Inspiring Ballet Student and Activist: An Interview with Robbie Downey

At age 15, Robbie Downey is a ballet student from San Diego who takes both her training and love for animals seriously. With a Facebook audience of over 150,000, she uses her social media reach to inspire other ballet students to follow their passion, as well as spread awareness for animal rights.

By BalletHub on February 09th, 2014

BalletHub: Hi Robbie, thanks for joining us today on BalletHub! To start off, where did you begin your ballet training, and where do you train now?

robbie downey ballet taffy age 4

Robbie as a Taffy in The Nutcracker at age 4

Robbie Downey: My VERY first studio was called High Steppers in Victorville, CA. I was almost 4 when I started there. California Ballet came there and held auditions for the Nutcracker. I was cast as a Taffy. All I remember is I couldn’t move in the costume.

I currently train in San Diego and my teachers are Maxim Tchernychev and Barbara Seibert-Chatelain.

Did you know right from the start you wanted to be on a path to a professional career in ballet?

Not really, it wasn’t until about age 10 that I was inspired to train to become a professional. I saw a music video of Polina Semionova and I began taking as many classes as I could. I got my pointe shoes that summer and I was hooked.

Tell us about your training at the Ellison Ballet Summer Intensive. What made you decide to go the first time around?

robbie downey ellison ballet erin forrest

Robbie at Ellison Ballet Summer Intensive with Erin Forrest

I started training at Ellison Ballet when I was 13 but only during the summer for 6 weeks at their Summer Intensive. I was there last summer also and attended the audition on Saturday Feb 1st for the 2014 SI. Training there year round is a goal but is hard for us to manage for several reasons. It is a really great program. An Ellison video on YouTube and an article in a dance magazine with Emily Kadow on the cover is what originally caught my interest.

The training there is a perfect fit for me. Miss Forrest and Mr. Ellison place a lot of attention on details. It is a very professional atmosphere and I feel pushed to do better than my best.

Also, the teachers are very direct about what they want from you and Mr. Ellison’s communication with me has helped me know where to direct my focus and has helped my confidence grow. I do believe I can do this but it is nice to know that someone else believes it too. He knows I want it and it means a lot to me that he sees that.

So many animals are in bad places right now and they really need our help… I really hope that people will adopt instead of buy a pet and consider keeping their pet instead of giving it up.

How are the classes at Ellison? What styles do they teach or encourage?

robbie downey ellison ballet summer intensive dancing

Robbie at Ellison Ballet Summer Intensive in 2013

During the summer we have technique, pointe, pas de deux, conditioning, character and contemporary. They alternate but we have technique and pointe everyday. Classes run for about 6 hours a day with breaks in between. The last 2 weeks of 6 is variations or pas de deux. I have only been to the variations SI.

The style is Vaganova. You gain a lot of knowledge from the classes and the teachers point out little details to focus on not just general corrections. It is nice having different teachers in the summer. It keeps things interesting, challenging and fun.

You’ve gotten quite a following in the social media world with fans from all over the world. How did you get started with social media and did you ever think you’d have such a large following?

We started by filming my first pointe shoe fitting and we thought it would be fun to post to YouTube and continue to document my progress. I didn’t think it would ever become this popular! It has been almost 5 years now and we get emails all the time from people sharing their support and also letting me know that they have been inspired by the videos. I’m so happy to know I am inspiring and encouraging others to start or stick with ballet.

If you could use your social media following to raise awareness for something besides ballet, what would it be?

robbie downey ballet freak lobbying with collars

Robbie at a young age holding a string of collars collected from animal shelters, lobbying in Sacramento for mandatory spay/neuter laws

Animal rights! I’m a vegetarian and I love animals. So many animals are in bad places right now and they really need our help. Topping my list are factory farms and the slaughter and capture of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. I would recommend for people to watch The Cove and BlackFish and to follow Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians, HSUS and Farm Sanctuary on Facebook and Twitter. Sylvie Guillem is also a supporter of animal conservation. I just wrote about it on my blog. Also, I would like to tell people to adopt a pet and never buy an animal online or from a pet store.

Attend the ballet not the circus and spay/neuter your pets. Oh and go Veg!! =) Bet you’re sorry you asked.

Not sorry at all actually! Its great to hear about dancers trying to make a difference in the world and doing something outside of what happens on stage and in the studio. Since you love animals so much, do you have any pets of your own?

robbie downey foster kittens

Robbie hanging with some of the many foster kittens her family has helped find loving homes

We are down to 1 dog a Border Collie named Sarah and 2 cats (Fluffy and Jilly). They are all rescues. My mom started and ran a non-profit rescue for 5 years so we have had up to 9 dogs at one time and used to have foster cats with litters in every room of our house during kitten season. We have had bunnies and a rat too. I really hope that people will adopt instead of buy a pet and consider keeping their pet instead of giving it up. Puppy mills are really bad news so never buy a pet online or from a pet store. So sad. Please spay/neuter your pets.

I think we all get a little nervous because we are auditioning. I just think of it as a normal class in my studio. I try not to focus on the fact that people are watching me.

How long have you been a vegetarian and whats your favorite vegetarian dish?

I have been vegetarian my whole life. My mom has been vegetarian for 25 years and my sister is too. Meat really grosses me out I can’t even eat fish

Is dessert considered a dish =) I don’t know I guess I like Tofu fried rice the best if I HAD to pick a favorite.

Let’s talk a little about going on for the summer. Like many ballet students out there now, you’re auditioning for summer programs. How many are you planning on attending and do you have a program in particular you’d like to attend?

robbie downey in ballet class maxim tchernychev

Robbie in class with teacher Maxim Tchernychev

This year, like last year, I plan on only attending ONE audition and that is for Ellison Ballet SI 2014. I’m not looking to be seen by companies yet. I am focusing on my technique and artistry. In my opinion the best place to do that for me, right now, is at Ellison.

I am also lucky to receive great training year round with my teachers Maxim Tchernychev and Barbara Seibert-Chatelain. I think I am in good hands for now.

That’s great! Having confidence and trust in your teacher is definitely one of the keys of growing as a dancer, both technically and artistically, and it seems you’ve found that. Do you have a correction that always sticks with you or favorite combination from your teachers?

The correction that always sticks with me is to do with my hips. To keep them in place in rond de jambe and to not lift my hip when I tendu side. I don’t have a favorite combination really but there are a few Grand Allegros that I like.

Do you find you get nervous in the summer program auditions? If so, what do you do to help keep your nerves at bay?

I think we all get a little nervous because we are auditioning. I just think of it as a normal class in my studio. I try not to focus on the fact that people are watching me.

Any other plans for the summer besides ballet?

robbie downey ballet class barbara seibert-chatelain

Robbie taking class with teacher Barbara Seibert-Chatelain

School. I am home schooled and if I do work in the summer I can get ahead. I am trying to accelerate so I can graduate earlier. I have friends in pre-professional programs and I think it would be really hard to focus on that and school at the same time so I want to finish up.

We live in San Diego so I will for sure get some beach time in and probably a few trips to Disneyland =)

In a couple years, you’ll probably be auditioning for professional companies. What’s your dream company?

At the moment Royal Ballet. I know Royal is really up there but it is still a goal of mine.  But I am keeping an open mind to see what happens over the next couple of years.

That’s awesome Robbie. Hold on to your dreams and goals! Thanks again for joining us today and good luck in the future with all your pursuits, online and off!  Be sure to checkout Robbie’s website and Facebook page.

Thank you for interviewing me. It’s always fun answering questions and sharing my experiences with other people. I’ll be sure to share it. I love your website and videos! =)