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Dancer Tierney Heap: ‘Until I joined the Royal Ballet, I was considering becoming a vet’

Tierney Heap. Photo: Bill Cooper Tierney Heap. Photo: Bill Cooper

Dancer Tierney Heap’s repertoire as a soloist with the Royal Ballet includes the lead in Carlos Acosta’s Carmen, the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale. She tells Giverny Masso about the challenges she faced while training…

How did you first get into dance?

My sister is three years older than me, and she started going to ballet and dancing when we were really young. With us both being quite wild, my mum thought it would be good for discipline. We did little festivals and competitions, and I had duets with my sister. When I was about seven or eight, a few people had mentioned they thought I could have a professional career. Then we looked at it more seriously.

What was your training like?

I went to Elmhurst [Ballet School in Birmingham] aged 11. I found it really difficult and didn’t like being away from home, which led to me losing my passion for ballet and deciding to leave. Then I went to a local dance school, where I found my passion for ballet again. I was going to normal school and doing ballet at night. I was really far behind when I joined the Royal Ballet Upper School; I was bottom of the class having only done ballet three times a week at night. Right up until I joined Royal Ballet I wasn’t sure if I was able to pursue this and I was also considering being a vet. Getting in must have been luck; they saw a lot of potential in me that wasn’t all there yet.

When did you gain more confidence in your abilities?

When I won a bronze medal at the Genee International Ballet Competition [in 2010). It was like a turning point for me. I had finished so far behind in the first year that I seemed miles away and it gave me the confidence I needed.

How did you become a member of the Royal Ballet company?

In the third year we had to audition around the world. I was offered a contract in Munich, which I accepted, and was about to leave the UK to audition for the Dutch National Ballet when I was offered the Royal Ballet. I was crying, I couldn’t believe it. It was a life-changing moment. From something that had been so far away, it felt like everything.

What kind of roles do you most enjoy?

I do quite a lot of power roles. I enjoy roles where I can show maturity, drama and acting. I want to be that kind of dancer. I’d love to play Hermione in The Winter’s Tale. I’m currently performing as Paulina in The Winter’s Tale and as the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle. I really enjoy that role, as it is so powerful and feminine. I previously played the Red Queen [in Alice in Wonderland]: it was just me being me on stage, being able to bring out my personality at its best.

Giselle review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘a performance of exquisite artistry’

What is your advice to aspiring dancers?

Achieving your dream is always possible. You have to tell yourself that, as not everyone else tells you. If you believe in it as much as you can, it will happen.

CV: Tierney Heap

Training: Elmhurst (2004-07); Canteepointe (2007-09); Royal Ballet Upper School (2009-12)
First professional role: Corps de ballet, Swan Lake
Agent: MOT Models

Tierney Heap performs as the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle from January 19 to March 9 and as Paulina in The Winter’s Tale on February 24 and March 21