Grit and grace are not characteristics often paired, but for Brebeuf Jesuit junior Helen Hughes, there are no better words to describe her tough-as-nails sport—ballet. Helen has been dancing for over 10 years, the past six with the Indianapolis School of Ballet. While there is a small cohort of ballerinas affectionately (and fittingly) nicknamed the “Brebeuf Ballerinas,” many students know little about the strength and endurance it takes to take part in this exciting sport.
We sat down with Helen to talk about the time commitment, mental toughness and passion required to be a ballerina, while also juggling homework, time with friends and family and everything else that goes along with being a high school student.
How long have you been dancing?
I’ve been dancing for over 10 years, but I don’t know how many of those years you could call what I was doing ‘Ballet.’ I have been at Indianapolis School of Ballet for what is now my sixth year.
What does a typical week for a ballet dancer look like?
A normal week is less stressful more than it is… a lot. There is a lot of studio time, 15 hours per week, and a lot of transportation time. So, we have, what we call, technique classes which are typically two hours long and are taught by a teacher (a retired dancer or current Indianapolis Ballet company member). The teacher gives combinations which are small choreographed sets of steps that are similar in muscular usage.
The class schedule breakdown:
Do you want to dance after high school? After college?
I would love to dance after high school. The main problem with dance is that it is not a very profitable career. So, I actually want my focus to be in marketing while in college, but I am looking for universities that have dance opportunities.
For someone that’s never attended a ballet, what would you say to convince them to go?
Ballet is an experience like no other in all the best ways. Even if you are not fond of classical music or don’t find classical ballet interesting I suggest going to a comical or modern ballet. People think every ballet is slow and drawn out like Swan Lake. (But come see Swan Lake April 18-20 at the Toby). My personal favorite is called Western Symphony because the music is so fun and really gets the audience going.
How did you get started dancing with the Indianapolis Ballet?
When I moved to Indianapolis from Texas in fifth grade I actually started dancing at another studio but felt like it wasn’t the right fit and I wanted to take dance more seriously. That’s when I started going to Indianapolis School of Ballet. I was evaluated one-on-one by a teacher to see how I should be placed. I wasn’t placed very well at the beginning, but I learned really quickly. I have been at ISB ever since. MacKenzie Kirk (current Brebeuf senior) and I get to perform with the Indianapolis Ballet (in shows like the recent Nutcracker) because we get asked specifically.
What’s the most challenging part of being a ballerina?
There are more than the physical barriers. Ballet really is mind over matter. A lot of dancers, myself included, struggle with mental blocks or things that scare us. So, I would say that the most challenging thing of being a ballerina is having the ability to get over those mental blocks.
What is your favorite part of being a ballerina?
I love being on stage and playing different characters. Every dancer has something different that they love, but I love the end result when it all comes together.