How National Ballet Dancer Heather Ogden Lives Her Life with Passion and Balance
And it’s all thanks to these five pillars of wellness.
Even if you haven’t seen a ballet, there’s a good chance you’re fascinated by ballerinas.
They’re an enchanting mix of dancer, actress and high-level athlete. Heather Ogden, principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada for over 13 years, won’t be the dancer to quell your captivation. She embodies everything intriguing about ballet: seemingly able to defy gravity with strength and grace… and she doesn’t just save these characteristics for the stage. Ogden is the same in real life, strong, focused, balanced.
If you’re a ballet-goer, you probably know Ogden from the fictional fairy tales she enacts on the stage. Her repertoire includes principal roles in Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. Or, you may know Ogden from her real-life love story: she’s married to fellow principal dancer Guillaume Côté, with whom she shares two adorable children, Emma and Leo.
Ogden’s rise to success is one that’s marked by dedication — and just a tiny bit of good luck. Her dance career began at age six, all thanks to a cool teenager. “I had a babysitter who took classes at a studio nearby,” says Ogden. “I went to see a performance of Cinderella and asked my mom to sign me up.” She graduated from that same studio, The Richmond Academy of Dance, in 1998 and went on to join the National Ballet of Canada that same year (as an apprentice and then as a full-time member of the Corps de Ballet the following year).
Coming up in a ballet company is something pop-culture portrays as a cutthroat environment (we all saw Black Swan, right?). While Ogden had an entirely different experience, an underlying sense of healthy competition is a given. “It’s a competitive world,” she says. “Once you’re there, everyone has their goals set, like doing the principal role or the next solo.” However, that atmosphere turned out to be a good one for her. “I find the National Ballet has quite a wonderful environment,” she says. “You do a run-through and people will cheer you on.”
Besides her husband, Ogden says she found many of her best friends in the company, even if they were pushed forward at different times. “It’s a hard art form, it can be physically and emotionally hard,” she says. “We always try to be there for each other.” That support system is something that she credits to developing her strong (and palpable) sense of confidence. While confidence is key, it takes more than that to stay at the top of your game in the ballet world.
Here are the five pillars of wellness that keep Ogden physically and mentally en pointe.
Heather Ogden wellness practice #1: Self-care
Bringing awareness to her internal dialogue is an ongoing challenge for Ogden and an important way she practices self-care. “I can be very demanding of myself and critical of any mistakes.” She’s learning to change this before she finds herself overwhelmed. “If I’m just talking negatively to myself, that’s not going to help anything.” Like everything, it’s a work in progress: “It’s something I’m still figuring out,” she laughs. “I’m sure for most people [self-care] is an evolving method.”
Heather Ogden wellness practice #2: Fitness
Despite a full-time job that encompasses exercise, Ogden is a fan of doing Pilates on her days off. She trains with Je-an Salas Leavens, a friend and former dancer from the National Ballet. “I think Pilates in general is great, but she knows exactly what I need,” says Ogden. “She knows which role and which step I’m talking about.”
Heather Ogden wellness practice #3: Food
Ogden has adopted a “food for fuel” mentality. “I need to have the right amount of energy to be able to push myself the way I want to,” she says. “I have to think of my body and how I want it to recover.” She’ll change her eating habits depending on her workload, but is always reminding herself to drink more water. During performance periods, she opts for a big breakfast, such as three eggs with toast or avocado, then noshes on nutrient-dense snacks throughout the day, like fruit or nuts. A few hours before the show, she’ll have a light meal (like a sandwich), but nothing too flavourful or heavy before going on stage — but she does have some dark chocolate just before the performance. She saves the real meal for afterward, when she and her husband are feeling wired from the show.
Heather Ogden wellness practice #4: Partner
Ogden appreciates having a partner who understands her passion, and it’s only strengthened by how long they’ve known each other. “We were partnered together as dancers for about six years before we even dated,” she says. Ogden says Côté knows her better than she sometimes knows herself and is very encouraging about her self-care needs. “He knows if I have a big show tomorrow, I’m going to want to rest today. He understands if I don’t want to go out or if I’m a little crazy.”
Heather Ogden wellness practice #5: Balance
Balance is something ballerinas tend to excel at, and Ogden’s role as a mom is no exception. She makes sure to prep for the day ahead, so she can spend her mornings with her kids. “I can give my all to them during that part of the day, and then I feel prepared for my day.” Luckily, the National Ballet is kid-friendly. “If it’s feeling imbalanced, I’ll ask my mom if she can bring the kids to work,” she says. “It’s like they have 35 aunties.”
For now, her goals are to keep enjoying the opportunity to dance. “There are still ballets I want to do, and I just really want to enjoy this gift of being a dancer for the time that I have.” In the meantime, she’ll continue to strive for balance in her very full life. “I’m not sure if there is a way of really balancing your life,” says Ogden. “You just do your best, and when you’re tipping too much one way, you readjust.”
Want to see Ogden in motion? Her next performance is in Frame by Frame, the world premiere is in Toronto, June 1-10, 2018.