Ballerinas are known for their grace, but while they’re smiling and twirling on stage, they’re exercising almost every muscle in their body. Just like any athlete, professional dancers have a rigorous practice schedule. Cincinnati Ballet Principal Dancer Sarah Hairston will spend some days practicing from 9:30 a.m. till 6:15 p.m. and then spend her evening teaching ballet classes.
Blisters, corns and calluses frequent her feet that her classic ballet shoes cover, but since the stage is her court, she has to be ready for quite the performance.
"It’s a different type of sport than football or soccer or basketball because they’re working very hard as well, but you can see how hard they’re working. You can see their pain when they fall and hurt themselves," Hairston says. "For us, we cannot show that. Even when a dancer gets hurt on stage, you cannot show it. It’s very rare that you will know that somebody’s hurt themselves when they’ve been on stage unless they fall and they can’t get up."
To help mask any pain and put on a beautiful performance, Hairston and her fellow ballerinas focus on their hair and makeup. But unlike movie stars and models, who also are expected to give beautiful performances, ballerinas must do their own hair and makeup.
"You kind of just learn from other dancers," Hairston says. For a simple bun, most ballerinas learn at a young age. Hairston learned when she was around 9 years old because her mom was sick during one of Hairston’s performance and her dad didn’t know how to do it, she says. So somebody told her that she needed to learn for herself, and she did.
For more complicated styles, the ballet company might bring in somebody to instruct the ballerinas how to style their hair. "The hair for a ballet like ‘Giselle’ is very difficult to do because it is over the ears, and there’s a whole process to get it to stay," Hairston says. "And we actually had a woman come in who’s the ballet master’s wife here at Cincinnati Ballet. She used to be a dancer, and she came in and taught us all how to do it."
Hairston doesn’t just have to worry about the different ways she can style her hair. She also has to worry about her hairstyle in general. Bangs and shorter layers can make for a difficult experience, as they easily can fall out of place. "I used to have very layered hair, and it drove me crazy every time I was having to do a different hairstyle, so my hair’s kind of all one length and it’s pretty long," she says.
Hairspray and hair nets usually help in keeping her hair in place, but those two items aren’t Hairston’s only beauty tricks up her sleeves. She also relies on quality makeup, particularly M-A-C Cosmetics, for her foundation. "You’re sweating a lot, and you want it to stay on. You don’t want to have to worry about it running down your face, and you don’t want to have to continually reapply makeup, so you want makeup that’s really going to stick to your face," she says.
Beyond her M-A-C makeup, Hairston also has to keep her performance in mind when she gets ready for a show. She uses fake eyelashes and turns to eyeliner to draw lines bigger than her normal eye to make her peepers look bigger, and she also uses makeup to shade in a lower hairline because a slicked back bun can make her hairline seem further back.
The most difficult part of her makeup routine, though, is finding the right shade of lipstick. "I think lipstick is the hardest to find for on stage because I’ve had people say, ‘Your lipstick’s too red,’ ‘Your lipstick’s too pink,’ ‘Your lipstick’s too brown,’ so you kind of have to find something in between. You kind of mix colors together," Hairston says. "You don’t want the audience to see nothing but your lips. You just want it to look natural."
You can see Hairston and her finished hair and makeup masterpiece this weekend as she graces the Aronoff Center for the Arts stage in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." For more information, check out the event’s page on the Cincinnati Ballet Web site.
Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Ballet