliet is one of my favourites because it's so much fun. The dancing is exhausting because you have to be brimming with energy. There's so much to the character - laughter, flirting, anger, pain.

If a young dancer was discouraged because she didn't think she was 'prima ballerina' material, what is some advice you would give to let her know she should keep at it?
Amanda, Bellingham, Washington, USA, age 15

I don't think you can ever discourage someone for that reason. Everyone improves at a different rate. Sometimes it is very obvious that a person has a lot of potential, but that happens once every so often. There are many factors along the path of training that can change a person. If someone has a love of dance and is willing to work hard and give their best, they should never be discouraged. Not everyone is a Prima Ballerina. I'm not and I love what I do. I get to dance alongside the Prima Ballerinas, sometimes even opposite them role wise, and that it the most amazing thrill without the enormous pressure they have to contend with.

My advice would be, go to the theatre, get inspired, listen to the music and work harder to achieve your dream.

I have just bought my first pair of pointe shoes. I was just wondering if you had any tips or advice on caring for my feet and my pointe shoes? Also, can you remember how old you were when you went on pointe and what did it feel like?
Laura, age 13

I went on pointe at 10 for five minutes a week. I was desperate to do more, but my mum wouldn't let me and I am grateful now. I have strong, relatively blister free feet.

I remember I used to bathe my feet with surgical spirit to harden them. My advice would be to use plasters and second skin to protect your toes. Make sure your shoes are moulded to the shape of your foot so you can stand in the right position when on pointe. Use the whole leg, right to the gluteal muscles when you rise or releve and especially use your stomach.

Darning the shoes helps them to last longer and stuffing the inside with tissue helps maintain their shape.

How many pointe shoes do you go through in a year?
Danielle, Glasgow, age 15

I wear an American shoe called Gaynor Minden, which lasts a long time. I use approximately 36 pairs a year, maybe a few more. Other girls in Freeds, for example, probably get through 120 pairs a year.

If you could perform a duet with any male dancer who would it be, what would you perform and why?
Tammy, Lincolnshire, age 14

Over the years it has changed every season from the following: Adam Cooper, Irek Mukamedov, Roberto Bolle, Nicolas Le Riche, Jonathan Cope.

I think the names speak for themselves and it's because I've had little dance experiences with all of them and just wished my part required more. They all partner the biggest stars. They are all the nicest people. They make you feel so special when they dance with you and you just don't get nervous because nothing would every go wrong. When they are all in class the atmosphere is fantastic.

We hope you enjoyed this Spotlight Interview. Many thanks to Vanessa and all the people that emailed their questions.