Do We Ever Make It?

Editorial Note: Last August, I asked eight dance artists at different points in their careers what “making it” means to them. Their responses were so poignant that I decided to make every August “making it” month and continue posing the question to various dance artists. Please join us this month in looking at what “making it” means as a dancer, artist and human. -Emmaly Wiederholt


I think in reality “making it” is a series of choices, goals and paths that we set for ourselves and when we surpass them we’ve made it, or at least made it past that particular hurdle. I don’t think we ever make it full stop though. In terms of classical ballet I often thought of this as reaching the top of a company and becoming a principle dancer. For some though, just making it into the corps de ballet alone is having made it.

After I graduated from the Royal Ballet School in July 2012, and having accepted my contract as an apprentice with The Bavarian State Ballet II in Munich, I had indeed made it. I had achieved my first step of becoming a professionally employed classical ballet dancer – something which many of my teachers at school did not believe would happen for me. I’ve come to realize now as my two-year apprenticeship draws to a close and I move up to a corps de ballet contract (in a different company), that I never made it in the first place. I was only an apprentice, not yet a fully-fledged corps dancer who dances in almost every performance and is part of that backbone of any classical company. This was strange to me because I was so happy and excited to be working as a paid dancer! It never occurred to me, at least in the first season, that I wasn’t yet secure, not that a dancer is ever secure.

Now in my short three week summer break transitioning between companies, I’m trying to contemplate what I did achieve in Munich; I choreographed two short ballets which were both presented on the main stage of the Bavarian State Opera House. I gained an awful lot of solid stage experience dancing in pieces by master choreographers from the 20th century. I worked with amazing guest stagers and repetiteures. And perhaps most important of all I started to learn what it means to work alone, which at first can feel a little like when a dog is released from his leash and just runs in any direction, distracted by the sounds or movements he might hear. Well, I’m not that undisciplined. I am focused and do enjoy hard work but part of me struggled to really work on myself in class and focus on what I needed to focus on, not on whether the particular class I was taking was good enough for me. For most of the first season in that ridiculously short hour and fifteen minutes every morning I coasted through class not really working. I was always complaining and worrying that the class wasn’t good enough and that I couldn’t improve. I lost quickly a lot of what I had worked so hard to gain technically at school and I told myself, “Ah it’s okay. When you leave school everything goes down hill a little to begin with.” This is partly true; you’re no longer watched over with every tiny last detail corrected. Ballet masters just teach the class. They don’t coach you.

When I had to start looking for a new company in the second season it was the biggest wake up call I could have gotten. Getting in shape for auditions is the best thing you can ever do when you’re young. I haven’t yet completely learnt to work alone – we all need a little help or a nudge from time to time – but there was a big improvement. I just wish that I had got that a lot earlier. I’ve learnt that the hunger for improvement or work can only come from you, always. It’s never someone else’s job to motivate you because there are always ten people behind you, more motivated and just as talented as you are ready to jump in front of you if you hesitate. That’s a lesson which has been a long time coming and I’m glad I learnt now at the start of my career.

I sometimes wonder why I really wanted to be a dancer. What it is that draws me to the studio everyday to work my ass off and move forward just a tiny bit? It’s exhausting, sometimes unsatisfying and very difficult. Ballet is hard, there is no question about that – but I love it. I can’t imagine not being in the theatre, getting to perform on stage every night. It’s magic, true magic and for that tiny fraction of time when the audience is applauding for you, in that moment couldn’t you say that you had made it?

But then again we never make it in my opinion. I don’t want to ever be told that I have made it. Only that I accomplished that particular solo or pas de deux. I think we arrive at certain pit stops, if you will, which may be a stop for ten years accomplishing part of your life in one company or as a certain rank of dancer but then we have to move on, somehow – you still haven’t finished making it. Perhaps my view is a little clouded but it keeps my feet firmly planted on the ground, which is where I want them, always. Except when I’m jumping, then I want them to be as far away as possible. I’ll keep living and searching. Then at the end I can turn around and look at my life and say “I ‘made it’ – what I wanted it to be”.


Sebastian Goffin trained at The Royal Ballet Upper School where he won The Ursula Moreton Choreographic Award in 2011 with ‘Ana B140601’. He was commissioned the following year by Monica Mason to create a pas de deux for Bob Lockyer’s 80th Birthday Celebrations at The Place, ‘Papillon’ premiered in March 2012. After graduating in 2012 Sebastian started his apprenticeship with The Bavarian State Ballet II – Junior Company in Munich. In his first season he was commissioned to create a work for his colleagues in the BSB II, ‘Astres Errants’ premiered in April 2013 at The Bavarian State Opera House. During his two seasons in Munich Sebastian danced in George Balanchine’s ‘Allegro Brillante’, Nacho Duato’s ‘Na Floresta’ and ‘Jardi Tancat’, Ray Barra’s Pas de Six – From ‘Swan Lake’ and Hans van Manen’s ‘Concertante’. He also danced in ‘Illusionen’ by John Neumier, ‘Choreartium’ by Leonide Massine, ‘La Bayadere’ by Marius Petipa and Sir Frederick Ashton’s ‘La Fille Mal Gardee’. His second work for the BSB II ‘About: Time’ premiered in April this year. Having completed his apprenticeship Sebastian takes up a contract with The Norwegian National Ballet in August.

Photo by Nicha Rodboon