Romany Pajdak – First Artist of the Royal Ballet London
Romany Pajdak’s life revolves around ballet. She already knew she wanted to be a professional dancer at the age of ten. It was a clear-cut decision that had far-reaching consequences as it takes an incredible amount of discipline to become one of the world’s best ballet dancers. When we visited her in London, Romany told us among other things about the part that Birkenstocks play in this.
The process that led up to Romany acquiring the status of First Artist with the world-renowned Royal Ballet was a lengthy one. Romany remembers what it was that triggered her lifelong dream – the ballet film The Sleeping Beauty – as if it were yesterday: “It was Saturday, May 13, 1995, I was ten years old and I was dancing around the living room.” She was especially captivated by the main character Aurora performed by the well-known ballet dancer Viviana Durante. “I had it playing and I was dancing around feeling I was Aurora and I really remember stopping for a second and going ‘Yes, this is what I want to do’. That was it.”
White Lodge – a special place
Romany’s parents had mixed feelings about her applying to board at the famous Royal Ballet School’s White Lodge. “I don't think my parents ever envisioned sending their child to a boarding school. They wanted to bring us up themselves – that’s why they had us, but, yeah, I was a very determined young lady,” she relates, laughing.
Romany successfully passed the audition for admission at the age of eleven. She was initially somewhat awestruck by the atmosphere at the boarding school: “It was a place that breathed ballet. I mean every single person in the building was there absolutely because they wanted to make this their career and they wanted to be the best at what they were doing!” Romany was tenacious and persevered, and at 18 years old was the only one of 27 girls who all started at the same time to graduate to the Royal Ballet.
A lifelong dream
Her appointment to the Royal Ballet is a dream come true for Romany. She can clearly remember how she felt when she learned she had been accepted: “It was almost a shock, I spent so many years driving and desiring for this thing to happen and then it happened. So I sort of said ‘OK, thank you’ and left the room, and we went straight into a dance class. And as soon as I started dancing, I said ‘No, there is no worry about working out, I am going to the Royal Ballet company. This is where I am and where I am supposed to be’.”
Up there at the top
The Royal Ballet is one of the world’s best ballet companies. This is where classical ballet standards are set. For Romany, this means hours of training and the utmost discipline six days a week. When there are performances, her workday begins at 10:30 a.m. They have a two-hour break from 5:30 p.m. followed by a three-hour performance which finishes at 10:30 p.m. – it’s a long day.
Feet – the most important part of the body
Dancing en pointe is a form of expression that involves the whole of the body. The feet are most heavily affected and bear the brunt of the strain. They therefore have to be kept warm whenever there’s a break in order to prevent injuries and “for flexibility, suppleness, and quick reactions,” Romany explains. “I use a lot of socks and soft Moon Boots to keep my feet warm.”
“The most comfortable thing to have at home”
After training and the performances, her feet need some pampering back at home. And this includes wearing Birkenstocks – “Birkenstocks are the most comfortable thing to have at home,” says Romany. She remembers Birkenstocks from her childhood when she used to slip into her dad’s sandals as a three-year-old.
Far from being a matter of nostalgia, she wears Birkenstocks now out of sheer necessity: “I think the fact that my feet are so important to me and that we don't actually give them very much care when we are in point shoes and what happens to them when they’re out of point shoes was very important.” The instep and toes that are squeezed into pointe shoes can breathe a sigh of relief and the feet are also given support. “With Birkenstocks, it’s as if they adapt to your feet, so they’re the complete opposite of pointe shoes,” says Romany. “And this is why they bring balance to my life,” she laughs.
She has been wearing her current pair of Birkenstocks for 15 years.
The daily post-performance program
Foot care is an absolute must for top dancers. Some use ice in the evening to soothe their sore feet and alleviate inflammation. Romany prefers to really soak her feet in hot water. She takes the expert advice of a podiatrist regarding skincare and she uses almond oil and arnica tincture to strengthen her toenails.
Romany also regularly uses a very special foot massaging technique, rolling the undersides of her feet on various balls of different sizes. This can be unpleasant and indeed painful, but it helps to relax the foot muscles. This is part of Romany’s daily routine.
Three and a half years en pointe
At the end of our conversation, we asked Romany how many hours she had spent so far in pointe shoes. She calculated that, including her training years, she had worn them for something like 30,000 hours – equating to being en pointe nonstop for three and a half years.
More on the Royal Ballet: http://www.roh.org.uk