Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hip + Urban Girl of the Week: Heather Ogden

Almost all of us can remember a time when we’d put on a tutu and head to ballet class, or at least twirl around in our bedroom pretending to be the lead in Swan Lake.

Heather Ogden is still putting on her pointe shoes and leotard to pirouette around the room, but now she’s getting paid to do it in front of hundreds of people as a principal dancer at The National Ballet of Canada.

Heather trained at the Richmond Academy of Dance in British Columbia before moving to Toronto to join The National Ballet in 1998, and was promoted to principal dancer in 2005. Heather has held roles in Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella to name a few, and has performed in New York City, New Orleans, Montreal and Edinburgh. She’s currently part of six Canadian ambassadors in the Barbie I Can Be campaign reflecting Barbie’s 2011 careers and setting an example for young women.

What is being a professional ballerina like?

Being a professional ballerina is the life of an artist. I love that my job is my passion and I get to work on perfecting myself all the time. It is a lot of hard work, but it also offers a lot of fulfillment and reward. There is nothing like the feeling after a great show…it's addictive.

Heather Ogden in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

How did you get your big break?

I got my big break when I was in the corps de ballet at The National Ballet of Canada. I had only been in the company for a few years, and the casting went up for the role of 'Juliet' and there was my name! It was a big opportunity to prove myself and a period in my dancing career where I learned so much. I tried to be like a sponge learning from my coach and my fellow dancers. After my success with Juliet I was given more responsibility and opportunity, which lead to me being promoted to a soloist and eventually to principal dancer. 

What is a typical day like for Heather Ogden?

A typical rehearsal day for me starts at about 7:30 a.m. I get up and make my way to the studio to do a warm up before we have our morning class at 10 a.m. Class is where we get a chance to work on our technique and get our kinks out. After that there is six hours of rehearsal where often we are rehearsing four or five different ballets.  I finish at around 6:30 p.m. and often have physiotherapy treatment or a massage before heading home. When we are on a performance schedule we start a bit later in the day but end around 11 p.m.

What are some of the disadvantages of your job?

As a very physical art form there are many injuries that come along with the pleasures of dancing. I have been lucky in that I have not had a major injury (knock on wood), but I have been sidelined here and there for smaller injuries and it can be a very low time for a dancer to be kept from doing what you love. 

What do you wish someone told you when you were younger and just starting out?

There are a lot of things I have found out about my profession that may have been helpful to know when I was young. It would have been nice to have a heads up on exactly how much hard work was going to be involved. I have learned that talent is just a small part of being successful and the rest is sweat! Right now I am an ambassador for the Barbie I Can Be campaign. It allows me to mentor young girls who may have dreams of becoming a ballerina. Hopefully I can be the person to give them the advice they need to follow their dreams.

Favourite things to do in Toronto when you're not dancing?

My husband and I love to walk around our neighbourhood in Leslieville and browse the great furniture shops. I am also really big on brunch so we love to get together with friends and family on the weekend and try out new restaurants.

What life advice do you have for Hip + Urban Girls out there trying to figure out what they want to do?

I would say stick it out for something you love to do. If you can find pleasure in your job, I think it makes you a happier person. 

Daniela DiStefano is a Toronto writer, editor and blogger. Follow her on Twitter!/ddeestefano and her blog

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