A Life Well Lived
As part of our journey to re-define Wealth we are exploring what “A Life Well Lived” means: interviewing artists, entrepreneurs, explorers, and change-makers as they share their stories and ask “what is my life well lived?” Here, we speak to Heidi Hall and Chris Marney from the Central School of Ballet about their careers, the School and what living well means to them.
Heidi Hall is the Director of the Central School of Ballet, and Chris Marney is their Artistic Director. We first met the two of them when students from the School performed an intimate private performance in our Music Room, Mayfair. Both alumni of the School under the Director and Founder, Christopher Gable, they went on to enjoy incredibly successful careers in the arts, before both returning to teach at the School.
On The Central School of Ballet
You really don’t have to spend much time with either Heidi or Chris to get a sense of exactly what the School means to them both. “The School is particularly special to me because I came here as a junior when I was 11” explains Heidi “and then I continued to train here at the school from 16. I always loved dance and ballet, but the School also gave me an overview of what life was like in Theatre, and I was always driven by that – I’ve been involved with the school for a very long time.”
“I started at Central when I was 16” says Chris “and after spending a lot of time away from the School during my career as a professional dancer, I returned about seven years ago as a Choreographer. I then studied my MA in Choreography here, so I’ve really come full circle. My career began here as a student, and now I’ve returned as Artistic Director.”
When it comes to pinpointing a particular highlight of their careers, Chris says it’s far too hard to choose just one, as they have had so many memorable experiences as professional dancers. “It really is so hard to choose” says Heidi “but one of the proudest moments of my career was performing in The Phantom of the Opera in the role of Meg Giry, a principle role […] and for me getting to that point was a real pinnacle moment in my dance career. The other was taking over the Directorship of Central.”
When it comes to the ‘day job’ it is always fascinating to learn whether doing a job you truly love, ever feels like the ‘daily grind’. “That would totally depend on what day of the week you asked me!” says Heidi “Like anything, sometimes it can feel like a job, but most of the time we are very lucky and very fortunate because it doesn’t feel like a job at all. You are part of these young people’s lives – you know you are playing a part in shaping them whether they go on to dance or not – and so I think we are very, very lucky to be a part of that.”
“You want to make a difference in the students life” adds Chris “so of course there are testing times simply because of the importance of that. But then there are other times when sharing an office together feel’s a bit like being back in a dressing room because of the great relationship that we have.”
“Personal success is all about my family” explains Heidi. “I have an incredibly supportive husband who has also worked in the arts […] and we have two lovely children who are finding their way in life and are also very interested in the arts. I think the career and the path that both my husband and I have been on has allowed us to share so much of that with them, and so my family is definitely my biggest success.”
And when it comes to professional success, Chris explains that, for them both, it often comes at the end of the School year, at graduation. “When I see that the students have had a happy time at Central. We go on a tour together all over the country; you really feel their success and you see how happy they are on the road, performing, and ultimately getting jobs in the profession.”
“I think also taking them from 16 during their first year, we are really privileged to be part of their journey.” adds Heidi. “Sometimes those journeys can be a bit rocky and we have to look after them as young people, not just dancers, and so we always say that this is place to make your mistakes, where people care about you very much.”
On Living Well
“Finding a balance is really key, especially in a dancer’s life” says Chris “because time goes very quickly. You throw everything into your career and other things quite often get left, and then suddenly your career’s over because it’s very short. So it’s finding that balance between personal and professional life; cherishing those moments in your career because they are such precious memories.”
For Heidi, she says that living a good life is all about making sure you live without regret. “Somebody once said to me you will always make the right decision based on the information available to you at the time. Something I try to pass on not just to my own children, but the students here too, is to make decisions, be bold, be brave, and try to never look back with any regrets.”
“Taking a bit of time out” Chris adds “is something I think we’ve both talked about. There was something that really struck a chord with me when we had someone come in to talk to us about mindfulness, and they said in your busy life, do you ever take a moment to just appreciate a building that you walk past, or the sensation of the water when you’re washing your hands? That really stuck with me. We’re all so busy running from studio to theatre to home, it’s those moments when you really take the time out to appreciate things, are gold.”
When it comes to Wealth, Heidi says that for her “the idea of wealth is that everybody that I care about are happy and healthy, and living their lives the way they want to. We work in the arts, so ‘financial wealth’ is never something you get into this business for, you get into the arts – and in particular educating young people – because you care about it terribly.”
“I think professionally – as Chris touched on earlier – it’s that moment of Graduation when you read out the students names on stage. We’re very fortunate that because we’re a quite a small School, we know every inch of that students journey. At times we’re not only teachers, but we might have to play Mum and Dad for a bit as well, so for me professionally, that is the most rewarding bit.”
“There is also a big leap from seeing them as first years” says Chris “to a time during their final year when you see them really become a character. That’s something we don’t see too much of in the beginning – we just see a young person working on the technique of dance – but then suddenly you see this person become someone, become a character, and that is incredibly rewarding.”
“I think retirement has a real stigma, especially in the arts” explains Chris “because you’re constantly being told you have a short career. It’s such a shame because in a way you have two, or maybe more careers.”
“I think that’s why it’s such a difficult one to answer” adds Heidi “because technically we’ve already retired. It’s like being a footballer or something, because when you career as a dancer finishes, you’ve retired, but then we’ve both gone on to do something else […] In the arts in particular, we have teachers that pass on so much wisdom and knowledge, but are past what you might traditionally think of as ‘retirement age’ and yet they are still influencing and teaching young people today.”
“So I don’t think we’ll ever really retire. We’ll always be active in the arts.”
If you missed the show or would simply like to re-live this special moment, the Central School of Ballet’s company – Ballet Central – visits towns and cities across the UK every Spring, usually commencing in March going through to July.
Ballet Central’s 2018 tour dates will be announced early in the New Year, see Central School of Ballet’s news page for more information.
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