Perspective: Interview with SF Ballet School's Emma Rotella



How old were you when you started dancing?

My journey in dance started when I was 3 years old. It wasn’t until I went to the World Ballet Competition when I was 12 that I became passionate about classical ballet. Up until then I had wanted to pursue a career in Broadway.

How did you decide to start dancing?

My mom signed me up for dance classes when I was 3 years old and I have been hooked ever since!

emma rotella

At 3, I was the only one that took it seriously where everybody else was swinging and hanging on the bars. I actually loved hip-hop and jazz when I was younger and hated ballet; I quit after my first class! I started to take ballet when I was 10 because it was required in order for me to be in the jazz company at our studio. It wasn’t until I was 12 that I started to fall in love with classical ballet.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve received?

I have received so much great advice it’s hard to pick just one! The most important to me is to just relax and feel the music. I am a perfectionist so I can get frustrated when I can’t get a step or a turn quite right. The other advice that has always stayed with me is to also dance bigger and to extend your lines.

Who has been your biggest inspiration this far?

I have been inspired by many teachers and dancers during this journey and I have taken something different from each and everyone. They have helped me to become the dancer that I am today.

My biggest inspirations so far would have to be my former teacher/coach, Annette Hagopian. She has always motivated me to work harder.

Yuko Katsumi who was one of my main teachers over the summer at San Francisco Ballet School for helping me really focus on the foundation of ballet and working on the strength that is so important for a dancer to have to be healthy and safe.

I have only had her for a few classes so far this year but Tina LeBlanc is another inspiration to me. I am truly inspired every time she teaches one of my classes. She brings such a positive vibe to the class that just makes you want to work harder.

Mia Michaels who choreographed a contemporary piece for me has taught me to be yourself, be strong, dance big, and fill the stage.

When did you know that you wanted to make a career out of dancing?

I knew that I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer when I started training for competitions. When I was not rehearsing I would sit and watch the older dancers rehearse and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Performing allows me to express who I am and share my love of dance with others.

I saw that you’re also a big fan of musical theater! What or who inspired you to begin singing?

I have always loved singing! My first performance was in the first grade and I sang “It’s all right here” by Hannah Montana for our talent show. So I guess you could say Hannah Montana is what inspired me to start singing.

If you could only pick one for the rest of your life—would you be able to choose between ballet and musical theater? If you could choose, which would you choose and why?

Yes, I always follow my heart and I feel ballet is what I am meant to do! It is my passion, it is my life.

What is your favorite variation you’ve ever performed?

Harlequinade and "I Am" by Mia Michaels.

What’s your favorite play or song you’ve ever performed?

"On My Own" from Les Miserables

Congrats on your acceptance to SF Ballet School! What has the transition been like for you?

Thank you! The transition has been surprisingly easy. I was nervous the first day but everyone was so welcoming! Now it feels like home.

sf ballet school

How does it feel to be so far away from home?

When I was accepted into San Francisco Ballet School, we decided to move out here as a family so now this is my home!

What has been your favorite thing about SF Ballet School so far?

Everything! I am so happy and honored to have the opportunity to dance at San Francisco Ballet School. The staff and students are so welcoming and I learn so much from each and every class. It’s a really supportive and caring environment.

What’s one thing you’ve learned since being at SF Ballet School?

It is difficult to pick just one thing since I am learning new things each day. Some of the things that I have learned are to spot quicker in pirouettes, to not be so tense, to use my head, and to feel the music. I am so excited to continue learning and improve my technique.

Who’s been your biggest inspiration at SF Ballet School so far?

The opportunity to train at SF Ballet School is dream come true. The teachers continuously inspire me with their knowledge and dedication to the students.

 

What’s your favorite thing about San Francisco in general so far?

The Marina and eating breakfast at my favorite restaurant Eight AM!

How do you unwind after a long day of classes and rehearsal?

I come home and have dinner and catch up on my Netflix shows while spending time with my dog Sandy!

What is your favorite pre-class snack? What about a pre-performance meal?

I was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease and low bone density. I am re-evaluating my eating habits to help me maximized not only my health but my performance as a dancer. 

How do you balance friendships, rehearsals, classes—what tips do you have to maintain a work-life balance?

I am fortunate enough to be homeschooled so it makes it easier. I usually do my school in the morning or early afternoon and then go to my classes. I think the biggest tip would be to always make sure to have time to relax and spend time with your family.

You have amazing feet and ankles! Do you have any advice on how you maintain strength and flexibility in your feet?

Thank you! I have not always had strong feet and ankles and I’m still working to improve them. I always manually stretch my feet before class and do ankle rolls to get them warm. To strengthen my feet I do Theraband exercises and arch pickups.

I also think that finding the right pointe shoes are important. There is a shoe for everyone and the shoe that works best for me are Freed Of Londons. I love Freeds because they have so many different makers for all different types of feet. They are softer so switching to Freeds also had a big part in strengthening my feet. The Freeds also mold to your feet nicely so usually I just have to do one class in my Freeds and they will be broken in!

emma rotella

Michelle Chopp Photography

What advice do you have for aspiring dancers on how to pursue their dreams?

Never ever give up and keep pushing for what you want.

Finally—besides shoes, water and clothing, what is one dance-bag essential that you never leave be house without?

I can never leave the house without my Jet Glue and my corrections notebook.

Want to keep up with Emma? Follow her on Instagram!

Shop #PointePaint

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