“Shelby Elsbree is an extraordinary person to have in the studio,” says assistant artistic director Russell Kaiser, who first worked with Elsbree when she was a student at the School of American Ballet. “She’s always aware, always alive, always present in the moment. She isn’t afraid to make mistakes.” Now, after performing for four years with the Royal Danish Ballet, Elsbree is back in the US and eager to fit into the range of choreography at Boston Ballet.
Elsbree at 9 years of age earned a black belt in tae kwon do and competed on her local gymnastics team in her hometown of Sarasota, Florida. When a broken arm forced her to take a hiatus, she tried ballet and fell in love full-force. At 13, she attended School of American Ballet’s summer intensive, and was asked to continue as a year-round student.
Elsbree became one of four students on whom Peter Martins choreographed part of the role of Juliet in his 2007 production of the ballet.
Throughout her SAB training, Elsbree dreamed of joining New York City Ballet. But in the fall of 2008, NYCB was forced to cut back on company contracts, and students were encouraged to audition elsewhere. Elsbree quickly set her sights on Europe and planned an audition tour. Eight days, five countries, five companies, and four job offers later, she signed on with the Royal Danish Ballet. “It was obviously out of my comfort zone,” she says. “But there were a lot of connections between Copenhagen and New York. Royal Danish’s artistic director Nicolaj Hübbe was a principal with New York City Ballet for 20 years; and Nicolaj was bringing over all of this Balanchine and Robbins repertoire that felt like home to me.” “She’s always aware, always alive, always present in the moment.” —Russel Kaiser.
Within six months of joining the company, she was performing soloist and principal roles. They included Blue Girl in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, The Pupil in Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson, and the title character in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Golden Cockerel, a strong, lively role that seems to reflect Elsbree’s inner spirit. The Royal Danish also sends its youngest company members to summer intensives around the world, and during one of her first summers Hübbe sent Elsbree to Boston Ballet, where she became intrigued with the company’s diverse repertoire.
By Elsbree’s fourth season with the Royal Danish, she found herself battling homesickness for the first time in her life. “I was so thirsty for that familiarity and that closeness of family and friends,” she says. She also felt ready for a more diverse repertoire. In December of 2012, she flew to Boston for two days and took class on the Boston Opera House stage as the company warmed up for the Nutcracker. Nissinen offered her a corps contract and asked his friend Hübbe how soon the Royal Danish could spare her.
By March, less than two weeks after leaving Denmark, Elsbree was onstage with Boston Ballet in Sleeping Beauty. “She jumped full-speed into so many things—it was baptism by fire,” says Nissinen. ”I’ve seen that she can perform under pressure. And that she is a great spirit: very positive.” During her time in Denmark, a burgeoning interest in food photography quickly became Elsbree’s blog, “Tutus & Tea,” in which she chronicled her adventures abroad, in and out of the kitchen.
The blogger community in Boston took her inspiration for “Tutus & Tea” in a new direction. She hopes to use it to promote healthy views of food as fuel, both for young dancers and for non-dancers who believe that dancers don’t eat. “Of course we eat and are interested in food,” she says, “because we’re athletes just as much as the football player and the ice hockey player next to us.” After her performing career, Elsbree plans to enter food-styling full-time, and dreams of attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. But for now, she has ground to cover on the Boston stage. “I have very high expectations for Shelby,” says Kaiser. “Dancing with the Royal Danish gave her a history. Now, she has a mature nuance and is able to adapt to the many styles required in dance today. She is perfectly poised to thrive in our repertoire.” Repertoire.
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Shelby Elsbree is exceptionally talented and highly accomplished ballet dancer. She is in conversation with Namita Nayyar, President Women Fitness.
Ms. Namita Nayyar: We all wish to know your professional dance journey from your childhood to reaching ‘The Boston Ballet Corp’ ?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: I began dancing at the age of nine at the suggestion of a family friend, whose daughter owned a ballet school in town. I had fallen out of love with gymnastics and Tae Kwon Do, and it seemed intriguing enough. I’ll never forget walking into my first ballet class, feeling so foreign and excited at the same time. I never looked back.
At 13, I was offered a training opportunity at the School of American Ballet, a year-round program in Manhattan that schools students from all over the world in the Balanchine style of dance. After five years at SAB, I began my career with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, Denmark. I spent four years in Copenhagen, adapting well to the inviting Danish culture and challenging my technique with different styles of ballet repertoire. When I was 22, I decided to pursue my professional career as a dancer back in the states, accepting a contract from the Boston Ballet in the Spring of 2013.
Ms. Namita Nayyar: You reached the pinnacle of success by being a professional leading ballet dancer when you performed Blue Girl in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, The Pupil in Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson, and the title character in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Golden Cockerel. What factors do you consider were responsible that made you achieve that?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: I believe there are several factors that contribute to success in life, be that in personal or professional endeavors. I am humbled and thankful to say I have the support of a very large and loving family, that gave me the strength to move away at a young age to pursue my dreams. My faith has been a constant source of courage and confidence throughout, and needless to say, my work ethic. Both of my parents are very hard workers and love what they do.
They’ve set an unyielding example for my siblings and I of what discipline, sacrifice, passion, and hard work will do for you in the journey of life. Timing is also a precarious participant in the lives and careers of performing artists. Often times, your levels of exposure, your “big chances” will occur due to an injury, sickness, pregnancy, etc…of another dancer, and in turn, you might be offered the “boost” you need to stand out. This being said, it is what you choose to do with these opportunities that makes the difference of long-standing success versus those that are short-lived.
Ms. Namita Nayyar: What exercises comprise your fitness regime or workout routine you shall like to share?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: I am a firm believer in cross training as a dancer. Many of my colleagues participate in religious physical therapy, pilates, yoga or gyrotonics routines throughout the season. I have my various abdominal/back strengthening exercises that I like to do to warm up before class or a show… I try to do the elliptical a few times a week to keep up my cardio endurance. Perhaps my favorite fitness regime other than the daily class we take to warm up for our rehearsals is swimming. Swimming is the only anti-gravity/stress/impact exercises that strengthens every muscle in the body. It’s methodical and refreshing. I’ve been swimming laps since I was about 16 years old, and to this day, is my favorite way to exercise.
Ms. Namita Nayyar: Do you take some special diet or have a strict menu that you follow to remain healthy and physically fit?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: I have been blessed to inherit my father’s raging metabolism, so that being said, I follow no strict menu other than what I feel my body craves and needs. My father is a Doctor, and has always encouraged me to nourish my body in a way that someone would want to fuel their very expensive sports car – “They wouldn’t put the cheap gas in it would they?” he asks… “.
Your body is your vehicle as a dancer. You should always give it the premium “fuel” it deserves.” I’m a visual person and this little token has always stuck with me. I do try to eat a lot of lean protein, fruits and vegetables these are all good for muscle recovery. And dairy is my most sacred (non)guilty pleasure. Yogurt, cheese and Ice Cream are daily sources of happiness 🙂
Ms. Namita Nayyar: You have glowing skin and gorgeous hair. Do you take some kind of skin treatment to keep it young and glowing and secondly what you do to your hair to make them look so stunning?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: Thank you! Most of the year I try to be religious about my vitamin intake. I’ll take a multivitamin, a calcium with magnesium supplement, and an omega oil.
During the summer I go off the vitamin regime, as I’m getting more Vitamin D from the sun and nourishment from succulent summer produce. Every now and then I like to put argan oil in my hair to give it a little extra boost. Hairspray tends to ring it out a bit when we’re performing a lot. I try to wear it differently for class/rehearsal each day so as to not encourage consistent stress on parts and ends, etc…
Ms. Namita Nayyar: Advice and motivational words to the inspiring and budding professional ballet dancing girls who all are your fans and shall like to know from you for their climb to ladder of success in the field professional ballet dancing?
Ms. Namita Nayyar: Tell us about your memorable experience on being featured at Boston Ballet in Sleeping Beauty ?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: Sleeping Beauty was the first ballet I performed after joining Boston Ballet. I wasn’t supposed to go on, as they had already finished in-studio rehearsals and were doing full runs on stage as the opening weekend approached. I was cast to learn and understudy a handful of roles I had previously performed during my career with Royal Danish Ballet. All, save one.
Garland Dance is a beautiful, yet intricate piece danced by the corps de ballet during the first act of Sleeping Beauty. It involves several weaving patterns in and out of other dancers, all while holding a wreath (garland) of flowers above your head. It just so happened that this one piece I was most unfamiliar with, was the piece I got thrown into for a dancer who got sick. I had one stage rehearsal before I performed it, and it’s one that I”ll never forget.
I taught myself the entire piece by watching a tape for about 30 minutes before the rehearsal. I said a prayer and went for it. Needles to say, it wasn’t perfect, but I somehow managed to pull it off without hurting anyone, or myself, and gasped loudly at the final pose. The whole company started clapping for me on stage. It was hilarious and humbling…a welcoming way to get thrown into a supportive new family here in Boston.
Ms. Namita Nayyar: Who has been your inspiration and motivation in choosing ballet dancing as your profession ?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: I’ve had many mentors along the path of my career as a dancer. In fact, I think this is an essential part of pursuing any field, finding someone who’s journey you admire, and are able to learn and grow from. I was first inspired by my first ballet teacher, Mary Elizabeth Mock. I trained under her for 3+ years at the Florida Ballet Arts Academy, and she was a beautiful and balanced role model for me to look up to both as a dancer and a person.
When I moved to NY I acquired many other sources of inspiration, many in New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater, and eventually abroad as my own career path moved and motivated me. My mother always encouraged and supported my dream of dancing, but she also relieved me of any pressure I might have felt to pursue it professionally. I think having this support, regardless of my decision, was what ultimately fueled me to not give up.
Ms. Namita Nayyar: Tell us about your endeavour “The Offbeat Chronicles of a Tutu with Tea” ?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: Tutus & Tea is a blog I began about five years ago when I first moved to Copenhagen. Inspired by my sister’s suggestion, I decided to combine my interests of photography, food, travel and dance, to chronicle my experiences of living and dancing abroad.
I kind of thought of it as a journal that would allow me to exercise my other hobbies outside of the theater, and to develop and inspire a following of people (mostly family) the way I was/am constantly inspired by the adventures and passions of others. It has been such a rewarding way of networking in both the dance and food worlds, and I’m so grateful for that…. check out her blog at: http://tutusandtea.wordpress.com/
Shelby Elsbree on WomenFitness: I believe that Womenfitness.net is a beautiful platform of inspiration and honesty for women world-wide. It’s a source of motivation to us all, a reminder that we have what we need to reach our unique potentials in life. I’m so grateful for this feature, and hope that it touches others in a way that I’ve been so touched by this website.
Ms. Namita Nayyar: You moved from US to Copenhagen and then to US. For a dancer adjusting to new countries with their own cultures it must be difficult and then to adjust your own dance style, what advice you can give to fellow ballet dancers in a similar situation?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: I think this is a great question and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on it! In New York, I was trained strictly in the Balanchine style of ballet. It has been thought of as a more neoclassical approach to dance, known for its fast footwork and articulate details to the placement of your fingers, and lines and porter bras (how you carry the arms). Royal Danish Ballet is the founding company of the Bournonville style, an approach nearly completely opposite to Balanchine that requires mild porter bras, more emphasis on jumps and a more classical/romantic repertoire.
Boston Ballet provides a vast repertoire that ranges from contemporary choreography of Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe among others, to Balanchine, to Russian classics… I believe that learning how to adjust to these different styles is not only important, but healthy as well. It stretches your mind, your body and your confidence level in your own technique to a degree that keeps you eager to keep learning and growing as an athlete and an artist. Keep an open mind should you be so challenged. It’s good for you to step (dance) out of your comfort zone, plus it will offer you a whole new appreciation for the style you prefer 🙂
Ms. Namita Nayyar: With exceptional hard work you are credited with all your achievements. Do you believe that does the hand of Providence (Supreme Being) played a role in your success?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: I was raised a Christian, and have since grown up to develop a strong platform of faith in my life. I am non-denominational however, and believe that the way we live our lives is a far stronger reflection of our piety than being a consistent church go-er or scripture-quoter. I absolutely believe that the levels of success and opportunity that I’ve reached in my career were in God’s timing and divine plan. I’m grateful for every chance to exude His light in all that I do, from the street to the stage.
Ms. Namita Nayyar: What you wish to say about the website Womenfitness.net and message for its visitors?
Ms. Shelby Elsbree: I believe that Womenfitness.net is a beautiful platform of inspiration and honesty for women world-wide. It’s a source of motivation to us all, a reminder that we have what we need to reach our unique potentials in life. I’m so grateful for this feature, and hope that it touches others in a way that I’ve been so touched by this website.
Thank you once again for your interest, support and exposure of my work and career. I feel so blessed to work hard for what I love to do each day, and it’s so humbling to be recognized for these efforts and opportunities.
To know more about Shelby Elsbree, check her out at: http://www.shelbyelsbree.com
Women Fitness Team thanks Shelby Elsbree for giving her valuable time for this interview and quenching the thirst of her fans to know more about her and made this interview happen.
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