Dancer by Day, Pitt Student by Night
The schedule of a full-time student dancer can rival that of a 9-5 job. Annie Martin, a Lubbock, Texas, native, often needs to be in two places at once. She spends about 40 hours a week at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) and is taking a full 12-credit course load as an English major at the University of Pittsburgh. A recent Tuesday found Martin prepping for roles in PBT School’s spring performances and finishing up final exams. Her passion for storytelling is what gives Martin momentum and inspires her to dance and learn full-time.
”I’m an avid reader and I think that imagination is really what’s driven everything in my life from storytelling to dancing, because without imagination, without that ability to displace yourself into a story, I don’t think you can really have the arts,” she said.
As she balances dance and academics, here’s a slice of her life:
On a “lazy” day, Annie wakes up at 6 a.m. As a full-time student dancer in PBT School’s Graduate Program and a full-time Fiction Writing student at the University of Pittsburgh, she often sets her alarm even earlier to finish homework or study for an exam before heading to the studio. To avoid a full stomach for class, breakfast is usually an apple and handful of almonds, followed by regular mini meals throughout the day. By 7:15 a.m., she’s in the studio, reading in a middle split, followed by hip flexor stretches, a brief ab series and some ankle warmups with her Thera band.
Annie’s view before ballet class.
The daily ritual of ballet class helps dancers loosen their muscles and refine their technique. In class, Annie and her classmates prepare for a full day of dancing with barre and center combinations accompanied by live piano music. Each motion at the barre makes it possible for Annie to execute the choreography in her rehearsals for the rest of the day. “Right now I’m focusing on being as clean and as pure in my movement as I can,” said.
Tools of the trade
Annie takes a 15-minute break before heading to a rehearsal for the lead role in La Sylphide, excerpted from the romantic two-act ballet choreographed by August Bournonville. In the rehearsal, she alternates with other dancers performing the role and working to perfect the choreography in time for performances this weekend and next.
In the studio, she wears a charcoal grey leotard and beige skirt, and her curly red hair is knotted into a French twist. At the end of the rehearsal, she lays flat on the ground, lifts her legs against the barre, and stretches her ankle, wrapped in a grey knit sleeve to protect a potential injury. She takes off her pointe shoes, slings her jam-packed book bag over her shoulder, and chats with a fellow dancer about yesterday’s study session at Pitt.
Annie uses an hour-long break in her studio schedule to revise a final paper for her Science Fiction class about the way Sci-fi literature has portrayed female gender roles in the home since the 1950s. She stretches out in front of her laptop in the studio’s atrium, keeping her muscles warm while she works. She lowers herself into a split and leans forward to reach the keys of her MacBook.
Next she heads back to rehearsal to hone her role as one of the Russian Girls in George Balanchine’s Serenade, an iconic and challenging role for a dancer. After another 15-minute break, she heads back into the studio for the second Sylphide rehearsal of the day, this time with the entire cast. Dozens of dancers take turns dancing their parts, sitting against the wall observing rehearsal when they’re not in the spotlight. When it’s her turn to dance, Annie floats around the studio as a sylph as the instructor reminds the dancers their arms are no longer arms but fluttering, gossamer wings.
Around 3 p.m., Annie’s day as a ballet student has come to a close, but her day as a Pitt student is just beginning. She rushes to her apartment in East Liberty to shower and then head to campus in Oakland.
From 6 to 8:30 p.m. Annie attends her Fiction Writing class at the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland. Today, she must workshop a short story with a group of her classmates. She gives her group members feedback on their pieces and they critique her work. Recently, Annie received Pitt’s prestigious Rowan Writing Award for fiction. The Alexandra L. Rowan Memorial Foundation annually awards three undergraduate women writers at the University of Pittsburgh. Here she is reading from her work (below.)
Now it’s time for a real dinner. Annie will savor her current go-to – chicken samosas and rice – over an episode of “Friends” or “Parks and Rec” with her roommates.
Annie said focusing on tasks one day at a time helps her get through the busiest periods. Even though dance and school consume the vast majority of her time, she enjoys both parts of her life and finds time to decompress by grabbing a book, watching a movie or strolling through Lawrenceville with a friend.
“Generally, I have to take it one day at a time, be aware of the entire week, but also be really realistic about what has to get done today,” she said.
After dancing and studying all day, Martin makes sure to get a good night’s rest. She is nursing a possible injury and knows that sleep is an essential part of the healing process.
“I do always try to make sure I go to bed at midnight or before because keeping our bodies healthy is something I can’t let go, even with crazy times,” she said.
In the future, Martin hopes to continue both dancing and writing professionally.
“I definitely want to dance professionally. That’s why I’m here. Maybe not strictly ballet. I love contemporary, so I would love to be able to balance the two of those things. I also am starting to get a body of work together to send out for publishing, short stories to submit. Hopefully, I’ll have written a novel in 10 years. Hopefully, I’ll be publishing and dancing. That’s the dream. That’s the goal.”
See Annie Martin and her fellow pre-professional students onstage in PBT School’s Pre-Professional Showcase, May 13-15, at Point Park University, and Spring Performance 2016, May 20-21, at the Byham Theater. For tickets and details, click here.
Photos from top to bottom:
Choreography by George Balanchine
© The George Balanchine Trust
Photo by: Aimee DiAndrea
Artist: Annie Martin
View before class
Photo by: Annie Martin
Tools of the trade
Photo by and shoes of: Annie Martin
La Sylphide excerpts
Photo by: Natasha Nast
Artists: Annie Martin & her partner, Masanori
Stretching and studying
Photo by: Kathleen Fennell
Artist: Annie Martin
University of Pittsburgh Rowan Writing Awards
Photo by: Robert Bailey
Artist: Annie Martin reading her work