For the Love of Dance. Meet Elizabeth Rodbell of Rochester City Ballet


Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
My name is Elizabeth Rodbell but I go by Beth for short. I am a professional dancer with the Rochester City Ballet, a pilates/barre instructor at Evolution Pilates of Pittsford and Midtown Athletic Club and I also teach ballet at the University of Rochester and Little Red Dance Studio...  it might sound like I work a lot but my friends think I am always on vacation. I am originally from Sandy Hook, Connecticut where my parents still live, but I have had an interesting relationship with Rochester, NY for most of my life.

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What did you want to be when you were a child?
A ballerina.

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What are you passionate about? What makes you tick?
Travel. I love to experience new places, there is just so much to see. I am very lucky in that my dance training has taken me all across the United States, and that I went on Semester at Sea through University of Virginia in college. So far outside the U.S. I’ve been to Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Bulgaria, Morocco, Egypt, England, Germany, Turkey, and of course Canada. I try to travel as much as I can when we are on a lay off from the ballet.

Politics. I believe that everyone should have a voice that is represented and respected.

Music. Music has the power to bring people together, thats one of the reasons I love it. I grew up on John Denver & Simon and Garfunkel, and have had an unending love affair with The Grateful Dead.

Shopping. My Dad say’s its a problem. I think its perfectly healthy.

How did you get started? What were some of the difficulties you faced in starting?
Long story short.....
When I was four years old I told my Mom to sign me up for ballet class, and that was that. I can’t really remember a time where I really became serious about dance because I was always serious about it. I always knew that I wanted my career to be in ballet. So therefore as a kid I was always dancing, every day after school and weekends too. My parents did everything they could to help me succeed but when you aren’t versed in the world of ballet it is hard to figure out what is best for your child. They knew commuting two hours to dance everyday was not going to work out, so for high school we had to find a better option. My grandparents happened to live in Pittsford, NY where the Draper Center for Dance Education was nearby. I had met Tim Draper during my elementary school years and it was a mutual bond, he wanted to train me and I wanted to dance for him. So it was decided that I would move to Rochester and live with my grandparents. It definitely was a weird situation. But I was in a home environment, and luckily I still had some degree of normalcy as a teenager attending Pittsford Sutherland High School. Growing up is hard to begin with but growing up away form home is harder.

I graduated high school in 2007 and I attended Indiana University’s Jacob’s School of Music to continue my ballet training and also get a college degree. I graduated in three years with a Bachelors of Science in Ballet and Political Science. In order to get a job in the ballet world you must audition. I started the audition process my last semester of college. It was hard. In fact I hated it. I would get so nervous in the auditions, it was terrible. But I still made myself audition where ever I could. I spent a summer dancing in Miami before deciding to take an apprenticeship with the Rochester City Ballet. I was promoted to company dancer two years later. Dance has taken me across the United States and Germany and has introduced me to life long friends, but in the end I will always have the ballet barre to come home to no matter where I am.

My contract with Rochester City Ballet is for 32 weeks out of every year, so out side of dancing professionally I teach both ballet and pilates. I started teaching ballet at Indiana University as apart of my degree requirements, and I haven’t stopped since. I love teaching ballet, it comes so naturally to me. Pilates and dance go hand in hand, and I have used pilates as cross training purposes for years. I decided last year to get certified as a pilates instructor. I love combining my ballet background with my knowledge of pilates to create a movement based class that provides a challenge no mater what level you are at.

What is your biggest regret?
Allowing peoples negative opinions to get into my head. Although dance is a very physical career it is also a mental game, and I wish my younger self was more prepared to play the game to my full potential. I regret not having the confidence to disregard negativity. Having said that I am really glad that I can recognize this weakness in myself at this point in my life and I work everyday to overcome it.

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Lettering by Chloé duPlessis

What is your best advice to someone just starting out? What advice do you wish someone had said to you?
Believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself they will too.

I wish I had read these two quotes earlier in life and I think all aspiring dancers should read them...both quotes from famous dancers:
“You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed or sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive,” Merce Cunningham

“There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost,” Martha Graham

How do you find balance?
I struggle with finding balance. I could say this is a weakness of mine. I rely on my amazing parents, both my brothers, and my incredible boy friend Greg Bonisteel to keep my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds. I have found that my life is most out of control when I am on a lay off from RCB and I do not get the chance to take ballet class regularly, pilates is a great substitute but to me there is nothing better then company class. When I really need to find my center you can find me taking a nap... I can sleep literally anywhere, at my lake house in New Hampshire, or pretty much anywhere the sun is shining.

What is the most challenging part of of your job?
There are a few challenges....
*Staying in top physical shape all the time even during our 20 weeks of lay off...
*Allowing yourself to make mistakes. There is beauty in the recovery and imperfection.
*My schedule is crazy and it is rarely consistent. Combining my rehearsal schedule with all my teaching jobs is a little bit of a juggle...
*Getting nervous before a performance...I would have to say I have come a LONG WAY with my stage fright. I used to get so nervous when I performed that I felt like I couldn’t even move my joints, this poses a problem for a dancer.
*Learning to dance with confidence even though you might not feel so confident...after all it is show business, you have to learn to sell it!

What is your favorite part of what you do?
Part of what makes being a dancer so great (besides wearing a tutu and a tiara) is that you get to be who ever you want. I get to go to work everyday and reinvent myself. Whether we are working on a story ballet or a more contemporary piece each part/role is different and there tends to be room for personal interpretation in everything we do. I mean so far this season on stage I was a unicorn, a parlor women from the 18th century, an Arabian princess, a waltzing flower, a fox, and a member of a comedia del arte group who wore a black bob wig. To have the chance to be outside yourself is pretty incredible.

Name some local creatives/business owners that you really admire.
Dalida Atallah, the owner of Dado Boutique is one of my favorite people and most certainly my favorite store owners. I walked into her store one day and basically haven’t left. She tells it like it is. She is self made, generous, and incredibly hard working and I admire that. She has an amazing sense of style and her shoe game is always on point.

In moments of self-doubt, hardships or failure, how do you build yourself back up?
I laugh. Sometimes shed a few tears. Then I pick myself back up and try again.