Perspective: Interview with Sophie DeGraff

Cover photo: Sophie DeGraff by Ashley Lorraine Baker 

Age: 14
Where are you from? Maple Grove, Minnesota
Where do you currently dance and/or train? WestMet Classical Training under the direction of Allynne Noelle and Thomas Brown

How and when did you get your start in dance?

I started dancing at the age of five. I trained at a competition studio that included many different genres such as ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, lyrical, etc. I began to fall in love with the technique and artistry of ballet and at the age of eleven and decided to train solely in classical ballet. 

What kind of pointe shoes do you wear, and what do you like about them?
I wear Freed of London Studio Professionals. I like how easy they are to break in, and they also fit and support my feet really well! They are really comfortable, and I can wear them during long studio days with so much comfort!

Sophie DeGraff by Ashley Lorraine Baker Sophie DeGraff by Ashley Lorraine Baker 

How do you prep your pointe shoes for class/rehearsals?
When I start a new pair of shoes, I like to soften the box by stepping my heel on the top….I work at loosening the shank a bit where my natural arch is, and then the finishing touch is Jet Glue! Lots and lots of Jet Glue! 


I know that you are an Angel Scholar through the Angel Shine Foundation. Talk to us a little bit about what that’s like and how you became involved with it!
I became familiar with the Angel Scholar Foundation through YAGP. I entered a contest they had advertised and was selected as an honorable mention. After that experience, I applied for their scholarship program and was awarded a scholarship! 

I am so grateful for the Angel Shine Foundation and all of their supporters and donors. Their support has been so helpful for me to pursue further opportunities that help me continue my journey as a pre-professional ballerina. 

What does a typical day in the life of Sophie look like?
In order to pursue ballet with increased intensity, I began homeschooling this past school year. My typical day includes academic studies in the morning, followed by stretching and cross training after lunch, and then I’m off to the studio in the mid-afternoon through the evening. 

I train at the studio six days per week. I really enjoy the flexibility that homeschooling has brought to my day-to-day schedule, and I often get to spend some extra fun time with my parents, siblings, and dog during the day, as well! 

Where do you ultimately hope to take your career as a dancer?
My dream is to be a principal dancer for a world class ballet company.  


Sophie DeGraff by Ashley Lorraine Baker
Sophie DeGraff by Ashley Lorraine Baker 

Do you have any performance goals, dream companies, or other dance aspiration?
At this point in my training, I am really drawn toward the companies who perform a lot of classical ballet repertoire. I dream of someday dancing the roles of Giselle, Kitri, and Juliet. I also really enjoy learning and performing neoclassical works. I find the speed and energy of this style of dancing both challenging and fulfilling.

By looking through your gorgeous Instagram photos, it’s obvious that you have beautiful lines and an arabesque that’s to-die-for! Can you share yout top tip for stretching to achieve better extensions?
Thank you! To be honest, one of my biggest challenges as a dancer has been my flexibility. I was not born with natural flexibility, so it has been a journey over time to achieve my extensions. 

My advice would be first and foremost to be patient with yourself! My top tip for flexibility and  extensions is consistency that involves both a stretch and strengthening combination. I would often follow a Maria Khoreva YouTube video which included lying on my back in order to focus on using the correct muscles. 

What are some of your other interests and hobbies besides dancing?
I love spending time with my family, traveling, doing art projects, and baking. Often times, when I’m together with my cousins, we love to make short films. I just love doing things that involve creativity and imagination. 

What is something that not many people know about you? (Can be dance-related or not!)
My family nickname is “Boo” because I was born on Halloween! 


Sophie DeGraff by Ashley Lorraine Baker
Sophie DeGraff by Ashley Lorraine Baker 

What is one thing you always keep in your dance bag?
One thing I always keep in my dance bag is a bottle of Jet Glue and a sewing kit.  I like to always be prepared! 


What has been your favorite on-stage memory or performance you’ll never forget, and why?
I just recently performed in the Junior Final Round of the Youth America Grand Prix Finals in Tampa, Florida. It was one of my goals that I had set for myself, and it was just the most magical experience. Performing for an audience that had so much energy and excitement was so fulfilling! It truly amplified my passion for being a professional dancer. 


What’s a step/combination in class that you always look forward to doing? What do you feel most proud of in your dancing?

Pirouettes are my absolute favorite! Turning has always been a strength for me, and I have always been a natural turner. At this point in my dance training, I am most proud of my overall technique and the work I have put into my dancing foundation. I am also really proud and excited about my growth in my artistry this year, as that has been a recent goal of mine.

What’s something you’re actively working to improve upon in your dancing?
This year I have really been focusing on my artistry and finding my own voice in my dancing. Ballet is very technical. It is easy to focus on trying to be perfect in every step and move, but I have been working to shift my mindset from that idea of perfection to being able to not be afraid of mistakes, taking more risks, and being comfortable with vulnerability. 


What is a challenge you've faced as a dancer and how did/do you work to overcome it?
Overall, I would say my flexibility. But I also think one of the biggest challenges young dancers face, especially when competing a lot, is defining who you are outside of results. 

Ballet has taught me that the process is never ending and to enjoy the journey.  It has opened my eyes to being proud of who I am, being patient with myself, and that I am more than a single skill, performance, or placement. 

 Sophie DeGraff, ballet dancerSophie DeGraff by Ashley Lorraine Baker 

Do you have any advice for other aspiring dancers?
I am a big believer in goal-setting. My biggest advice is to set small weekly and monthly goals for things you want to work towards.

Write these goals down and track your work. Write down corrections from class and review them often  during your week/month goal. I love to use my A Ballet Education dance planner for tracking, and it’s fun to look back and see the progress I have made! 


How do you #FeelGoodDanceBetter?
My #FeelGoodDanceBetter is all about the mental aspect of dance! Taking time to identify what kind of experience I want to have in a particular class, audition, or performance and setting goals for myself that align with that experience. Also, dedicated time to rest and enjoy experiences outside of dance. For me, it’s watching movies!
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