Dancing Ballet Full-Time in Elmhurst Ballet School

Welcome back to Expression Platform, and thank you for sticking with us despite our silence over the past month or so! Today, we’re glad to be back with our very first guest post, who will be sharing with us her story of dancing full-time away from home (Malaysia) in Elmhurst Ballet School. Without further ado, here is Mandy Kwan’s story!

Mandy’s Dance Journey

  • 2012:  Started ballet at age 8
  • 2018 March: Won 4th place at the Asian Grand Prix (AGP) regionals, Singapore (first en pointe competition) [Variation: Cupid from Don Quixote]
  • 2018 June: Won 1st place at the 21st TDS Solo Classical Ballet Competition [Variation: Stars & Stripes]
  • 2018 August: Competed at the Asian Grand Prix (AGP) finals, Hong Kong [Variation: Princess Florine from Sleeping Beauty]
  • 2018 September: Participated in first ballet photo shoot
  • 2018 September: Joined Dance Space Sdn Bhd’s full-length ballet production The Sleeping Beauty as Candide, the Fairy of Grace (First Fairy)
  • 2018 September: Successfully completed Royal Academy of Dance’s (RAD) Intermediate syllabus with Distinction
  • 2018 October: Joined Dance Space Elite Class
  • 2018 December: Won 1st place at SCDIBC (Junior Category) [Variation: 2nd Odalisque from Le Corsaire]
  • 2019 March: Competed in the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) finals, New York [Variation: Talisman]
  • 2019 March: Successfully completed Royal Academy of Dance’s (RAD) Advance Foundation and Grade 7 syllabus with Distinction
  • 2019 June: Won 1st place at the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) Choreography Competition [Variation: Never Enough]
  • 2019 August: Participated in the Asian Grand Prix (AGP) finals, Hong Kong [Variation: 1st Pas de Trois from Paquita]
  • 2019 September: Had first principal role in Dance Space Sdn Bhd’s production performing Paquita
  • 2019 December: Won 4th place in the Malaysian International Ballet Grand Prix (MIBGP) [Variation: Etoile from Paquita]
  • 2020 January: Joined full-time ballet school at Elmhurst Ballet School

I moved to England in January this year, to bring my ballet passion one step further and attend a full time ballet school. Dancing here is interesting. Some teachers are strict, but all of the staff here are really caring and welcoming when it comes to speaking to them during stressful times. I personally do not have many worries as this is a new start for me and I’m just starting to get used to it, but the atmosphere is generally very friendly.

A Day In Elmhurst

In a typical day in Elmhurst, we normally get up at 7:30am or earlier, especially if we have early ballet or extra before-school academics to prepare for. At 8am, we gather in the common room for registration, where we usually get some notices for the day as timetables often change. After that, we would collect our phones (which our house parents kept the night before) from the cupboard and go to breakfast. I usually just have some cereal and eggs, occasionally some toast as well. Then, we’ll go back to house and get our bags for school.

On Mondays and Fridays we have assembly, and on the others we have form, where we register with our year group. We have quite a small year group, consisting of 15 girls and 6 boys. We go to class according to our timetable and have breaks and lunch in between. Our 2-hour ballet class is usually after the first break or after lunch, and I much prefer having it after break because I get pretty full after lunch. From the afternoon till the evening, we either have academics or more dance such as contemporary, jazz or body conditioning. School ends at 6pm and we go to dinner straight after. Some of us stay in school after dinner (when allowed) to practice or just to hang out while the others go back to house, shower, ice our feet, do some work, call our parents or just to watch Netflix. We have our evening registration at 8:30 pm. After that, I usually do my laundry, then just chill until we need to hand in our electronics at 9:30pm, and go to bed at 10pm.

On Saturdays, we have our RAD examination classes in the morning. Then, we are free for the weekend, until Monday comes around again. We usually go outside and get some snacks, or just to have a stroll and play in the park.

What’s Different?

Training here is quite relaxed and not very tough, compared to the tiring but rewarding hours I do back in Malaysia. For instance, we only do pointe work once or twice a week. However, the classes can get quite challenging sometimes and I still get corrections that I find hard to change. The teachers here are really experienced and patient, and they make sure we engage our muscles correctly and understand the basics well.

Despite the “relaxed” schedule, I picked up a few injuries in these few months; one on my left hip and another on my left knee. I believe it is because I’m still unfamiliar with the environment and the dancing techniques. As I may not have strong foundations and basics, it caused some irritation on my joints when executing certain movements correctly.

Staying Physically & Mentally Strong

At Elmhurst, they emphasise on engaging the glutes to improve our jumps and turnout, as well as focusing on weight placement, being on both legs and feeling square. And sometimes, they speak about alignment and crossing, to improve our lines. I get a lot of corrections on the arching in my lower back because it disrupts my lines, making me unable to achieve multiple pirouettes and limiting my turnout. So that is a big problem that I’m still working on improving right now. They do not mind our weight or how much we eat, as long as it’s controlled, but because of that, I ate quite a lot and gained some weight which I’m trying to lose during this quarantine.

I would say that from my year group, people are not as passionate in dance as I expected. Some that are more talented would aim for Royal Ballet School, but many just don’t fully enjoy doing ballet. Students breakdown rather frequently, and our ballet teachers get quite worried. I think I have a stronger mental state because my ballet teacher in Malaysia is very strict, inadvertently training me to be tough when facing problems.

Home & The Future

I miss the food and people back home. I miss dancing with my friends and coaching with my teachers. The time difference also makes it troublesome to contact people in Malaysia live. I kind of miss dancing competitively — the fast pace and liveliness, the feeling of being on stage — but it can get overly tiring, depressing and stressful at times. Although I experienced all these nostalgic feelings, I didn’t encounter any homesickness, which was a relief. Being so far away from home, I feel more free, as there are no expectations from me and I can work at my own pace, like having a break. However as time passed, I feel like I wasn’t working as hard and might not be improving as much as I expected. Maybe this is just the starting phase and change takes time, so for now I’m going to continue to work hard.

This school runs like a normal school. I’m 15 years old and currently in year 10. We are going to do our GCSE next year and A-levels after that. I’m not so concerned about my future. My fate is in God’s hands and all I can do is to study hard and dance well. I am more worried about the journey there. I have some plans to audition for certain schools and participate in some rather challenging competitions but this is the part where I might be met with rejection and failure.

I want a future that matches my aspirations of being happy and enjoying what I do, as a professional dancer or not. Although I long to be a principal dancer in a well-known company and dance on stages all around the world, I know it will take a lot of hard work, talent, praying and luck, which not many of us might have. So, while I can, I’m going to try to push myself beyond my comfort zones and pray for the best.

I hope this was helpful and inspiring to you, thank you for reading, stay safe and keep being healthy! 🙂

That concludes Mandy’s story, and heartfelt thanks go out to her for contributing a piece to us, and sharing her experience. To many budding dancers out there, we know that thinking about pursuing dance (ballet or not) full-time can be a very difficult and scary decision to make, but we hope Mandy’s story helps you, even if just for a little bit.

Dear Mandy, we applaud your courage, passion and determination in ballet dancing, and we wish you all the very best in Elmhurst Ballet School and your future undertakings. Be a star! If you’d like to join Mandy on her dance journey further and keep up with her, follow her on Instagram at @mmy_kwan.

If you have some stories to share with us (we could definitely use more stories while we’re in self-isolation and quarantine!), feel free to email us using the contact form on our website or send us an Instagram DM at @expression.platform!

Meanwhile, stay home & stay safe; we’ll be back soon!

All images courtesy of Mandy Kwan.

Author

Mandy Kwan

Mandy is a Malaysian 15-year-old currently studying abroad in a full-time ballet school in England. Previously studying in Malaysia, she recently just made the decision to pursue dance as her career. Despite having joined countless competitions, she hovered over the idea of dancing full-time because she was unsure and scared. Now, she’s glad that she made that decision! She really enjoys dancing and studying, and she’s trying to do her best in both.

“Remember God is always looking after you, so just pray and work hard.”

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