Off Stage

A ballet star on stage and on social media

Ballet dancer Daniil Simkin (above) will be in Singapore next month for the three-day Superstars of Ballet show.
Ballet dancer Daniil Simkin (above) will be in Singapore next month for the three-day Superstars of Ballet show.PHOTO: DANIEL JACKSON

Ballet star Daniil Simkin, 28, was born in Russia to two ballet dancers.

He started performing at age six and began professional training at age nine. He caught the eye of the American Ballet Theatre, which he joined as a soloist in 2008. Slightly built but fierce - Simkin is known for his seemingly effortless technical precision - he was promoted to principal dancer four years later.

He will be in town next month for the three-day Superstars of Ballet show, which boasts a star-studded line-up of 12 principal dancers from around the world, such as Paris Opera Ballet's Karl Paquette.

Your parents were ballet dancers. Did that make it easier or harder for you to get into dance?

Actually, sort of both. On one hand, I was privileged because my parents were dancers. So I grew up backstage. It was almost like being at their office. It was like second nature.

Inevitably, I started performing, very often alongside my father because it was cute to see both generations on stage.

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When I was nine, my mother told me I was to start training to continue on stage.

I can't say I loved the routine because it's a gruesome one - it was at least two hours a day and my mother was teaching me herself in the studio or at home, whereas everybody would be out playing soccer.

It was difficult to motivate myself those first two years because, normally, you do it in a class, around other people. But because my mother was a dancer and dance instructor, I trained with her alone.

Did your parents want you to follow in their footsteps or would they have preferred you to stay away from dance, knowing how tough it is?

They wanted to give me the possibility to choose. They grew up in Soviet Russia. There, if you're gifted, you just do it. You just dance. You don't ask any questions.

My parents left Russia when I was 10 and went to Germany. They wanted me to have a relatively normal childhood and let me decide.

Unfortunately, you can't decide at 16 that, "oh, I want to be a professional ballet dancer". So they gave me a base and if I did want to pursue this path, I already had that.

But I enjoyed performing. I did several competitions and when I was about 16, I won the Helsinki International Ballet Competition and I decided, finally, "Okay, I'll be a professional dancer. Let's give this a shot".

I didn't have any big pressure, like you might have from other stage parents who want to fulfil their dreams through their children. I love performing and being on stage.

You've been dancing for most of your life. Is there anything you still find challenging?

First, you get used to it. Secondly, it's a choice. People say you sacrifice your life for your art form, but I don't see it as a sacrifice because I chose this. I love working hard but, you know, there are certain things in our profession which are inevitable. You're constantly in pain. It becomes a part of you. You just stop judging it because you perceive pain in a different way from others.

You are very active on social media. Tell us more about this.

I've always been interested in technology. I was one of the first dancers who put up videos of myself on YouTube - that's how my career kick-started in a way. I don't think I'd be in New York without YouTube.

It's also my way of giving because, to me, social media is about adding something to the lives of my followers and friends. They see a beautiful picture or video, they get inspired. It's just a way of giving, in my opinion - just like dance is.

It's also fun from a psychological point, which photo or video gets more likes. It's a game - I don't take it seriously. But at the same time, I benefited so much from social media that it would be stupid not to continue.

What is your advice for aspiring ballet dancers?

You have to work hard, but you have to work smart as well. A lot of people think you can bash it out and just make it work by pushing yourself.

But you have to understand your body and why something happens, why something works and something doesn't. You have to pay attention to how much you're doing and how well you're doing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'A ballet star on stage and on social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe