Dancing her way to Global Dominance

Brian Murray speaks to world-beating ballerina Melissa Hamilton

Like a secret club, ballet in NI is believed by many to be the exclusive preserve of the well-heeled. More than that, though, there are very few people who believe that a living can be made from ballet, having had so few companies come to Belfast. But in recent years, one girl has been rustling tutus the world over.

Hailing from Dromore, Co Down, Melissa Hamilton has worked her way up to the position of being trained by Irek Mukhamedov, former principal dancer with the Bolshoi and The Royal Ballet. She has been offered a place at the world renowned Kirov Ballet School. Her journey, however, has not been without sacrifice.

Melissa HamiltonHamilton first started dancing at the tender age of four, at the Jennifer Bullick School of Ballet in Lisburn, under Jennifer Hall. As the years progressed so did Hamilton, achieving distinction in every exam she took.

Hamilton's determination was not only reserved for ballet. Aged fifteen and auditioning for ballet schools in England (no auditions take place in NI) she was also taking her GCSEs, achieving 7 A*s.

After recieving her exam results, aged 16, Hamilton was awarded a scholarship and left home to begin training at Elmhurst School for Dance, a school associated with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

This would take up the next two years of Hamilton's life. Training was intense, taking in six days of every week, from 8.40am to 6.40 pm Monday to Friday and 8.40 to 3pm on Saturdays.

The jump from NI to England was an eye-opening experience, one that allowed Hamilton to broaden her horizons and realise just how much her art is overlooked at home.

'There are not enough opportunities open to dancers in our country, in comparison to what is offered to students in the rest of the UK,' says Hamilton, who describes her move as 'going from being a big fish in a small pond, to basically learning to swim again.'

This may seem like a harsh dismissal, but Hamilton is assured in her criticism. Is NI doing its dancers a disservice? Hamilton certainly thinks so, describing Northern Ireland’s facilities for dancers as 'very much behind the times.'

Hamilton tells me of the nights out that she forsakes in favour of practice, and the determination needed to succeed.

'It truly becomes your life. You have to give up so much if you want to achieve success. You have no social life and you need extreme determination, dedication, commitment and total focus. If you have a burning desire to make it, you accept that all this comes with the job.'

The sacrifices required of a dancer are frequently unacknowledged by the public. It is easy to watch these graceful creatures glide across the stage without giving a second's thought to what the ballerinas have gone through to get there.

Hamilton understands these sacrifices. In her second year at college she began to truly excel.

'I began to lose friends I’d made in the first year, due to jealousy,' she says. But in the words of a true professional, she understands that such friendships, however barbed, were 'just one more thing I had to sacrifice'.

Hamilton then went on to tour Britain with the Birmingham Royal Ballet in Sleeping Beauty, and in the school's end-of-year performance, A Midsummer Night's Dream, was given the role of principle dancer - something normally reserved for a graduate student.

Hamilton is spending 2006 in Athens, training with Mukhamedov. She will work tirelessly to perfect her art in preparation for the Kirov. The training will be used to perfect Hamilton's skills in hope of becoming a prima-ballerina, a position that she is unequivocal about.

'I aspire to be a principle in one of the top companies in the world. I am aiming very high and I will not be content until I have reached this goal.'