Real Talk with François Petit

English Article –

When someone is being interviewed, they always put their best face forward. “Real Talk” is designed to help young dancers and professionals by providing them with the whole truth about the problems faced by artists…on stage and off.

Practical Tips with François Petit

By Armando Braswell

François is from the best of the best. He studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris. He is a former Principal Dancer of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein and a former star dancer with the Zürich Ballet. For 10 years, he was a main Ballet Master at the Opernhaus, Zürich, assisting both Heinz Spoerli and later Christian Spuck in all of their creations. He has worked with some of the most important Choreographers of today and has appeared as a guest artist with many different companies in Europe and abroad. He joined the staff of Ballet School Theater Basel in August 2016.

What do you eat or wish you ate: Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Snacks? Before class?

Breakfast is cereals with milk, yogurt and fruits with a tea. When I get to the theater some nuts and coffee. Then later I will snack fruits and nuts. Lunch and Dinner depend of the time I have. If I eat more at lunch, then I’ll eat less at night… mainly I like meat or fish and vegetables and something like Ebly or pasta or rice or bulgur. When I have a day off, I cook a nice dinner and drink a nice wine (my French side) Back when I was dancing, I always had a good breakfast and If I needed, bananas as a snack (I never eat bananas anymore), pasta at midday if I had a show and another good meal at night. Two to three hours before a show a little snack only.

How do you warm up? before class? before a show?

Well, I always a dancer that warmed up…maybe too much. I warmed before class, I warmed up before rehearsals, I kept warm if I had a break and of course, I warmed up before shows. Before class was a mix of core strength work and stretching around 20/30 minutes. Before a show, we always had a barre, but in my later years with many injuries and operations I needed much more time and special warm up exercises.

Do you have a special “outside of dance” treatment for your body? Physiotherapy? Pilates? Yoga?

Yes, I had a whole strength program. But this came later in my career, as I said before, I injured myself many times and I had to improve my knowledge about body mechanics. My real knowledge came when I had an important operation and afterwards a whole team of doctors and physiotherapists stood behind me so I that I could go back to dancing. That was a real full program back then and these people have become friends. A final word: extra work is beneficial, only if you melt it into your dancing.

Photos by Armando Braswell

Working in class…

Alright this is a sensitive point for many. First of all, it depends if you are still a student or already a professional. But all in all, I think the power of concentration is of upmost important. As you asked before, many of us will attend yoga for example to connect or find a certain inner peace, for dancers, it happens in class. In my opinion and experience, my daily class was the place where I was in a bubble…my own bubble…not a moment of dreaming or socializing, it was like a meeting with myself again every morning. A dancer reaches for perfection, but perfection doesn’t exist… so pirouettes, tour en l’air, and other tricks must be a permanent quest, but you must enjoy the process. Over time things evolve. You do not define the quality of a pirouette in the same way you did ten years ago. So…Challenge yourself.

Something that annoys you about dancers today?

Nothing really annoys me about dancers, I literally love dancers, the strongest yet most fragile of human kind. Of course, I have my “in my time”… moments, but life is in constant evolution and so does the ballet world. I get worried about the lack of self-motivation and curiosity, fun is work and working is fun, well not always… but it’s a choice you make while you are very young, compared to any other field. Sometimes I feel they forget the reason why they left home.

Common mistakes made in class?

Not taking it serious enough. As a student, this is your path to become a professional. As a professional, this is the very start of your working day, the first contact with your body and your mood… you don’t want a bad start in your day. Dancers days are loooong. On a “technical” side, for students to repeat the exact same mistake as yesterday. For pros let yourself do what is asked for, don’t just do what feels good on the moment, you are bending gently and preparing your mind to receive information throughout the day.

Photos by Armando Braswell

Ballet wear? What do you wear? Socks? Ballet Gadgets?

As a teacher I keep it simple: t-shirt, track suit pants and teacher shoes because my knees don’t let me wear anything else. As a dancer, I made a point of being able to see my body, the movement. Big socks to keep feet warm. But nowadays there are fashions in ballet… like the booties… it’s like no one can dance if they don’t have booties. I like simplicity in general. Students: they need a uniform, as they need to learn a certain discipline and hierarchy…it’s a process of life. At Ballet School Theater Basel, the students wear a uniform the whole week and Saturday they can wear what they want, as long as it’s decent. Ballet gadgets: If it’s a roller or double balls for strengthening or an elastic…yes. Outfit gadgets no.

When a student just doesn’t seem to be getting it…

Not getting it, as in not understanding, is very frustrating, but also part of being a teacher. Not getting it as in not getting what this job is about, that irritates me and is unfortunately very common. As Martha Graham quoted: “you teach yourself, you can have the best teacher but it comes from you at the end”. We are guides with a deeper meaning, we are tools for the dancers to go higher to become professionals and to participate to the evolution of dance.

Dancing with pain…

Alright, not a topic I will develop on this interview because this would need the whole magazine…

I unfortunately had many injuries…even bad ones. Funny enough, it taught me so much about how to dance “healthier”, and I am talking about pure classical ballet. So many people work wrong, with the wrong muscles, and it is harder to change than learning right from the beginning. Pain is part of doing something physical every day, but it’s an indicator. Am I working wrong? Am I good in my head?…

What is your guilty pleasure?

Too many I am a hedonist….

Saving and improving energy…

Saving energy is of upmost importance. I assume you are talking about during dancing. And I think it has a lot to do with using the right muscles. When do you relax when do you contract? Also, coordination in movement, etc.… For improving energy generally, I recommend a mix of strength training and endurance training (low aerobic and a long time).

I wish young dancers would…

Would be more eager to know about what they choose to be their life. Seeing all shows possible, know what Ballet Director is where, what company does what repertoire, see, read… it’s much better to swim in a world where you know more about it…

Is there something you would do different if you could do it again?

Yes, in my dreams I could do many things differently, but you get one shot at it and which what I did made me who I am today so I would not change it.

Advice for young dancers trying to become a teacher.

Start as early as you can. Teaching makes you become a better dancer. Because you see on others what you don’t do right and what you do right you have to explain it so it makes it more conscious. When you teach, don’t do choreography. Your teaching will evolve. It’s like the great “chefs cook” the more you go forward the more you go to the essentials.