Guys Dance Too: Interview with Christopher Ruud of Ballet West
By Marcia Custer
Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Ruud, principal dancer with Ballet West and one of the stars of the CW’s reality show Breaking Pointe. We discussed art, ballet, and of course, tasty (and healthy) snacks! He gave me the low-down on what it takes to be a pro ballet dancer, and gave some good advice to aspiring dancers and just about everyone else. Look for him at the First Annual Ballet in Cleveland Gala on Friday February 28th, 2014, as well as teaching master classes for Ballet in Cleveland (including special, FREE Guys Dance Too classes) at Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare on Saturday, March 1, along with fellow Ballet West stars Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton!
Marcia Custer : What first got you into ballet? Was it a show that you saw? Did you know others who studied it?
Christopher Ruud : Both my parents were professional ballet dancers. They both met dancing here at Ballet West in the 1960s and then my father got a job at the San Francisco Ballet and I basically grew up backstage at the San Francisco Ballet.
MC: Oh wow! Well, that takes out my second question, which was going to be ‘Were your parents supportive?’
CR: Yes they were but frankly, being a professional dancer is a hard road, it’s not a wealthy road. They let me do whatever I wanted and they were supportive of me doing whatever I wanted as long as it was creative and productive...but they weren’t necessarily pushing me to be a ballet dancer. They were very supportive but never pushy.
MC: What is the hardest part of being a dancer?
CR: Even growing up in San Francisco in such a liberal city, in school, as a kid at school it was hard – dealing with some of the teasing… Especially for guys. You know, “Why would a guy wanna do ballet?” It was hard but at the same time when I was taking part in being a student of ballet, getting to perform once in a while at the San Francisco Ballet in children’s roles, while you’re doing it it just feels so special that, why would you let anyone get to you about it? It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Also, it’s hard to be a kid while training to be a ballet dancer. It’s just like any professional athlete or sports star. You get to a certain level and that is all you do. And there’s a constant dedication and a sort of expectation to learn disciple and grow up to a mature person sooner, and faster.
MC: Yeah, and during that time, were you able to be a kid? Were you able to explore other hobbies? When did that serious shift happen for you?
CR: I actually quit training in ballet my freshman year of high school- half way through my freshman year- because I grew up in ballet and I think I’d had enough of it. I did pick up hobbies. I played sports in high school, I skate boarded. I think when I finally came back to it in college when I was 18 was when I really shifted my focus on solely becoming a dancer. That’s an 8 or 9 hour a day requirement, at least. For many kids in ballet it starts much younger than I and I think around the age of 13 or 14 you can see standouts who really understand how much work it takes, and start to rise above the work of others… That’s what I’ve noticed.
MC: Coming back to ballet must have been difficult, though I notice that more often I hear of male dancers starting training later… Is that a fair statement; Do boys tend to start later than girls?
CR: My father didn’t come to ballet until he was 18. and it does happen later for a lot of male ballet dancers but it’s more and more lately as stereotyping and prejudice is less involved in daily life, more and more guys are coming to ballet sooner and particularly if you look around at the great ballet companies of the world… The cream of the crop really did start their training at a young age. But that’s not how it always used to be.
MC: What would be your advice for young dancers that are just starting to get into ballet?
CR: The same advice that I’d have for anybody in the world, which is: If you love something and it’s a positive and productive thing to do, then be yourself and do it. In the end, the only person whose judgement of you really matters is your own.
[There is bullying, and stereotyping but ] Keep in mind what you end up becoming is you get to take part in creating fine art…. and let’s not forget that some of the greatest minds in the world created art; the Davincis, the Michaelangelos…
becoming a dancer and taking part in the tradition of ballet is a very honorable and almost regal endeavor.
MC: What’s a favorite role that you’ve danced?
CR: Oh, wow, well, really great roles that I really cherish and remember the most are Romeo, Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, other contemporary ballets that have been some of my most favorite moments [such as] Jiří Kylián’s Petit Mort. Oh, and Balanchine’s Rubies! It was so enjoyable, free and exuberant! The music itself sounds like children at play. It’s jazzy in a sense that it’s playful and unexpected… You get to show a mischievous and excited personality the whole time.. and it’s flirtatious!
MC: What’s a dream role that you haven’t danced yet?
I haven’t done La Bayadere, and I’ve always wanted to do that. If I could do Balanchine’s Apollo that would probably be enough! I would also like to dance Romeo one more time.
MC: Where do you see ballet heading in the future?
CR: Because ballet is an old tradition that is passed down from one person to another, the human body and the ability to train your body will advance, as it has, over the centuries, as we learn about musculature and discipline and training and the technique behind doing these things… People will become better and be able to do more.
I also see the community of dancers keeping classical ballet alive very much as a living history of ballet because you don’t have the most spectacular contemporary choreographers of our time now without the hundreds of years of classical ballet that came before. I know myself and every other dancer that I know loves brand new choreography- wild, contemporary movement- but we all very much protect and cherish the traditions of classical ballet because that’s really where it all started and that’s where you begin in your training and appreciation of ballet.
MC: What’s a regular day in your life like?
CR: Well, I am NOT a morning person, but I’m up early enough to eat breakfast and take a shower and barely make it on time. I’ll usually get to the studio 15 minutes before class, take some time to stretch out use my Theraband and then…
[here’s the time breakdown]
10:00am-11:30am : Class- A ballet class that any other person in the world might take. The point of this class is to prepare you for dancing the rest of the day!
11:45am-2:45: Rehearsals- They can come in hour chunks (every 55 minutes they have a five minute break) Sometimes it’s six different rehearsals, sometimes it’s two 3-hour rehearsals.
6:45pm: Day ends. Get home, fill a large bucket with ice and put your feet in the bucket!
Christopher went on to discuss last fall, wherein some dancers had 9 different ballets to learn over the course of the rehearsal period! it was a tremendous amount of work.. Petit Mort to Coppelia to Sleeping Beauty to Rubies to Firebird …
CR: “….[That is] what, as a professional dancer, you expect to come to… You’re going to dance 7-8 hours a day, period. And it is sometimes standing around and learning spacing and blocking out scenes and sometimes it is 60 minutes of straight dancing. You have an hour for lunch 245-345: I’ll have small bites if I have a lot of dancing .. But, you must fuel your body. Oh, probably a coffee [laughs] you’ve gotta keep going… “
MC: Yes, you must fuel your body! What do you fuel yours with?
CR: You have to eat enough real whole foods that have vitamins and the right amount of nutrients to fuel yourself.. if you don’t eat right and you don’t have the right amount of sustenance keeping you going you’re just going to flunk.
Morning: I try to have a couple of eggs, banana, yogurt… get some good probiotics, whole sugars from the banana, protein from the eggs.
Lunch: I’m not going to lie.. sometimes it’s a protein shake, sometimes it’s a power bar, sometimes it’s big old sandwich depending on the day.
Dinner: You must eat your vegetables; I like to have a big salad with all different kinds of greens: lettuce, spinach, kale, some dried berries, some nuts, healthy fatty oils. Carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers are an amazing source of vitamin C. Add in a lean protein, a steak or a chicken breast, a hamburger… something that is a lean protein that is cooked well, a good sized portion because you have to feed your body and build and maintain body. Every single day of your career you’re breaking down and building up muscles.
Of course you’re going to want to have a dessert… everyone deserves a cookie at the end of the day.. but you can’t sit there and eat a package of cookies; it’s just a reality of the job! A fit body is able to do the movement and look best. You must eat, you must maintain your health, but you have to be sensible about the intake of sugars and starches and high calorie things… a lot of fats are good, like butter in moderation— sugar is definitely the enemy!
MC: Great, do you have any final thoughts for our dance fans out there? Especially the guys, who you’ll be teaching next month?!
CR: “Here’s the thing.. if there’s one thing I can leave the guys with.. no matter what, especially if you’re a guy who’s not sure about entering the arena of ballet because you’re afraid of being made fun of, in the end, no matter what, you get to spend your day around a bunch of beautiful girls (if that’s your thing) or a bunch of boys (if that’s your thing) but it’s usually a room full of healthy well-mannered people who are interested in beauty and art and that’s not a bad place to be.”
For information about how to register for the Guys Dance Too classes in Cleveland with Christopher, or to register to dance in master classes with Christopher, Rex, and Allison, please visit www.balletincleveland.org/breakingpointe.