London Ballerina Sophie Apollonia's #1 Workout

Welcome to Byrdie's Wellness Week. Over the next seven days, you'll get to read about how to make your body, mind and, well, your life more balanced. We know it's not January, but wellness has become an all-year-round focus for many, and with autumn on the way (read: cold and flu season), now seems like a good time to talk about not just keeping well but boosting our wellness from all angles. From the best tech to improve your health to the small tweaks anyone can do to bring you more happiness, we've thought about everything you might want to factor a little more wellness into your life with ease. Today, we're talking to London-born dancer Sophie Apollonia about what it's like to be a ballerina in the modern world.

From humble beginnings in Brixton to dancing on the West End stage, Sophie Apollonia is proof that if you have a dream, set your mind to it, and work hard, you can achieve anything. Apollonia has starred in productions including Swan Lake and Manon and is now part of the cast for An American in Paris, where she is stepping out of her comfort zone by singing and acting too. If that’s one thing I learned chatting with Apollonia it’s that to live a rich and varied life, you need to be fearless and put yourself out there rather than existing in your comfort zone. We chatted everything from fitness and food to the beauty products she swears by (she’s a self-confessed skincare junkie).

“I was always a little performer,” Apollonia tells me. “I was a bored little girl, so my mum put me into ballet classes in Brixton. Every little girl dreams of being a ballerina, and I guess I was a natural. I became good at it quickly, and it was fun. By 11, I got a scholarship to go to the Royal Ballet School and that’s when I knew things were getting serious. I went from a council estate to a ballet school; it was a real Billy Elliot story.

Unlike many teenagers who give up their childhood hobbies, Apollonia stuck with ballet. “The Royal Ballet School was boarding; we were in the middle of a park and it was a small school, so there wasn’t much to distract me. When I was 18, I was drawn to partying, of course! I was always out in SoHo with friends, but it never steered me away too much.” 

Apollonia’s resume is varied and full, so I ask her about her biggest achievement to date. “I performed for the Royal Family in the Crown Room at Buckingham Palace. It was a private performance, and that was unbelievable, especially knowing where I had come from. I danced in Robbie Williams’s latest video and performed in the Royal Variety show last year. I like to mix it up, collaborating with different brands and artists. I like to stick my fingers in all the pies,” laughs Apollonia. “I never want to close the door to other opportunities. I’m greedy!”

And it’s not just the performance world that has noticed Apollonia’s talent. Puma contacted her through Instagram, where she posts videos of ballet morphed with urban street. She has fronted campaigns for the sportswear brand and now has an ongoing relationship with them. Currently, though, her stint on the West End is a grueling schedule of back-to-back shows that will run for a year. “I’m working six days a week, and Sunday is my day of rest. So many people auditioned for the show, and I’m honored to be part of it. It’s pushing my skills to the limit.

So how does she fit everything in and still have time to rest or see friends and family? “It’s hard,” she admits. “I have my daytimes where I see my friends or go to art exhibitions, then from 5:30 p.m. I’m taken. I’m putting my head down and doing the year.”

How mentally does she stay strong? “That’s a question I ask myself. I just keep reminding myself, especially when I’m tired or like, Oh, not this again, that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. People would die to be in my shoes. The reality is you’re in this show, be grateful and get on with it. When I’m on the stage, I love it.”

While we’re not all dancing in front of a packed-out audience each night, it’s advice well worth adopting in our own lives, be it a reluctance to go the gym or a mental wobble ahead of a particularly busy week. We should be grateful that we’re able to do these things, to conquer the challenges life throws at us.

To keep physically fit, Apollonia eats healthy and doesn’t drink. “When I’m not working, I tend to stay away from ballet. I like different styles of dance and Pilates. Pilates is a great way of body conditioning. It builds up muscles in a lean way, it doesn’t bulk, which is important for your line in ballet. It builds inner core strength, it’s slow and calming too. I’ve done both reformer and mat Pilates—there is a great place in Hampstead Heath, APPI, which I would highly recommend to anyone. The studio uses technical machines, and it’s very futuristic!”

"When it comes to food, I’m not an organized person. I try to eat healthy balanced meals. Lots of veggies; I’m into fish right now. So I’ll have kale and mash with a piece of fish. I cook a mean kedgeree, which is basically a fish curry. I’m also addicted to turmeric-and-ginger shots; turmeric is anti-inflammatory, so it’s great for sore muscles. In my downtime, I try to do as little as possible, though. I have a high metabolism, and I hate losing weight. Girls are like ‘Poor you,’ but I’m constantly having to eat and refuel. On my down days, I eat cake and pies and all the good stuff.”

So outside of her 5:30 p.m. showtime, what’s a typical day like? “I’m not a planner, I’m very impulsive. I live day by day. I wake up and have a coffee. I live by myself with my French bulldog. I’ll walk with my dog in the morning, answer emails and then go try to meet a friend for coffee or lunch. Oh, and I do love shopping!” 

“In the evenings, I come off the stage sweating at 10:30 p.m. and get back home for 11 p.m. I eat at a strange hour! I get home and cook my dinner because I have to refuel. I’ll watch Game of Thrones if it’s on, or something fabulous like Kath and Kim; I have a dry sense of humor! I’ll then conk the hell out, dead."

For the show, Apollonia has to wear heavy stage makeup. Lucky, then, that skincare is a bit of an obsession. “I use Alpha H Liquid Gold ($60) to take my makeup off. I’ve been using Biotherm Aquasource Everplump ($53) and then an Obagi Ossential C Bright Serum 10% ($93), which gives my complexion a pretty incredible glow. I’m a product junkie. I love Neal’s Yard Seaweed & Arnica Foaming Bath ($30)."

“When I wear makeup in the day, it’s under-eye concealer and blush. I’m a girly girl, but I’m not into spending crazy money on makeup. Although I do like copper and red eye shadows right now. MAC has this rose gold one that is a beautiful color.”

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