Harriet Mills, Principal with Staatsballet Karlsruhe, talks about how she survived the toxic regime and weight issues during her ballet training.
Small fish, big pond
During my training I had a difficult period around the age of 16. I had joined a large ballet school and became a small fish in a big pond, after previously spending 5 years at an all-round dance school. I lost all my confidence and often wanted to give up and go back home. My teacher for that year took a disliking to me, for reasons I still don’t know, and thought picking on me was the best way to improve my dancing. All I needed was advice and support. I was a hard worker and would have pushed myself with simple encouragement and help.
I became so self conscious and lost. The thing that had made me so happy was now something I was too scared and embarrassed to do, even in front of my fellow students.
It did not help that I was told I needed to lose weight and had to see a food counsellor to be weighed more often than any 16 year old should and to report on my food intake. Every time I was upset or had to speak with the teacher or the Director it would come back to my weight – an issue that I didn’t really see. I was just becoming a woman.
I don’t really know how I got through it. Time just somehow passed and I survived, step by step. Maybe for others it would have been different, depending on who you are. Another person may not have found it hard at all, or someone else may have found it all too much. All I know now is that I learnt so much from that tough year and a lot of who I am today came from that. I grew a strong backbone and now I can handle things so much better and reach where I want to get by myself, working for myself and doing it for me.
However, I was never really alone. My family struggled through it all with me. The support I lacked from the school was outweighed by the support of my parents and past teachers. Time with friends and making the most of outside school helped me forget for a few days and recover for the next week. At that age, and even now, dancers have to realise that dance doesn’t have to be your everything. We love it and want it but dancers lives can be made up of a lot of things, outside of the studio.
What I would share from this experience is to not give up something you know makes you happy when things are pushing you down, because the tough times will teach you a lot. Find the time and space outside of your passion, to remind you to enjoy life and live a little. Take the support from those who give it and focus on that rather than negativity. Prove them wrong and work for yourself, always.
At the age of 11 Harriet was accepted into The Hammond School training in all styles of dance for 5 years. This was followed by 3 years studying at The Royal Ballet Upper School where she graduated at the age of 19.
Harriet joined the Staatstheater Karlsruhe under the direction of Birgit Keil in 2010. Since then she has moved up through the company becoming a Soloist in 2013 and a Principal in 2016.
Her professional repertoire include the leading roles in Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, Taming of the Shrew, Giselle and Dornröschen as well as roles in The Nutcracker – A Christmas Story (the Christmas Fairy), Anne Frank (Anne & Edith Frank), and Giselle (Myrtha).
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