Bethany Kingsley-Garner learned of her promotion to Principal with the Scottish Ballet while onstage, and calls it one of the most memorable moments of her career. “Hearing the audience applaud with tears streaming down my face, it’s a moment that will last forever,” she said of the occasion. During her question and answer session, Kingsley-Garner discussed not only her on-stage promotion, but other major career milestones, her excitement to work with Ballet in the City, and walked us through a normal day in the life of a professional dancer.
Ballet in the City: Let’s start with learning a little about how your dancing career got started. How old were you when you began dancing ballet, and what initially sparked your interest in ballet?
Bethany Kinglsey-Garner: From as young as I can remember, we had classical music playing at home. My sister played the piano so it was the norm for me to be surrounded in the arts. I thought it was beautiful and it used to inspire me to dance. I still remember one moment listening to “Jupiter” from the Planets by Holst – I could not stop dancing, and I still now listen to it and have the same feeling running through my body.
When did you know ballet would be more than a hobby and could be a career path for you?
There was a time when I was enjoying athletics as much as dancing. I could run very fast and loved the stamina and determination involved, but when I got offered a place at the Royal Ballet School I had to make a choice. When I joined, I had no idea how tough the process and journey would be, without any guarantee of success. But even through this hardship I loved every second of my learning, and I knew that I would do anything to be successful as a dancer. The turning point was working with the Royal Ballet Company performing Swan Lake alongside Darcey Bussell. I loved every moment of being on stage and the live orchestra, it all became very real. I worked very hard at school and had wonderful family support with living away from home. I went on to graduate with Honours and was awarded the April Olrich Award alongside Serge Polunin for Most Dynamic Performance.
What has your career path looked like so far, and what brought you to Scottish Ballet?
In my graduate year of school, the then-Director of Scottish Ballet (Ashley Page) came to watch me in class and he offered me a job there and then. Though I had never been to Scotland, I already knew Ashley from performances I had done with Royal Ballet, and the opportunity to be a part of a small company with an interesting and diverse repertoire really intrigued me. When you start in the company you’re a very small fish in a very big pond, no matter the size of the company, and you have to have a strong work ethic even when you’re only performing small roles.
I dedicated all my time to improving for the company and getting those bigger roles, and I got my break when I performed Blue Bird in Sleeping Beauty. From then my career has really taken off, especially with the arrival of the new Artistic Director Christopher Hampson. Within a year I performed my first Sugar Plum Fairy and was promoted to Soloist. All my hard work and determination to improve outside of work hours and paid off.
I had a lot to learn as a Soloist – you work differently, and there is a greater focus on learning on your own and working more closely with the ballet staff. I thrived in this pressure though, and I knew I couldn’t stop pushing to develop further as a dancer. I progressed with performances as Juliet, Cinderella and Odette / Odile, learning from the complexities and differences in each role under great guidance from my Director.
In 2016 I was promoted to Principal on stage after performing Swan Lake, a moment I will never forget.
I believe you are always developing as a dancer and an artist though, so I look forward to each challenge and the future excites me.
Thus far what has been your favorite role, and what is your dream role?
I’ll always have a soft spot for Sugar Plum Fairy because it was my first full length role and it was a key milestone in my career. I’ve also held on to the image of dancers like Darcey Bussell dancing Sugar Plum since I was a child, and it was a lifelong ambition to perform the role.
However, today it would have to be between Juliet and Odette / Odile from Swan Lake as my favorite roles to dance. Both share the dramatic approach and passion that you crave as a ballerina. There are few roles where you can really let yourself go on stage, but they are definitely two of them.
In terms of a dream role, I can’t choose just one, as I feel lucky to perform any new role that helps me to grow and improve as a dancer.
Walk me through a typical day for you, both in and out of the studio. When you’re not performing, what do you like to do to unwind?
I wake up around 7 a.m. – I’m an early bird because of my fiancé’s gym routine. I always have toast, honey and banana (if I had to choose one meal to have for the rest of my life this would be it) and a large coffee in my favorite jelly bean mug. I’ll have another coffee on my way into work – I’m a morning person, but only if there is enough caffeine in my system!
I like to get to work early so that I can prepare both physically and mentally for the day ahead. My routine includes both gyrotonics and strength training, which has really helped me improve and maintain my stamina and physicality as I’ve progressed.
We then have ballet class, where I like to wear my pointe shows throughout. I find that it improves feet stamina and muscle definition.
After class we go into rehearsals for the upcoming season. If rehearsing a par du deux I will work in a smaller studio for the morning, and after lunch will be the large group numbers.
Lunch break is a time to refuel, chat with friends and get a massage with our onsite masseuse.
Our evening rehearsals lasts until 6. I like to have a sauna after work, we are lucky enough to have one at HQ, or do an ice bucket for the feet!
When I get home I love to cook, with lots of fresh produce. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in the kitchen but I do a mean beef wellington. I love to bake too and do in my down time and on weekends.
A bath with Epson salts is also a great way to unwind and relax the muscles – even better with a glass of wine!
You’re a friend of Ballet in the City and collaborate with the organization on many exciting projects. Tell me about what you do in the role.
I love the fact I can spread the word of Ballet in the City across the pond while representing Scotland.
It’s early days in my new role, but I’m looking forward to many a collaboration both in the USA and Scotland.
This week we are launching, what Jessica and I have deemed, ‘BBB’- Beth’s Ballet in the City Bytes. It’s a collaboration where we share my experiences on social media and invite dancers and social media followers to submit questions to me about my experiences, especially whilst rehearsing and performing. It’s a unique opportunity! We also have another collaboration involving coffee that we’re quite excited about.
Why do you feel it is important to have organizations like Ballet in the City, which seek to bring the art of Ballet to a larger audience?
The vision of Ballet in the City is what makes me proud to be part of it – to get more people to engage in ballet and dance and inspire them.
Ballet in the City is making ballet more accessible and applauding hard work with unique experiences. It’s critical for younger generations to have this kind of direct interaction with ballet, as well as days they will never forget. I remember from my own time as a developing dancer how important these experiences can be, both for learning and for giving you something to work towards.
I love the way Ballet in the City incorporates behind the scenes experiences, as it’s such a personal way to engage with the audience. The future with Ballet in the City looks exciting and vital to the next generation.
How do you see your career evolving as you continue to grow? Are there any avenues you are interested in pursuing?
I work alongside the education department at Scottish Ballet, and have started co-teaching ‘Dance with Parkinson’s’.
From the first time I took part in a class I was intrigued and impressed by the participants’ development in confidence and movement from the start of the class to the end. We teach each class with live music and that in its self is special and takes you away from everyday life.
I also help present a shorted version of our Christmas ballets for younger children. I love being on stage and interacting with the audience while all the children are copying me dance. It’s a great way to educate and an exciting experience for them.
What has been your most rewarding moment as a dancer?
I have two that come to mind. Firstly, when I performed Juliet at Sadler’s Wells in London – I had all my family in the audience as well as ballet members from The Royal Ballet School. I felt proud of what I had achieved and it was a very emotional performance.
My second most rewarding moment was receiving my promotion on stage. Hearing the audience applaud with tears streaming down my face, it’s a moment that will last forever.
Related, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced, and how did you overcome that struggle.
My biggest challenge has always been injury. I suffered an ACL knee injury in 2014 that put me out of action for nearly two months. I was on crutches and even went in a wheel chair to prevent tiring out the other leg.
The best way to get through these struggles is acceptance and patience. We dance nearly every day, and to suddenly have that taken away from you is crushing.
I kept to a strict rehab regime and that helps to keep a schedule and consistent focus. I had so much family support and they all came up to help me. You never know it at the time but you learn so much from taking a step back and re-gathering your strength. I worked hard on my upper body as that’s what I could use and came back stronger than before, and with more love in my work as I knew what it felt like not to have it.
What advice would you give to young dancers interested in pursuing a career in ballet? Is there anything you wish you would have known going into your career?
I always say, be true to yourself. You need to know your weaknesses as a dancer, but also definitely know your strengths. If you are honest and genuine it will come through your dancing.
It’s important to keep ballet true to its roots – watch the old footage of Margot Fonteyn, these dancers built what we have now. And GIVE your work to audiences, open and whole hearted.
-Written by Laurel Wilder-Meisel for Ballet in the City. Ballet in the City was thrilled to celebrate Laurel on May 20 at her wedding to Zack Meisel, and wishes all the best to this beautiful, giving couple.