Women to Love

Ballerina Lucy Green reveals what you’ve always gotten wrong about ballet

And it’s not what you would expect.

Lucy Green.

When Lucy Green was a little girl, her parents told her that she would always get up and dance whenever she heard music. Between her natural love of dancing, and her compulsory lessons at school, Lucy has been a ballerina-in-training since day dot.

But just because she heard her calling early, it certainly doesn't mean the journey was easy.

But after enduring injuries, early mornings, late nights, and a rigorous schedule, Lucy went from dancing around her house at age 6 to being the principal dancer for the Queensland Ballet at 26.

Since stepping up as a principal dancer, Lucy has taken the lead in roles like Cinderella, Giselle and Swan Lake. Currently dancing a lead role in Carmen & The Firebird, to say that Lucy has gone from strength to strength is an understatement (and a half).

We caught up with Lucy to talk career starts, advice she lives by, and the one thing you've always gotten wrong about ballet.

Ballet is one of the toughest dance forms out there – how did you get into it?

I started dancing really young when I was 6. At primary school, I did a compulsory dance class – all the kids had to do it. Then when I was 12, I went to a dance school in Melbourne, and then onto New Zealand, where I danced professionally. That was the beginning of my life as a professional dancer.

I really love the physical challenge of ballet, of trying so hard to perfect something that's never going to be perfect. Most people see ballet as such a strict art form — and it is, in a sense — but I see it as such a free art form. We're telling stories, and you get to lose yourself in it. You play a character, and you tell that story, and mould who you want that character to be. It's the balance between precision, in the moves themselves, and the freedom, in the storytelling, that draws me to it.

You said most people don’t get what ballet really is – do you think it’s misrepresented?

Yes! I'm passionate about educating people about the truth of ballet. The thing about ballet is you're not allowed to show the strain. In sports, it's okay to grunt, and to sweat, and to puff, but in ballet… you have to be graceful and serene and make it look easy. Everything has to look effortless.

But when you're behind the scenes, you see just how physically exhausting it really is. We train for hours and hours every day, from early morning to late at night, and the strain of it is huge! So it's great when people get to see that side more.

In the dance industry, the attitude is 'Grin and bear it.' It is a painful art form. I've had various injuries, infected wounds, our feet get messed up… you have to be mentally strong to deal with it. Most ballerinas will tell you that they don't remember the last time they woke up without feeling sore or in pain. Obviously, we have an excellent physio team and lots of people who are around to keep us on our feet and dancing, but the pain is an undeniable reality in ballet.

It's definitely not as easy as it looks!

Is there been a moment during your career that you’re most proud of?

When I was promoted to principal dancer at Queensland Ballet last year, they did it on stage in front of all my family and friends, and that was amazing. Dancers love to be on stage, but we really love to be on stage in those lead roles. So having that recognition that you've reached that level, and that the staff trust you to lead the company… it's a phenomenal feeling.

Do you have any advice for young dancers trying to break into the professional world?

Put in the hard work. When you work hard, people are going to want to work with you, and want to have you in the room. The beautiful thing about ballet is how collaborative it is – collaborating with your teacher, or with the choreographer, or the conductor. It's amazing to work with those people, and to better yourself alongside them.

You can have all the natural talent in the world, but if you don't have that drive and passion… that's what makes you stand out.

How do you think the industry should adapt and change going forward?

Ballet is a physical art form. You're constantly being assessed – from your physique, your lines, to the way you look. When I was a student, it was normal for the criticism to come across quite harshly, or for teachers to correct you in quite a physical manner. Now there's a realisation that you need to treat students as humans and not just as dancers. Young people are often vulnerable and easily hurt, and we really need to nurture the youth, and now we're seeing that a lot more.

Who has been your biggest champion and mentor throughout your career?

I've been lucky to have a few. When I was a student at Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, I worked with a teacher named Maggie Lorraine, and we really clicked. She understood me as a dancer, and, under her, I was able to reach that level I needed to get to for a professional career.

As a professional, Ethan Stiefel at the Royal New Zealand Ballet helped my career take off. I was in my second year at the company when he took over, and I went from doing not much at all to getting to be a soloist and do the principal roles. He gave me that first glimpse into what being a principal dancer was.

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your 13-year-old self, what would it be?

It's important to work hard, but don't be too hard on yourself. Ballet is an art form where we're in front of the mirror all day, every day. And we're being evaluated constantly – by others and by ourselves. You can fall into the trap of being too hard on yourself. As much as you want to be the absolute best you can be, you have to love yourself.

And, as much as you want to spend hours and hours in the studio, go out and enjoy your teenage years!

How do you maintain your health and well-being with such a tough day-to-day ballet regime?

As a professional dancer, maintaining my health and well-being is so important. I try to eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of carbs for fuel and protein for muscle recovery. Giving our bodies enough down time is also hugely important for recovery, as well. I try to get a minimum 8 hours of sleep every night, on a quality mattress like my Sealy Posturepedic.

I also find that being able to switch off from work mentally is crucial! Ballet is an all consuming career, and if you don't let yourself take time to let go and enjoy other aspects of life it can become debilitating.

What’s next for Lucy Green?

Since I was a student, up until last year, I've always been saying, 'What's next? What am I going to do next?' but I've reached a point now where I'm so happy where I am.

I'm working with some amazing coaches and on some amazing ballets, so it's not so much 'Where to next?' but enjoying the moment I'm in now.