Ballerinas Backstage: Jane Casson – from ballerina to entrepreneur

Jane Casson is the principal teacher at City Adult Ballet, in Melbourne, Australia. Formerly a soloist dancer with The Australian Ballet and The Royal New Zealand Ballet, she has performed extensively around the world including UK, Wales, China, Japan and France. In this interview, we get a glimpse into her life both during and after her professional career, and hear her reflections on life as a dancer. Her number one challenge as a dancer? Self doubt. Sound familiar? Read on…

Who is your biggest source of inspiration?
My biggest source of inspiration without a doubt comes from the dancers that I feel so fortunate to teach. I take great pleasure in teaching both pre-professional dancers as well as adult dancers from all different walks of life. Their drive and commitment to their ballet classes gives me so much passion for what I do, and I am grateful to be doing something that I love.

What did and ‘average’ day look like when you were dancing professionally?
Let’s talk about a performance day. It would look like this:
10:30 am: Arrive at the theatre. Get changed and warm-up for class on stage.
11:00 am – 12:15 pm: Ballet Class taught by an artistic staff member – on occasions, the class would be in front of a live audience.
12:30 pm – 2:30 pm: Either (1) Artistic staff offer feedback, notes, and corrections to all dancers from the performance the night before, (2) A full run-through of the ballet with a new cast of dancers or (3) Additional rehearsals for any upcoming productions.
2:30 pm – 4:00 pm: Overtime rehearsals (if required)
4:00 pm – 5:30 pm: Late lunch/early dinner before the show. Sew a few pairs of pointe shoes using one of the costume department sewing machines.
5:30 pm – 6.30 pm: Hot shower, make-up, and hair done. Prepare costumes. Hammer the blocks of my pointe shoes – to ensure they were quiet on stage – Warm-up.
6:30 pm – 7:00 pm: Warm-up barre taught by a member of the artistic staff, before the performance.
7:00 pm – 7:30 pm: Last minute hair and make-up check. Dress and ready for the performance. Set up any quick changes or props for the show.
7:30 pm – 10/10:30 pm: Curtain up. Performance!
10:30 pm: Curtain down. Hydrate. Hot shower. Ice feet or legs to reduce swelling. Get dressed for home or glammed up for a post-performance function.
10:45 pm: Attend a post-performance function. The company would regularly host post-performance functions for various sponsors and patrons – This was a perfect way for dancers to unwind after a performance, have a bite to eat, and meet new and interesting people.
11:15 pm: Taxi or tram home. Late supper or light dinner, TV, relax, and unwind.
12.30/1 am: Bed!

What was your number one challenge as a professional ballet dancer?
Without a doubt…self-doubt! This was always a silent battle between me and my mind as a professional dancer and something I rarely talked about with anyone. I discovered later in my career, sadly, that I was not alone in this way of thinking.

If you could give one piece of advice to an elite dancer embarking on their final year of training, what would it be?
I believe it is essential to have a realistic overview of what your strengths and weaknesses are as a dancer and to consistently work hard to improve these and use your stronger attributes to help showcase your uniqueness. If I can add to that, I would say, above all, stay positive, stay humble, surround yourself with good people, and always believe in yourself!

What do you wish someone had told you when you were a student thinking about a career in ballet?
Think of your dance training as the most valuable time for you to absorb as much information and learn as many skills as you can. All of what you experience as a student will be used later as a professional dancer to help you perform a diverse range of roles.

Entering the world as a professional dancer can be quite different from the training environment of your dance school. You have to find it within yourself to be self-motivated and driven to continue learning and developing yourself as an artist. The professional dancers that I know of who have excelled early in their dance careers are the dancers who are innately self-driven to enhance their craft on their own without relying on positive reinforcement or constant corrections from others. Listen to your body and rest when you need to!

As a student, I took six months to fully recover from an injury that should have only taken six weeks to heal, simply because I continued to push through.

Know your self-worth! The perfect role is not always going to land magically in your lap, especially early on in your career. Be brave and take the initiative to ask for opportunities to learn a role you believe would suit you.

The rehearsal process, particularly alongside more experienced dancers, is an incredible way to add to your skillset.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
This year, I have been learning a martial art, Tae Kwon Do, via online classes taught by incredible black belt instructors.

What does an ‘average’ day look like for you now?
My average day looks a little like this:
6:30 am: Exercise class online (yoga or pilates)
7:30 am: Prepare breakfast for my two children
8:30 am: School drop off
9:00 am: Daycare drop off
9:45 am: Breakfast
10:30 am: Administration and marketing tasks for my business, City Adult Ballet – Go through online ballet class preparation
Noon – 1:30 pm: Set up camera/microphone/studio for online ballet class. Dress and warm-up for class
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm: Teach online ballet class/record training ballet videos, marketing videos
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm: School/daycare pick up/eat pre-prepared lunch in the car
4:30 pm: Prepare dinner, school lunches, Prepare my meals/snacks for the next day
5:30 pm – 8:00 pm: Play, bath, family dinner. Put kids to bed.
9:00 pm – 11:00 pm: Emails/work/relax
12 am – 1 am: Bed!