In a 2013 interview, a 320-pound player from the Pittsburgh Steelers finally admitted, “Ballet is harder than anything else I do.” Memphis may be lacking in NFL, NHL, and MLB players, but it’s home to professional athletes who work just as long and hard—in point shoes no less. Ballet Memphis and Collage Dance Collective are two professional dance companies, showing us that sports can be more than just helmets and cleats; it can be art.
For one ballerina in Memphis, the road to becoming a professional dancer led her far and wide to pursue her dreams. Kimberley Ho-Tsai, 26, learned her first pirouettes in her home country, French Guiana. She had fallen in love with the beauty and the elegance of the art form at a young age when her parents took her to a performance. Kim put on her first pair of ballet slippers by age seven.
Kim had her first break at 18 when she won a scholarship to The Ailey School in New York City. “I couldn’t have done this without my family. Moving to a new place, especially New York City, was overwhelming. They were always there for me— financially and emotionally,” says Kim. She continued dancing there for two years before joining the Dance Theatre of Harlem School.
While in school, she didn’t just take classes during the day. From January through April, during audition season, Kim spent her nights and weekends auditioning against hundreds of other dancers for a few coveted spots. “My biggest accomplishment as a dancer,” she says, “is finding my way back up no matter how many failures. I faced so many rejections, but I kept going and I never gave up.”
At 24, Kim was hired by Complexion Contemporary Ballet in the middle of a season after another dancer dropped out. She immediately began rehearsing, performing, and touring with them. They completed a US tour and traveled throughout Eastern Europe.
A year ago, Kim relocated to Memphis to be a part of Collage Dance Collective, a professional ballet company located in the Broad Avenue Arts District. They bring in world class choreographers and present contemporary and neoclassical ballet performances three seasons out of the year.
As one of the eight professional dancers, Kim works from 9 to 5, like any other job. They begin with classes to warm up, then practice or rehearse with a choreographer for the rest of the day. Depending on their performance schedule, they rehearse multiple shows at any given time.
“When I’m tired and can’t to go on, I remind myself that I have the privilege of making a living from my passion. Hundreds of other dancers would love to have my position. I remember what it’s like to not have a job and that I fought so hard to get here.”
Outside of dancing 40 hours a week, Kim also goes to the gym. “It’s essential for a dancer to cross-train. On light weeks, I go to the gym three times a week, but if I have a heavier schedule, then a little less. I’ll start some type of cardio and switch to the machines to strengthen my muscles.” Kim is also versed in other types of dance such as salsa, samba, hip hop, jazz, and modern.
“I’m extremely lucky that I haven’t suffered an injury in my career so far and I put a lot of effort on taking care of my body,” she says. Her health is founded in a diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and a little bit of meat. Dietary supplements and vitamins help her muscles retain nutrients. Although, she’ll splurge once a week on something like pizza from Aldo’s or tacos at Babalu. “I have to be disciplined in taking care of myself or my performance could suffer,” she says. Kim makes sure to spend time stretching, warming up certain muscles before class, taking epsom salt baths, and massaging herself.
As a professional dancer, Kim faces hours of physical exertion and the pressure of delivering a flawless and effortless performance. “When I’m tired and can’t to go on, I remind myself that I have the privilege of making a living from my passion. Hundreds of other dancers would love to have my position. I remember what it’s like to not have a job and that I fought so hard to get here.”
Kim is a young and talented dancer in the dawn of her career. Kim says, “Dance is a journey of growth and success happens because we keep going.” She plans to continue dancing professionally for as long as she can and would one day like to return to her home country to expose more young people to the arts.
For a list of their upcoming performances visit collagedance.org
By Laurenne Hom. Photo by Darius Williams.