Last summer I made the choice to shut my blog down. I had successfully completed my traineeship at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography, Bolshoi Ballet Academy and I was moving abroad to begin working in Hong Kong. I wanted to focus on the transition. I regret that decision now as I realize blogs are a great way to share your experiences and lessons of life, career, etc…with others. Your experiences may help others in similar situations and so I have decided to make my blog live again in hopes that someone reading about my journey on to becoming a professional ballet dancer can benefit or learn from my advice, actions, reactions, experiences, etc… I thought about removing my old posts but then decided not to as they, although somewhat sloppy, reflect the honest writing of a young, naive, somewhat gullible girl who had a lot to still learn. I am still that same girl and I still have a lot to learn and experience however the only difference now is that I think I grew up a little bit over the past year living in Hong Kong and I learned life is not as easy as a young adult might think. I decided to start writing again to share my journey so that other young girls might benefit from it. Although my plan is to focus mainly on my ballet journey I also plan to include tips, advice, articles, pictures, and videos on everything ballet related, as well as advice on traveling alone overseas, transitioning from a student to professional, dealing with the realities of real life such as loneliness, friendship in and out of the workplace and whatever else comes to mind.
Now my blog, which is a work in progress, is back in business. I am working on redesigning the blog and I am hoping to include the occasional video blog too. So stay tuned to read about my year in Hong Kong and to follow my ballet journey. A journey of laughter and tears, disappointments and achievements, new friendships, and hopefully many more exciting experiences.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past few years. I am forever grateful ❤
Grishko Rising Star
Nicole Zadra’s story shows what can be accomplished through a combination of perseverance, determination and creative problem-solving.
Nicole,18, was accepted last summer into the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive, on a merit scholarship. Expecting to spend just a few weeks at the intensive in New York, instead, she was invited to apply for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth’s immersion program with the Bolshoi in Moscow. A program of the Russian American Foundation and funded by U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in cooperation with American Councils for International Education, NSLI-Y is a full-scholarship program based on what Nicole calls a “rigorous application process (including) high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, an essay and an interview.” She spent six weeks in Moscow living at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy where she took daily ballet and Russian language classes.
The summer program had been a dream come true, but there was more to come. Shortly after her return home to Irvington, New York, Nicole heard from the Bolshoi. “While I was in ballet classes in Moscow, the director of the academy and Irina Sirova, chair of the classical department, came and watched us,” she recalls. “I had heard there was a chance some of us could get invited to attend year round, so I worked very hard. A few days after I arrived home, I received an invitation – I was completely surprised. I cried immediately with happiness!” She was invited to join the second-year class in the Russian class (not the international class), so that if she continued through the third year she would graduate on stage in front of companies prospecting for dancers.
Nicole was honored and excited, but didn’t know how she would be able to afford the tuition and living expenses. Her mother, Erina, is a sole-supporting single mother, and although she had always been able to support Nicole’s training (most recently at Manhattan Youth Ballet in New York), she wasn’t going to be able to pay for her to live and study in Russia.
But Nicole wasn’t giving up. “I Googled how to raise money and found GoFundMe,” she says. “At first, I thought there was no way I’d do this because it is embarrassing to ask for help. (But) being invited was a dream come true and I decided I had to try to make this happen.”
She created her GoFundMe page and shared it with Misty Copeland, whom she has always admired. “She has really been the only face in ballet for me, growing up, that I identified with, because I am a biracial African American. Also, I was always told by friends and teachers how much I resembled her.”
Nicole was thrilled when Copeland responded and shared her story, which helped garner funding. “She is the real deal! She truly cares and gives back and I hope to not only be an amazing dancer like her but to also (support) young minority dancers who, like me, have the odds of being a professional ballerina stacked against them,” Nicole says.
Despite her gifts, Nicole herself had faced some negativity about her prospects in ballet, Erina says. “But ever since she was little, Nicole’s attitude was ‘I’m going to prove that one wrong!'” Erina says. “She’s a very hard worker and very determined, and you can tell when she dances how much she loves it.”
After Copeland had shared Nicole’s story, she received a major donation from Questlove from The Roots. “It was a blessing,” Erina says. Questlove tweeted about Nicole, bringing even more donations, which were enough to augment Erina’s resources so that Nicole could begin her studies in October.
For her part, Erina is “living very frugally, saving every penny” in order to keep Nicole in Moscow. “It’s a big sacrifice, but it’s worth it,” she says. She misses Nicole, her only child, but maintains contact through daily texting and frequent Face Time.
Now, Nicole is facing yet another challenge: returning to Russia after summer break for the culminating year of her training. Erina plans to get a second job, but “the only way I can return is if I raise a lot more money very quickly,” Nicole says.
Nicole has been featured in the Huffington Post and Ebony magazine, and she maintains her GoFundMe page and blog, in hopes of finding more funding or attracting a sponsor.
Nicole has worn Grishko pointe shoes for about four years. When she started dancing in New York, “Judy fitted me (at Grishko NYC) and I have been wearing Ulanovas ever since. She took the time to make sure that I found the right shoe,” she says.
Much like Copeland, Nicole dreams of someday passing on the gifts she has received. “After becoming a professional, I would like to teach ballet and share my Bolshoi training and cultural experience in Moscow with young ballerinas who might not ever have the opportunity. I want to be a role model and show young girls that dreams can come true if they work hard and never give up.”
Although she would love to dance with a Russian company, she knows that it’s unlikely for an American. “I would be grateful to dance with any company in the U.S. or internationally,” she says. “As long as I am dancing, I will be happy.”
I am sorry for the delay in blogging. My last few months at the Academy flew by. I was auditioning for work while preparing for final exams.
This past April I took all my exams (acting, classical ballet, duet, and character) and passed them all 🙂 I am now a Bolshoi Ballet Academy graduate!
I am so glad the exams are over. It was very stressful and even though I encountered many problems along the way to exams I had a great time overall.
If you would like to see my acting exam here is the link:
In the past 6 months I attended several ballet company job auditions. I chose to audition in Europe because the cost to travel from Moscow to NY was double the cost to audition in Europe. This decision gave me the opportunity to visit and spend a day or two in many countries from Germany to Amsterdam to London and more. I made the most of my time in each country. With very little money I did a lot of walking and photo taking, trying to see as much as I can. I really enjoyed my time. My favorite city was London, England. The prettiest city was Prague, CZ. The auditions were nerve wrecking, especially when I was alone and didn’t know anyone. In Dresden I took company class and I was so happy to see a boy I kind of knew from the Bolshoi Ballet NYC summer intensive. I also met another girl who trains in NYC and so we all immediately connected.
In London I auditioned for the Hong Kong Ballet. The audition was in the Royal Ballet School studios which are beautiful. I remember in the audition I wasn’t nervous at all. The class went pretty fast and was a lot of fun! After center the boys did some jumps and turns and the girls put on their pointe shoes. We didn’t do much on pointe just fuettes and a small adajeio. After all that they told us they would make a cut and keep about 8 people to see our duet skills. To my surprise I was picked to stay on for the next portion of the audition. I was in total shock. My partner that day was a boy from Holland who, thank god, was really strong because I am not the most skinny of dancers haha. At the end of the audition they interviewed each of us, one by one, and they told us they would contact us in approx. 2-4 weeks to inform us of their decision. I went back to Russia and only a week later I received an email offering me a Corp de Ballet position with the Hong Kong Ballet! I accepted the offer! I still continued to audition, just because you never know what could happen. I have seen friends have visa problems in the past and you just never know. I was and I am soooo excited and grateful for the opportunity to join such an amazing company!!!
After my exams were over I decided to come home right away so that I could spend some time with my mom and family/friends who I have not seen in about 8 mouths and also to get ready for Hong Kong. I waited to write this blog because I wanted to be 100% sure everything was going to work out with my visa before I told the world officially. I applied for my work visa and I recently found out that my work visa was approved so I am set to start work this July.
While home I have been in the gym everyday, trying to get in shape. I am also trying to live a more healthy lifestyle. I have been using my free time to see new things in my city that I have not seen since being away. There is so much to do in see in NYC for free. It’s amazing really.
Now I just prepare. Prepare for the next chapter of my life. It is time to be an adult and really take on adult responsibilities. I am looking forward to moving to Hong Kong. I was extremely nervous about being alone and thinking nobody will like me. Then I found out the girl that I met in the Dresden audition is also joining the company. My mom says maybe its fate. What are the odds of becoming friends with the girl I would be moving to HK with. Anyway I felt so much better. Just knowing that you know at least know one person makes it seem a little less scary. She and I have decided to try to get an apartment together. Hong Kong is very expensive and it has been very hard looking for apartments. It is hard to find an apt this early as well as online. Everything is tiny and VERY EXPENSIVE!! Right now my mom and I are trying to save as much as we can for the first months rent and living expenses because I am not sure when I will get my first paycheck. Also my mom cannot come with me to Hong Kong and help me move all my stuff because we cant afford it. It is very upsetting because she is my best friend and I want her to be there with me, not just because I am scared to death and need help, but also because I want her there when I start my new life and this new journey…but right now it seems like its not happening : (
If you have any questions or if you would consider donating but would prefer to send a private donation please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am so thankful for the opportunity to live and train at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Russia. I will always be grateful to my teacher Irina Sirova for seeing something in me and believing in me. I would not have been able to complete the traineeship if it wasn’t for my Angel and everyone else who supported me physically and financially. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so excited to begin working with the Hong Kong Ballet. I hope you will continue to follow my journey and I look forward to sharing the process with you.
Thank you all!
Happy New Year everyone!!! I hope everyone had a great holiday. I am back at the Bolshoi Academy after a nice 3 week break. I was originally going to stay in Russia at the Academy for the entire holiday break because it was too expensive to travel back to NY and I have to save money to travel to auditions but then my love Diego decided to take me to Italy to celebrate the holidays with him and his family. So I went to Italy and spent two amazing weeks with my boy and his family. It was so nice to just spend time with him because I hadn’t seen him in about 5 months. I had the full Italian Christmas experience. I also brought the New Year in with Diego which was very special. I had so much fun and I ate so much amazing Italian food. I toured a little bit of Italy. Diego and his friends took me to this amazing Ancient Roman City. It was just beautiful. As a young girl, I would watch movies filmed in Italy and it was always a dream of mine to go there. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of my love and his family I was able to visit and see a little bit of Italy. I hope to return someday and visit Rome, Venice and other parts of this county so rich in history. It is truly a beautiful country and the people are so warm, friendly and welcoming.
After the nice break I feel much better and refreshed to start the New Year and finish my traineeship here. Classes started back up at the Academy this past Monday. The first day was rough. I am very sore! Each day will get easier though as I adjust back into a set schedule.
So onto other news….Job audition season is here!!! ahhh I’m so excited but nervous. Some of you might ask how does audition season work? Well typically companies post auditions and you are required to apply. So I have begun applying. Most ballet dancers won’t tell you where they are applying. I don’t know what the big secret is. I don’t mind sharing my audition experience. In most cases auditions in Europe are by invitation only and I have had to send the company my CV, a headshot and some ballet photos. I have applied and I have had much success! So far I am invited to audition (all by invite only) at the Het National Ballet in Amsterdam, Zurich Jr. Company in Switzerland, The Bavarian State Ballet in Munich, Germany, Dresden SemperOper Ballett and Staatsoper Hannover Ballet both also in Germany. Today I was very happy to receive another invite to audition at the StattsBallett Berlin which one of my favorite companies! Its next weekend so I don’t know if I will be able to go for financial reasons 😦
My first two auditions are this weekend! I will travel on Friday to Amsterdam for the Het National Ballet Audition which is on Saturday. Then literally right after that audition I will board a plane for Munich to attend the audition there on Sunday. I am a nervous wreck! I will be traveling all alone. I am not a very good traveler. I always have panic attacks because airports are too crazy for me and I have such bad luck with them. I am always getting lost. To make matters worse this time I have to take the train in Russia to get to the airport, which I have never done before either! I’m so scared but I have to save money where I can and since the train is only one third the cost of a taxi I have to take a chance a try it. Once I arrive in Amsterdam a nice boy who is a student at Het National Ballet School has offered to pick me up from the airport, show me how to travel to my hotel by train and then after I check into my hotel we are going to hang out and he is going to show me around Amsterdam on Friday night. Then Saturday I will attend the audition and jet off right after the audition to Munich. I’m so grateful to him. It’s such a relief. I wish I knew someone in Munich to do the same lol. Like I said I am a little nervous because I do not know where I am really going but at least people speak English in both countries. I hope these auditions go well. I’m going with an open mind and no matter what happens I will look at these auditions as learning experiences if nothing else comes from them. As of now these are the only 2 auditions I can definitely attend due to financial reasons. I had to pass up the audition in Zurich last week because it was just too expensive. With the exception of the Berlin audition, which is next week and I just found out about an hour ago that I was invited, I have a few weeks to save for the other auditions so I’m trying my best. Also once more companies post audition notices I will apply and hopefully they will be later in the season so I have more money saved to attend.
The life of a ballet dancer is a struggle. Every day I work so hard, and never feel good enough. Living in Russia makes it even harder. Since being here I struggle with my weight, I’m still trying to get to my goal weight but it seems impossible here. The food the academy serves a not healthy and there’s no fitness equipment. It’s too cold to go out running. My self-esteem is shot from the constant rejection here at the Academy. I also miss my family terribly. I am 19 and at the point in my life where I just want to get to the next level and have a job, support myself and know where I am going to be. Please cross your fingers for me as I begin the audition process. I need luck now more than ever.
Check back next week for a picture blog from my adventures in Amsterdam and Munich!
I just want to thank the lovely Buttiglione Family for having me in their home for the holidays. I also want to thank everyone who has supported me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support from everyone. I hope you all have a very happy, healthy, wealthy, peaceful, blessed successful new year!
Love, Nicole xoxo
Hey everyone! I am so sorry I haven’t blogged sooner! It has been a very busy couple of months for me. I’m back in Moscow. First I want to thank my sponsor because without him I wouldn’t be here. He is an angel! I feel so truly blessed for the opportunity to complete my traineeship this June here at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy thanks to his support and the support of my mom. Let me tell you time is flying by already!
I came back to the Bolshoi Academy on August 31st. It took some time to truly feel settled in. I am going to complete the 3rd and final year of my traineeship in June 2014 and I am so glad I have the opportunity to be part of the Russian course this year. To be placed in this class with the fellow Russian girls who have trained here for many years has been such an honor and privilege. I am excited but I am also nervous because the first 2 months have very hard already. Wish me luck!
So there are a few changes this year. My roommates from last year decided not to return this year so now I have two great new roommates Remy and Alex. These girls are very focused like me and we have really bonded.
A few days after we arrived back to the Academy the school held its opening day ceremony in the school theater. At the ceremony, on the stage, each third course graduating student hands a pair of pointe shoes and flat shoes to one of the new incoming little kids who are just starting their school career. It was a very special ceremony and I felt so proud and honored to be part of this tradition.
That day after the ceremony everyone had off from their classes expect for my class. My teacher didn’t waste any time. I have been in class all day, every day since. This year is a little different. We take ballet class on stage so that we are prepared for our final exams which will take place on the stage, in the theater. We started working on our duet exam, as well as our character and acting exam. In acting we must choose a piece to act out. I will tell you more about that in my next blog post.
The past 2 months have been very busy. On top of my daily ballet classes I have also been in rehearsals every night. So far I was given the opportunity to perform 4 times this year, in 3 different pieces. In the first performance, which was a school performance for a charity, my class performed our usual Seganski piece. This was a familiar character piece for us as we performed this last year. The Academy started new rep this year. The school is doing The Waltz from Sleeping Beauty. After rehearsing for 3 weeks, at the costume fitting, I was told that my body isn’t the right fit for the piece because I have a chest and they took me out. Like in the 240 yrs the school has existed they never had a ballet dancer with a chest? I was very upset but I just acted professional and went about my business. Then a few weeks passed and I was called back to rehearsals and put back into the Waltz. I didn’t ask why, I just went with it. I am not going to lie I was so happy. You have to take every little opportunity to perform here as an international student since all major performing opportunities go to the Russian students, even if the international students are stronger dancers. It is all politics here. Anyway I was also placed in a new character piece called Rhapsody as well. We performed on Nov. 1st at the school theater and then on November 6th and 7th we performed both new pieces at the Kremlin Palace Theater for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy 240th Anniversary celebration. Our school invited the other top ballet schools from around the world to perform with us. We had the privilege of performing with students from The Vaganova Academy, Hamburg Ballet School, Theatre Opera Rome, La Scala, the JKO school and more. Most of the schools performed contemporary/neo classical pieces. It was nice to meet other students from around the world as well as a few school directors. The performance on the 7th included famous professionals which was nice. To dance on the Kremlin stage was an honor and an amazing experience that I will treasure forever. The theater seats 6000 people and it was almost full. It isn’t the Bolshoi Theatre but it was my first time performing on a stage, here in Russia, and somewhere other than the school theater stage. I am thankful and grateful that I did get to perform in the corp of both a classical ballet piece and a character piece and I am proud that I was able to represent the Bolshoi Academy in this gala event. I hope to perform more before my time at the Academy comes to an end.
So right now I am tired. We had a nice 3 day weekend off to rest our heads and bodies after the Kremlin performances. I needed the break because my foot has been hurting lately and my body was very tired. Now we are back to class. I am working harder and harder in class. Right now my hardest class is duet because my teacher is on me all the time and it’s tough. Sometimes I just want to cry but I have to stay strong.
I will be spending the next few months of my time of resting my body, staying in shape, watching movies to fill the long cold days, and most importantly looking for jobs. I have a lot of preparation to do for audition season which will be here soon. I am really excited to get life started. Auditioning will be hard for me given I will have to travel and I am not sure how much traveling I can afford to do in order to audition for a job. Hopefully I can find the money to at least audition for a few companies. Please pray for me!!! I wish I could just know where I will be next year, if anywhere, so that I can focus on my exams which are in 5 months. I am a little nervous for my exams and I am pretty sure my teacher is nervous for us too. We haven’t started preparing and we missed two weeks of our practice time on stage because of the rehearsals for the Kremlin show. My teacher has told us it is time to focus! No staying up late, no boys, no goofing off, etc… So the next few months I will focus hardcore.
I just want to thank everyone who supported me over the past year. Your support and words of encouragement have meant so much to me. I am looking forward to whatever comes my way next. Stay tuned for more…my next blog post won’t take 2 months! I promise!
Love, Nicole xoxo
If you would like to donate to help get me to auditions please click below. I am forever grateful ❤
Hi everyone! I am sorry I haven’t posted for such a long time! I have so much to tell you. The last time I posted I was getting ready for my year end exams at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Well that was back in May and I completed and passed all of my exams! It was a very stressful time for me. I had an exam in ballet, character dance and duet. I probably could have done better but at the time I did my best. The biggest issue I have to correct is my weight. I was told that I needed to lose weight. That being said after all the exams are over it’s a tradition to go out and eat everything! Which is what I did with my class! After the exams were over I continued taking my ballet classes and I spent time with my boyfriend Diego and friends relaxing. It was a very sad time because my boyfriend and some of my friends were graduating and I knew it would be a very long time, if ever, that I would see them again. It was definitely a time of mixed emotions. I was so happy I was invited back to the Academy to complete my final year and I couldn’t wait to go home to see my mom, friends and family but when the day actually came to go home I cried. It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone, especially Diego.
I flew back home to NY in mid-June. I was so happy to see my mom! I had a week off and spent most of the week going to doctors. A week after I arrived home the Bolshoi Ballet Academy Summer Intensive in NYC, which I attended for the past 6 weeks, began. I was very lucky because my primary ballet teacher at the Academy, Irina Sirova, came to the intensive to teach and I was placed in her class
It was like a continuation of my year round studies. The summer intensive was hard work but a lot of fun also. It was nice to reunite with ballet friends from previous years and I also made many new friends. I have also become closer with a few of the Russian boys from my class at the Academy who came to the NYC intensive. It is funny how you spend an entire year in class with someone but barely speak to them. In my case because I am shy and self-conscious about my Russian language skills. I guess at the summer intensive there is more down time and so we had the chance to try to speak more and I was more confident because I was in my comfort zone, being this is my home. They would ask and I was able to help them, show them around, etc.. and because of this we grew closer as friends. The 6 weeks went by so fast. This past Friday August 2nd we had our final performance. I danced in several pieces. After dancing in one of the pieces my duet teacher from the academy (I didn’t have him as a teacher this summer as he taught a different level) was very pleased with my performance and told me I did very, very good!! I was so happy because he is probably the hardest on me all year at the academy. He tends to get angry at me often but I know it is because he believes in me. So to hear this from him made my night! It was also my birthday so this was one of the best presents to receive! After the performance my mom took a few of my family members and friends out to dinner to celebrate the performance and my 19th birthday. It was a great night filled with good food and laughter!
Now I have a week off and then I will begin classes at the Manhattan Youth Ballet SI. MYB contacted me a few weeks ago and invited me, to my surprise, to come with a full scholarship. I am looking forward to this because I will study the Balanchine style, as well as, jazz, choreography and contemporary. I studied these styles in the past at MYB but at the Bolshoi Academy the primary focus is classical so I am grateful to MYB for inviting me back to train and perform. It will be a great refresher. My teachers will include principal dancers from the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and Boston Ballet. It is always good to get a new perspective from different teachers and working with professional dancers is a great way to network. I will study there for 3 weeks and then I will perform on August 29th . I will try to post about my MYB experience before the summer ends. MYB has always supported me and I am thankful for the opportunity.
My Bolshoi Ballet contract for this fall is due to arrive this week. I had passport problems so the contract was delayed. As many of you know who follow my blog I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to return to the academy due to the financial cost. Well this is going to sound silly but back when I was at the Academy there was one day when it rained and then I looked out my dorm room window and saw a double rainbow. It was beautiful! When I saw the rainbow I wished that a miracle would happen and that I would find a sponsor so that I could return to the Academy. You won’t believe this but a few days later my wish came true! A very, very special person came forward and decided to sponsor the rest of my time at the Academy! I am not sure if this person wants to stay anonymous so I will just say that I am so grateful and thankful to my sponsor! This person is a true angel! My angel! Because of his kindness and generosity I will be returning to the Academy on August 30st to complete my final year at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy! I want my sponsor to know and everyone else who supported me this past year how truly thankful I am. None of this would have been possible without my mom, my angel and everyone else who donated and supported me.
Next time you see a rainbow and make a wish!!! It just might come true! I know it sounds silly but if you believe then your wishes and dreams can come true. So never stop wishing, believing and dreaming!!
Other exciting news: Also back in May Grishko USA named me their Rising Star for May/June 2013. I was featured in their newsletter and they also donating 20 pairs of pointe shoes. Thank you Grishko!