What It Takes: a feature on ballerina Victoria Harvey

Victoria Harvey, Photo by Ari Denison

Victoria Harvey, Photo by Ari Denison

Victoria Harvey is a 26-year old dancer with the Eugene Ballet Company in Eugene, Oregon. She is spending the summer in Augusta and shared her thoughts with us on what it takes to be a dancer. 


I started figure skating when I was 7 years old and then added ballet to augment my training. I competitively skated until I was 13 and then had to choose. I chose ballet because I knew I wouldn't make it to the Olympics and I felt like ballet had more options for me. There were companies of different sizes and styles that might take me on. I continued my studies at Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Professional Division before joining the Eugene Ballet. 


If people could go through the experience I had at Royal Winnipeg, they'd really know what it takes to dance. Some days were like hell. Because I was never at the top of my class, I had to work that much harder. People don't realize that being a ballerina is as physically demanding as being a football player - but you also have to make it look effortless. 


Of course, stage time is like the ultimate high but I also really enjoy the process of creating choreography with my fellow dancers and Artistic Director Toni Pimble. I was recently the female lead in a new ballet, "Tommy," and it was a special experience to have a role created on me, rather than learning it from another dancer. This was my first dramatic role, I would say. It was very emotional and I felt like I could let go a little more and play with how I react to situations. Originating a role, it becomes a little more natural and there's always that potential to do something a little differently on stage than in the studio. That's why live performance is so important. There's that direct, human energy and anything can happen. The audience has a connection with you even though you were't literally speaking to them.


Learning choreography is like learning a language. You grow up learning a vocabulary of steps and you train every day for years, practicing in every class how to quickly pick up on the combinations that the teacher puts together. So it's a more natural process than most people expect because you work in this vocabulary every day of your life. 


My favorite dance style is usually whatever I'm currently working on. I love playing happy fairies and peasants in classical ballets - although being a swan is really stressful. Performing in a classical ballet like Swan Lake requires such precision and stamina. It's highly technical and very serious. You have to dance, dance, dance and then suddenly freeze in place without moving or breathing hard, even while your feet are cramping. You can be in a lot of pain but you're paralyzed in place. Then, suddenly, you have to start dancing again without showing that pain. But I like contemporary ballets, too, because you can dance a little more freely. And it's great to dance to variety of music. Next year, for example, we'll be doing The Great Gatsby with a live jazz band. So it's artists collaborating with other artists. 


Like in any workplace, there are people who use different tactics in the dance world. There are screamers and those who can be harsh and are very direct, but other are very nurturing. Some dancers are more competitive than others but once everyone gets to know each other, we usually all get along. I'm sure there's more competitiveness in other companies but there's no "glass in your pointe shoes." It's not all pink tutus and happiness. The day-to-day can be pretty grueling. But there's a lot of open-mindedness and friendship in my company. We spend a lot of our time together so we can get on each other's nerves around Nutcracker season but we're all pretty close.  


I do feel pressure to maintain my body. I put a lot of that pressure on myself and it's hard not to compare yourself to others when you're in a leotard all day, looking in the mirror. But I'm not going to sacrifice my time on Earth as a young person for being skinny. I eat in moderation and I make sure I get the hydration and protein I need to maintain my muscle mass. I ask myself if what I'm putting in my body is serving my body. And in the summers, when I'm not dancing with the company, I take as many ballet classes as I can [Victoria is taking class 4 days a week at Augusta Ballet School - no affiliation with Augusta Ballet] and I do cardio at the gym, Pilates and yoga. 


Ballet has really made me focus and taught me drive. I'm always striving to improve and be the best dancer I can be. Even for those who don't go on to dance professionally, ballet teaches you how to learn, how to work with other people, how to be timely and respectful. I try to appreciate the things my body is capable of now, while I'm a young, professional dancer. Later in life, I hope to have the time and money for tickets so I can see other dancers perform. 


The audience just sees what happens on stage but there's so much that happens in preparation for a performance - from training, choreographing, cleaning and doing hair and makeup, etc. When we're traveling, we're on the road for hours, icing our feet...it's not glamorous but it's fun. I think if people were to have just a little exposure to ballet, they would probably like it. It's hard to compare the recitals that a lot of people see with professional-level dancing. I recommend that people attend a class to see what it takes to get to the show-phase. And to see a variety of dance programs. There's more to ballet than just classical. I've heard a lot of people say, "I didn't know that's what ballet could be."