What Makes Zoë Ashe-Browne Tick
In ‘What Makes You Tick’ I get the chance to pick the brains of some inspirational people from all walks of life, in the hope that by sharing ideas we can continue to progress, push our limits, and inspire each other.
Dublin native Zoë Ashe-Browne, is a 26 year old ballet dancer. She was trained locally at the Debbie Allen School of Dance and Irish National Youth Ballet Company, before leaving Ireland at 16 to complete her studies at the English National Ballet School in London, where she gained her diploma in professional dance.
She has since worked with the National Ballet of Ireland, The Peter Schaufuss Ballet, The English National Ballet Company, and Ballet Vorpommern in Germany, where she is currently based. She has danced the title roles of Juliet and Carmen, and has been the recipient of many dance awards in Ireland and the U.K., including The Stella Mann Bursary, The Elizabeth Baines-Hewitt award, The Imperial Ballet award and The Gordon Edward’s Charitable Trust award.
She is the co-director of The Dance Institute, which she runs annually with her sister Lindsay, and has also been the recipient of an Arts Council of Ireland grant for choreography, which has led to her creating work for an upcoming collaboration with Irish space-rock three-piece- Cloud Castle Lake– in Ireland this summer.
Zoë was kind enough to take some time our of her busy schedule to share her thoughts and motivations, and to give an insight into her life as a professional performing artist.
Would you say you are more introverted, or extroverted?
I’m an extrovert. I might be shy meeting someone for the first time, but after that I’m easy in anyone’s company. Being able to engage with people benefits me in this industry.
What is your passion?
When I was younger I was definitely blinkered to just being my childhood idea of a ballerina. However, over the years my passion has broadened within my field. I’m passionate about narrative work, anything that requires acting as well as dancing to give what I’m doing some life. I also love getting involved in new creations with bright minded choreographers, or I love teaching the up and coming generation and getting something out of them.
What are you driven by? (What motivates you?)
In terms of dancing I’m driven by seeing change in myself. Trying to improve things in dance is a slow process, so when I see a difference it keeps me wanting to adapt and improve. I’m also driven by opportunity. I love being cast in roles that are maybe slightly out of my depth because I know I’ll grow in the process. It’s all about not getting stuck, and not being satisfied with mediocrity.
How do you measure success?
In an industry like mine it is easy to measure success by how much you’ve achieved in your career by a certain age, or what company you belong to, or who you’ve worked with. But, as time has gone on and I’ve achieved things which I had classed as ‘the dream’, it turns out that success for me is measured on happiness and balance.
Who had the most influence on you at a young age, and why?
I had a wonderful teacher from the age of 13 to 16, by the name of Fiona Chadwick. She had an incredible career as a star of The Royal Ballet in Covent Garden in London, and she briefly lived and worked in Dublin. I was so lucky to come into contact with such a woman. She was as established as it gets, but had no ego, and for me she was a true teacher. Nothing she did was for her own personal gain- she genuinely just wanted the best for me. She even went as far as to coach me without a fee during my final year at home. I have a lot to thank her for.
What’s the best book you’ve read, and why?
I am going to pick two. My brother Simon wrote a wonderful book called ‘Nothing Human Left’. I am ashamed to say that I only read it after it had been published, but for me it encapsulated a generation of Dublin youth that I instantly connected with. It was funny, dark and sentimental. Another favourite of mine is ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls. I wasn’t right for a while after reading that story, but it was so beautiful.
Describe your typical morning routine. (How do you prepare for the day ahead?)
I get up at around 7:45 AM, hop in the shower, and make breakfast with my boyfriend. It’s mostly porridge and coffee, but if we’re completely knackered from the day before, we’ll get up at 8:30 AM and head to the bakery on the way to the theatre. We work until 9:30 PM almost every evening, so the mornings are quite a struggle. On the plus side, we live so close to work that we can walk. It’s a lovely way to clear the head in the morning. We also have dressing rooms in work with a place to store all of our dance clothing, so prepping in the morning is easy.
Describe your perfect Sunday.
My perfect Sunday for me would be spent in Dublin. I’d get up naturally, and head into town to meet friends for some brunch around 1 PM (I’m excited to check out Eathos on Baggot street on my next visit). I’d follow that up with a wander around our lovely city, some coffee or cocktails, and a catch up. I’d finish the day with a quiet night in with my family.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Many. Mostly rich food related. Chocolate, pasta. All of it. I would also consider my phone a guilty pleasure. I am always on it, so that one I need to take control of!
What are your hobbies/interests?
Apart from my job, I like reading, baking, and watching films. Most of my hobbies are restful activities because of the nature of my work. I think as I get older my interests will naturally develop around my lifestyle after dance.
I am happiest when…
I am with family and friends at home, or when I’m on stage.
What is your approach to daily life?
Take everything one step at a time. I tend to get quite worked up and anxious over things, so my approach to life now is to just focus on the task at hand, instead of trying to plan 8 months into the future in the middle of a plié!
What was the most significant learning experience you can recall having?
I was fortunate enough to have worked with a very famous, established man named Peter Schaufuss for 2 years, and he opened my eyes to a lot in terms of my craft. I was terrified of taking his classes; it was finished when he said it was finished. Sometimes a class could go on for 2 and a half hours, as apposed to the usual 90 minutes, and I was never once allowed out of my pointe shoes. It was tough, but I gained a lot from it.
I was also part of the corps de ballet for The English National Ballet for a year, and being surrounded by that calibre of talent everyday just blew my mind. They were all so special in their own right, and the longer I was with the company, the more inclined my fellow dancers would be to approach with some helpful corrections. Despite the many difficulties, I grew a lot in those 3 years in London.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your life as a dancer?
Performing. I complain about almost every show I’ve ever done because I know how physically exhausting the next 2 or 3 hours is about to be, but I’m also acutely aware of how much I will long for it when my dancing days are over.
What are some of the challenges you face, and how do you overcome them?
Well it goes without saying that weight is an issue in the ballet world. I’ve had an eating disorder once before, and I will never bow to such pressures again. If someone thinks I’m too big for them at a size that I’m comfortable with, then that’s not someone I am prepared to work for. Dancers tend to get chastised on a regular basis. We’re made to feel like a disposable commodity, and it doesn’t help that we start working in the industry so young, 17 is the average age in America, so people forever see you as that age bracket. It can be frustrating, so I like to know what my rights are in a contract, and I’m no longer afraid to speak up for myself if I think the conditions are unfair.
What advice would you give to young people, who may have aspirations to pursue a career in performing arts?
I would say work smart, watch videos on YouTube of the best of the best to stay inspired. Keep a level head, listen to teachers and just keep believing in yourself. It’s incredible how many times people will attempt to tear you down for various reasons- some with your best interest at heart, and some that are just nasty- so your own self-worth is priceless, and will stand to you.