Sophie Zoricic is a strong, determined young woman working as a ballet dancer with the Brisbane-based Queensland Ballet.
We caught up over a glass of wine to chat all things ballet and career. Plus the surprising parallels between life on stage and life in the office.
Note to self: apparently if all else fails, a quick pirouette and leap to the left should do the trick.
Sophie thank you so much for sharing your story with The Grapevine Club. Help us to understand what a normal day in the office looks like for a professional ballet dancer. Do you have one?
Yes, I do! Like most jobs I have a pretty regular routine. I alternate between two main routines depending on whether we’re in off season or on season.
During off season I’m based at the Queensland Ballet studios in West End, Brisbane. There we spend our days preparing for upcoming shows. I usually work from about 10am to 6pm, starting with morning ballet class and then all-day rehearsals.
During on season I move location over to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in South Bank. There my whole schedule shifts. Because most of our performances are at night, our working day starts at around 11am. First we have morning class, followed by afternoon rehearsals. Then we head home for a break before its back to the theatre at about 5pm for the 7:30pm show.
When I was younger, like a lot of girls I always wanted to be a ballet dancer. Was this career something that you always dreamed of doing?
Yes, it definitely was. I’ve never been drawn to anything else like I’m drawn to dance.
I first started learning ballet when I was three. I wanted to be like my older sister who was already learning ballet at the time. My family and I moved around a lot when I was growing up and ballet was always a constant for me. We moved to South Africa, to England and then back to Australia and I kept dancing through all of it.
When I was growing up my Mum always asked me if I was sure I wanted to keep dancing. My answer was yes every time. I’ve never been interested in anything else. I think I’m really lucky because I’ve never second guessed it.
So how did you go from a young girl with a dream, to a young woman with a career? Is there a specific path you need to follow to break into the industry?
When my primary school friends went off to high school I started doing distance-education at night and during the day I began full-time ballet training.
I started my full-time ballet training a little earlier than most other dancers. But I loved it so much from such a young age that it just made sense for me. My parents were nervous at first but I was really driven and I think I’ve proven it was the right decision!
At 13 I was accepted into the Australian Ballet School and I moved down to Melbourne. Most of the other students there were still in school but I continued with my distance education and took extra ballet classes during the day. Eventually my class mates also began full-time ballet training. That’s when I started following the regular schedule along with them.
I graduated from the Australian Ballet School at age 17 and I remember how tough it was on all of us. At the end of every year there are so many talented students graduating from right around the country with only a limited amount of jobs on offer. The year I graduated The Australian Ballet only took on two new people, one male dancer and one female dancer.
I was really fortunate because that same year Queensland Ballet took on six new dancers from the School. Five of them male and me! Li Cunxin had just been appointed as the new Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet. He saw me dance in a lead role just after my graduation. I remember auditioning for him shortly afterwards and I was so nervous! But I guess I did a good job because the rest is history!
You’ve been with Queensland Ballet for almost six years now. What are you career highlights to date?
I’m currently having a career highlight right now! I’m dancing my first professional lead role in a classical ballet. It’s the role of Carmen, in the ballet of the same name. It’s part of a double bill we’re performing here in Brisbane at the moment.
I’ve understudied in lead roles before but I’ve never ended up performing them. Landing this role after six years with the company is pretty special for me. It’s been such a surreal experience and I never thought in a million years I would get it so I’m trying to soak it all in.
The other major role I danced a few years ago with the company was the Lead Harlot in Romeo and Juliet. I had the privilege of dancing with international ballet star Carlos Acosta. Ironically he choreographed the version of ‘Carmen’ I am working on at the moment.
I also really enjoyed dancing in a contemporary piece called Bespoke last year at the Powerhouse in New Farm. It was a big collaboration where we joined up with other artists and musicians to put on the show. We’re putting on a second Bespoke this year. This time we’re collaborating with Expressions Dance Company which should be a great experience.
Ballet is a notoriously tough and competitive world. What has working in the industry taught you?
So many things! Ballet has taught me to focus on the present moment and to count my blessings. Because it can all be gone in an instant. I’ve seen so many dancers get injured and lose their careers in a few seconds. All because of a fall or a bad landing out of a jump.
We train for so many years for just a few hours up on stage every month. At the end of the day regardless of what roles I’m dancing I’m doing what I love. So I try to focus on the fact that I’m employed and I’m dancing, and I’m so grateful for that.
Ballet has also forced me to confront my insecurities. In the ballet world having the perfect ballet body and facilities is really important. And it’s something that I unfortunately don’t have. I’ve had to come to terms with my own restrictions and the fact that what I was born with doesn’t always fit that perfect ballet mold.
Accepting that has been really tough. On some days I still get stuck dwelling on why I wasn’t blessed with more flexibility or pointier feet. But for the most part I try to focus on building up the talents I do have naturally. And I think I’m getting better at it the older I get.
I think a lot of women can relate to having insecurities about their body. Although as the photos in this blog post show, you are so strong and beautiful! A lot of ballet dancers seem to eat, drink and breathe the art form. How do you balance that with life outside of work?
It’s something I have definitely gotten better at during the last 18 months. At the end of 2016 an old ankle injury flared up and I was forced to take time off to have surgery and recover properly.
Up till that point I had never taken any time off and I’d never been seriously injured. I went through a lot of mental turmoil trying to figure out whether or not I should go through with the surgery. It was something that my doctors said would bring a lot of benefit in the long term but I was nervous about missing out on things while I recovered in the short term.
All up I had about 4 weeks away from ballet and it taught me so much about balance! People in all industries can struggle with the all-consuming side to work life. I learned it was okay to take to a break and to enjoy life outside of work. I woke up later, took my dog for walks and did plenty of pilates. The time off taught me to take a minute when I need it. Essentially it was a big reset button for my whole life!
I really look up to my partner, Nathan. He is a former ballet dancer and because of that he really understands me and my experience at work. He’s since successfully transitioned into a new career so he’s got a good grasp of the bigger picture and has definitely been a mentor to me.
Nowadays I force myself to focus more on life outside of work and I really enjoy spending time with my partner and my family. I now spend most weekends on the coast outside exploring. I actually find that enjoying life outside of work helps keep me going at work. Learning and trying new things is inspiring and usually makes me more motivated and focused professionally.
What advice would you give to other young women just starting out in their careers?
- I think first off remember that your happiness can be affected by who you surround yourself with. So choose those positive people wisely.
- You only live once so pursue your passion. It will get you out of bed each morning and be your guiding light.
- Stay true to yourself. If I don’t agree with something then I won’t do it. I try to follow my gut instinct in that regard.
- And lastly, careers and lives are short so appreciate the here and now. Make the most of every day and appreciate your blessings while you have them.
A big thank you to Sophie for taking the time to share her story with us. You can find Sophie on Instagram at @sophiezoricic, follow along on her blog at @me_myself_andeveryone or book tickets for the next Queensland Ballet show.
Want more interview inspo? Read my recent interview with Harriet Tatham, features reporter and video journalist.
Until next time,