Céline Gittens grew up on the beautiful Caribbean island of Trinidad surrounded by ballet and music. Starting ballet class with her mum Janet at age three, Céline and her family later moved to Vancouver where her passion for dance continued to flourish. Céline now calls England home, dazzling audiences with the Birmingham Royal Ballet as Principal Dancer.
AinslieWear caught up with Céline during her Summer break in Vancouver to learn about her life as a professional dancer, her career ambitions, and living in the UK.
AW: How old were you when you started dance and why did you start?
CG: I started my ballet training at three with my mum. Ballet and classical music was a large part of my childhood and my transition into becoming a ballet dancer was a very natural process.
Where did you dance in your early days?
I completed my Royal Academy of Dance examinations syllabus with training with my mum and later with Canadian Royal Academy of Dance examiner, Lynette Kelly. I joined the Goh Ballet at the age of fourteen and received a Vaganova method of training with the teachers at that time including Mr and Mrs Goh, Lin Mei Feng, Juan Nian Chen and Yao Ping Zhu.
When did you know you wanted to become a professional dancer?
My preparations at the age of fifteen for the final Royal Academy of Dance Solo Seal Award examination, and followed by the Genée International Ballet competition, were defining moments of ballet becoming my chosen professional career. I became the first Canadian to win a Gold medal at this prestigious classical ballet competition that was held in London, 2005, and was also awarded the Audience Choice Award.
What do you miss about Canada since moving to England?
I moved to Vancouver, Canada when I was 9 years old. Growing up in Vancouver formed my love for the outdoors as I was surrounded by refreshing glacial lakes and immense mountain ranges, covered with Pacific rainforests, which I truly miss.
What do you like about living in the UK?
My first impression of Birmingham, England was of amazement for the history it held and the city’s influence in the British industry. I was so inspired by the lush green countryside and later discovered that Birmingham is one of the greenest cities in the United Kingdom.
Do you have any tips for dancers looking to move abroad for their careers?
My advice is to embrace the difference in culture and allow it to positively influence your career and personal growth. My experiences living in Trinidad, Canada, and England have directly impacted my ballet career by enriching me to become the artist that I am today. I feel that with my experiences I no longer approach a role that I am performing with one view but embrace all the different views, just as I embraced the many different cultures that I experienced in Trinidad, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
A rehearsal day will start at 10:30am with separate men’s and women’s class to work on technique. Morning class also incorporates steps that are in the repertoire we are rehearsing and performing at the time. This is followed by a fifteen minute break, an hour and half rehearsal, one hour lunch break and rehearsals that finish at 6:30pm.
When Birmingham Royal Ballet are on tour, ballet class is combined and will usually start at 11:15am which gives the company enough time to prepare for performances that are either at 2:00pm or 7:30pm.
What is your favourite dance memory?
Every performance has become a favourite dance memory because there is nothing more rewarding than performing onstage and touching the hearts and minds of the audience.
What is your dream role?
My dream role at the moment is Giselle. I performed Giselle Act 1 solo for the Genée International Ballet Competition and is a classic that I haven’t yet performed professionally. I have had the wonderful opportunity at Birmingham Royal Ballet to perform every ballerina’s dream role like Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Odette/Odile (Swan Lake), Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), Lise (La Fille Mal gardée), Swanhilda (Coppélia), The Sugar Plum Fairy (The Nutcracker) and other memorable and beautiful roles by various choreographers.
How do you stay focused and continue to challenge yourself as a dancer?
I love setting personal goals. This is important, especially in a career as a professional ballet dancer, so that you keep progressing. In a ballet company there isn’t the continued persistence of a ballet teacher, in comparison to training in a ballet school. It is therefore imperative to be on top of your own technique and performance quality.
The team at AinslieWear wishes Céline a wonderful 2018/19 season with Birmingham Royal Ballet!
You can spot Céline in our upcoming Catalogue Collection, launching early 2019!