What’s Her Secret: Ballerina Hannah Galway

Originally from a small town on Vancouver Island, 20-year-old Hannah Galway is now living the artist’s dream dancing with the National Ballet of Canada in downtown Toronto. She left her hometown at the age of 13 to study ballet at the National Ballet School and has been with the company now for three years. Recently promoted to Second Soloist, her repertoire includes roles in classics like The Sleeping Beauty and Giselle as well a featured role in the Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning Angels’ Atlas by Crystal Pite.

Here, she shares highlights from her career thus far, why Onegin is her favourite ballet of all time, and how COVID-19 has affected the performing arts.

You were recently promoted to Second Soloist for the National Ballet of Canada. Congratulations! Can you walk us through your career path? How did you get to where you are today?
Thank you! When I reflect upon my career thus far, there are three keystones that helped me get to where I am now: auditioning for Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS), being accepted and attending NBS from grades 8 to 12, and lastly, being hired to join the company. This all happened due to some luck, but mostly the generosity of others. I was so lucky to have met the teacher who suggested I audition for NBS and who prepared me for it. While at NBS, I had incredible teachers who supported me as an artist and person, and generously gave me the space to explore what that meant through their repertoire. When I joined the company, I was so lucky to experience the same kind of generosity of spirit from the artistic staff, who trusted me with incredible opportunities that I am so grateful for. I don’t want to credit my whole career to fate, as I recognize that I work hard for this career that I love; however, it would not have been possible without many others taking time to help me grow.

What has been a highlight of your career thus far?
A highlight for me so far was getting the opportunity to work with Crystal Pite. It was an unbelievable experience that I shall treasure forever. I’ve said this a number of times in a myriad of ways, but I fear if I try to explain just how special of an experience this was for me, it would completely diminish how I truly feel. Moments like these are so special because there are no words to describe them—it’s visceral, and that’s what makes it so personal.

Do you have a ballet role model or source of inspiration?
My inspiration comes from the people I’m surrounded by. I have the luxury of working every day in an environment where I get to watch art be created by my colleagues, my coaches, and the pianists with their music.

I also find inspiration when I have the time to rest and recharge—something as simple as Netflix or talking to my family also helps me feel awake and alive again.

Do you have a favourite ballet of all time? Why do you love it?
A favourite ballet of mine is Onegin. The musical score is amazing, but the most striking part of the ballet is its storyline. I remember watching the ballet as a girl, not understanding why I was moved so strongly by the ballet. Now as a young woman, I realize it was because I was watching a female lead truly close the ballet. She wasn’t dead, she wasn’t a figment of her lover’s imagination—she was real, strong, and intensely passionate as the curtain closed on her, which is very rare in ballet productions.

How has Covid-19 affected your work and life? In what ways has the ballet industry shifted or adapted to the current context?
COVID has had a profound effect on my life and job. Everything is different. Ballet is more digital, and everything is done through video, whether that be taking daily class or sharing clips of ballets on our Instagram. I miss dancing freely in the studio and being able to share our amazing art with a live audience.

What is a typical day-in-the-life like for you?
Currently, a regular day-in-my-life has been occupied by volunteering at NBS as a day counsellor. I reached out to the school to see if there was anything I could do to help with, and it just so happened that they were going to be planning on re-opening their doors the following week. I feel like I have a purpose again and a reason to wake up at the same time every day. It’s been invigorating to go back to the school and see how they’ve adapted to our new circumstances so well.

What is your favourite part about your job?
My favourite part about being a dancer with the National Ballet is the people it has connected me with. There are so many layers in the dance community. I’ve met and made friends with people from all around the globe. I’ve worked with incredible coaches and choreographers, from whom I have learned so much. And, of course, the audience and supporters who make my job possible. It’s overwhelming, especially coming from a small town, to comprehend how many incredible people the art form has connected me to.

What are some of the difficulties or challenges you’ve faced in your career or your work that you have learned from?
During my first year in the Corps de Ballet I had an ankle injury that lasted the entire year. From it I learned a lot about how to take care of my body as well as my mental health. It was my first big injury and I healed from it by learning. When I reflect on how I handled it, there are things that I’m sure I could’ve done better; however, the way I took care of myself then was the best I knew how. Although this injury was a pain—literally and figuratively—I learned a lot about myself from it.

What are your top fitness and wellness tips? 
I struggle to give advice because everyone is so different. Some things that work for me may not work for anybody else. I think it’s dangerous to prescribe any one way of ‘being fit or healthy’ because it will look different on everyone. Honestly, I still struggle to find what works best for me and my body, and I’ve been dancing for 14 years, three of those as a ‘professional.’ However, my approach has shifted from working myself hard as a punishment to working smart and accepting myself as I am on that given day. This shift has helped me be happier, which I believe in turn, has helped me improve.

Do you have any advice for aspiring dancers or performing artists?
For anyone looking to become an artist, you are needed—now more than ever! During this time, what have we turned to? We’ve turned to our favourite books, TV shows, movies, maybe even painted, taken up photography or started dancing! The arts are an outlet for us to express and connect to others and/or ourselves. The best part about art is that there is room for everyone.

If art is something that you’re truly passionate about, carve out a space and make the things you are capable of happen. We need to see and hear you because your perspective is as important as mine or any other artist you admire. The arts shouldn’t be elitist; they should be accessible, and maybe you’re that person who can help change that.

Where do you hope to be in five years from now?
I have goals and ideas of what I would like in the future, but I’ve never been someone to set a date or make a concrete plan. I want to work, I want to dance, and I, in some way, want to be content. And I hope that these things are a constant in my life.

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