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On toil, tolerance, and collapse on stage

Fast confession - Ballet dancer Monika Hejduková: Having a child saved my career

18.Mar 2019
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7 minutes

Initially, she used to hate ballet and wanted to do sports. But then, Monika Hejduková has completely fallen for it and she has been pursuing it on a professional level for no less than sixteen years. She danced in Brno, Munich and nowadays she is a soloist of the National Theater in Prague, where she's currently preparing for the premiere of Swan Lake. In an interview with Luxury Prague Life, she described how difficult it was to combine a time-consuming career with family life, and she pondered about what she was going to do once she went into “ballet retirement” in a few years.

How old were you when your career took off?

I started at the age of eighteen right after the dance conservatory. I went to Brno for a year, then I spent three years in Prague and five years in Munich. And now I've been back in Prague for about six years.

You're 33 years old. How long do you plan to keep dancing full time?

I think a dancer can sense when he or she is supposed to quit, but in my opinion, 40 is the highest time. I can't tell if I'm going to keep dancing for a year or two. I would like to fit in a second child, so right now it's hard to say.

How do you manage to combine the time-consuming work of a ballerina with your family? You’ve recently had a son...

It's challenging, very challenging. When I come home around seven in the evening, instead of relaxing on the couch, I devote myself to my child before he goes to sleep. I have no time for myself at all. Although, we are quite lucky, my partner and myself, because the little goes to the nursery, he enjoys being there, so both of us can focus on work. But the hard part is that you have to function nonstop.

Luxusní vila na prodej - Klánovice - 465m
Luxusní vila na prodej - Klánovice - 465m, Praha 9

Have you ever concerned yourself with the question of having a child versus pursuing a career?

It wasn’t an issue for me. The baby came just in time, when I was running extremely low on energy in my ballet career and thinking of quitting. And then I got pregnant; it came at the right moment. I took a break and now I'm full of strength and able to continue. I’ve really replenished my resources during the year and a half when I was out.

Was the comeback hard? After all, you fell back into the loop of trainings and performances.

It was very challenging, since your back stiffens, and you really need it to be flexible, so it hurts a lot. But if you start slow, train regularly, then add smaller performances and gradually work up to where you used to be, it’s doable. But it isn't easy to come back, everybody's in shape, they're going strong... And you walk in feeling like a fish out of water, you try to catch up with them, but the progress is slow.

What is the most difficult thing about being a ballet dancer?

You have almost no time off. Everyone thinks it's more of a hobby, but nobody sees the hard work behind it. You start at ten in the morning and keep moving until six in the evening. And sometimes you have an evening performance on top of that, you don't have the holidays off because usually there are performances on those days.

You said you wanted to quit. Was it multiple times?

Yes, it was. I had moments when I thought I didn't need that anymore. But something always came up, some indication that I should continue. Perhaps a role or something in my personal life that gave me the necessary kick. But I think it's the same in every job, these "ups and downs". They help you figure out that you actually enjoy doing it. I like ballet, so I keep holding on.

Do you suffer from injuries? What was your most serious one?

When a ballerina is tired, injuries are quite common. I had torn ankle ligaments. But strangely enough, it hurt less than sprained ligaments, and it healed quickly. I was originally supposed to go under the knife, but in the end it turned out the ligaments were probably small and I didn’t need surgery.

When did it happen?

During a rehearsal. I was supposed to have a performance, so we had a stage rehearsal before the show. I jumped up ... And that was it for me.

Do you usually ignore diseases?

For example, I performed with a 40 degree fever. And I’ve already passed out on stage, too. But I had a partner who shook my shoulders, knocked on me, I woke up and continued. (laughs)

You’re laughing. But isn't it rather sad?

Well, it is. But back then I was so young, I didn’t look right or left, I simply pressed on through fever and everything. Your head may be spinning, you’re stressed out, it's all wrong... But you are running on autopilot.

Is there rivalry among ballet dancers in the Czech Republic?

A little yes, but now we have an ensemble in which we stick together.

A prank here or there...

No! (laughs)

I sense something there. Did you pull a prank on a colleague? (laughs)

Not me! (laughs) But some colleagues sometimes push a little too hard, when they want a role... But tha happanes in every job that someone’s breathing on your back, trying to get your position, right?.

When you received the offer to dance in Munich years ago, what were the circumstances? And did you hesitate before accepting it?

I was in a contest for young talents, thinking I was still young enough to try and could make it. The chief of the Munich ballet happened to be there, somehow he took liking to me and invited me for a meeting. I went to a private audition, but it was already clear that I had been accepted. I was thrilled, but upon signing the contract, I suddenly realized I didn't want to go abroad. And I spent the entire three hours of my way to Prague crying! It was such a first step, you know, you’re leaving the country for the first time, you speak no foreign language, you are afraid… But after three months I have calmed down. It was good experience, the ensemble was great and taught me a lot.

Prodej luxusního bytu s terasou, Praha 8
Prodej luxusního bytu s terasou, Praha 8, Praha 8

What is the difference between the German ballet and the Czech one?

Especially the discipline, the Germans are all about that. They focus on the details, like picking girls of the same height for a unified look. Just like an army… It didn’t use to be like that here before, but the trend has been spreading to the Czech Republic lately. Our ballet is slightly changing.

Have you ever had trouble with your height and missed a role because of it?

I'm sort of in the middle, so I don't really have a problem. I might be only 168 centimeters tall, but on the stage I look like I have two meters, because of my long arms and legs. So they usually put me together with the tall girls.

If another offer came from abroad, would you be tempted?

I don't think so, I'm happy at home. And Prague is great and beautiful. We have so many choices and people don't even realize it. It's a wonderful city, life is great here for both younger and older people.

Have you ever regretted your ballet career?

No, never.

Was it your dream since childhood?

No, I hated ballet! I went to gymnastics for four years, and there I was told that I had no strength in my arms, and I should rather do modern gymnastics or ballet. We had ballet as a part of gymnastics, but I hated it.

But somewhere on TV, I saw a modern gymnast - she was on her own and everyone was looking at her. So I said, "No way I’m doing this!" And then we had another ballet lesson, it was much nicer, with a piano. No running around with a hanky like little kids. And that attracted me, and I've been doing it since six. I like it and so far I can't imagine doing anything else.

So you haven’t started planning yet, what you’ll be doing as a retired ballerina?

That's the question. But I have no idea. I rather it will come on its own. Maybe I will devote myself to design, I like designing clothes… It will probably be a second part of my life when I will be doing something completely different.

It is no secret that ballet is not very well paid in the Czech Republic. Have you ever dealt with the dilemma of making money versus dancing your dream away?

I'm lucky in that I never had to deal with that. I have a certain background from my parents’ side, and if I ever needed help, I know they would provide it. So I can with put my heart into dancing without much concern about money.

Do you still have any dream roles?

I’d really love to dance Tatiana in Onegin. It’s a very emotional role, it’s my dream.

How do you spend your free time? If you have any.

I used to love horse horse riding, but now I’m a bit afraid to do it. I like shopping too, when I have the time and the money (laughs). And I like going on trips with my son, no matter where to.

Is it difficult for a ballerina’s partner to put up with her schedule? Does yours need to make a lot of adjustments?

If he’s tolerant, it’s possible to adjust. But he has to have a bit of an understanding of the job. Before we used to have day-to-day schedule, which was difficult. When you suddenly have a day off, you can’t just tell your partner: “Hey, we can go on a trip tomorrow!” He usually cannot sort his stuff out that very day. Right now we fortunately get a weekly plan, so it’s better.

Does work ever ruin your plans?

Sometimes, yes. It’s happened to me already that I was at a cabin with my parents during Christmas time. We’re enjoying dinner and suddenly I get a call: “You’re on in the evening, somebody’s out”. So I got in the car and set off, put my make-up on and went to the performance.

Have you ever fought with your partner because of work?

No, never because of work. Only everything else… No, don’t write that! (laughs)

Do you enjoy training constantly?

It depends. There are days when I really don’t enjoy it. But I have to train every day, warm my body up so that I don’t injure myself at a rehearsal. Plus with training I keep getting better.

Do you train at home? On Sundays at a park?

Not me! When I’ve got a day off, I’ve got a day off! Even in summer, when we have six weeks off, I barely ever move (laughs). The body needs its rest, so no way, nobody’s getting anything out of me.

And what about the return after that?

Well it hurts, but it’s manageable. You gotta start slowly, with pilates or the like.

How will ballet impact your health? Do you already have some professional deformations?

Not yet. My hip joints hurt a bit, that’s probably going to be a problem in my old age. And I already have a bit of a hallux on my foot.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Fast confession:

How long was your longest training?

Trainings are always the same, they take an hour and a quarter. Well, it does happen that we train an hour and a half, so that was probably the longest time.

How many shows do you have under your belt?

I’m not counting them, but an awful lot, because I've been doing ballet for twenty-five years. It would take me forever, if I were to count them all.

Do you have to be on a diet?

I’m one of the lucky ones, I don't. I eat everything.

What is your sin of choice?

I have no sins. I'm an angel.

What hurts you right now?

My back. Because I'm on maternity leave, I’ve got a baby, so I have to do a lot of bending…

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

I used to be a night owl, but now I'm an early bird.

Would you like to be back at the beginning of your career and twenty years old?

Probably not. The older I get the more experience I’ve gained and that makes dancing easier.

Do you watch recordings of ballet performances at home?

Usually not, I prefer resting.

Have you ever forgotten about a performance or training?

I’ve never forgotten about a show, but I have nightmares about it. And I’ve forgotten about a rehearsal once.

What is most likely to make you laugh?

Probably everything. (laughs)

Do we have to do this interview? (laughter)

Yes, it’s gonna be great!
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