When Perth-born dancer Leanne Stojmenov first started ballet, she found it somewhat tedious. To be fair, she was only eight years old at the time. “I started dancing when I was three,” she says with a smile, “I didn’t start ballet until I was eight, but at the time I found it really slow and a bit boring.” Stojmenov persevered and by 13, she realised ballet was her calling. “Before then I didn’t realise you could be a full-time ballet dancer as a job,” she laughs.
What followed were intensive years of training from the ages of 13 to 17 and professional training with the Graduate College of Dance in 1993. Stojmenov was then poised to tour Europe with her school, but decided she would audition for the West Australian Ballet, “for practice”.
To her great (but perhaps unfounded) surprise, the company offered her a job. Then, Stojmenov eventually joined the Australian Ballet, which she described as a “no-brainer” move, given it was everything she had ever worked for.
In 2011, Stojmenov was promoted to principal artist, and she can still recall the nerves of her first dance as a principal. She was promoted on the opening night for a triple bill season, and her solo was not until the last five minutes of the show. “I just kept thinking, I am a principal now and I am doing this ridiculously hard solo – it needs to be good,” she reflects.
But characteristic of Stojmenov’s quiet confidence, she reassured herself the time was right, “I realised that this time was my time and that I was ready. I have never looked back.”
In her 16 years with the Australian Ballet, her repertoire highlights include key roles with Cinderella, Swan Lake, La Bayadère, Coppélia and Manon.
However, it is her new role offstage that has Stojmenov giving her greatest performance. She has recently returned to the ballet after having her first child, and says that her biggest lesson – as it is for many parents – was to just take things as they come, “It’s pretty intense actually, it is something I try to work out day by day,” she says.
Although the juggle between work and family life is something many can relate to, Stojmenov is in a unique position when one considers the training schedule and travel commitments involved as a principal dancer. Rehearsing for hours daily with a quick break before a performance at night, and travelling for five or six months per year, means downtime with family is managed and precious.
“Home is completely different,” she says, “I just walk in and I’m a mum and that’s all I am. I’m 100 per cent a mum when I am home and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Stojmenov credits her partner, also a dancer, as being incredibly supportive and helping her do what she can.
Aside from the obvious seismic shift that occurs in identity and routine for any new parent, how has this change impacted on Stojmenov as a dancer?
“I think I dance with less fear – just because I really don’t have as much time to get as nervous,” she reflects. “I am being forced to be in the moment in every rehearsal. I don’t have any extraneous energy to be worried about what I need to do onstage.”
Yet Stojmenov offers a very grounded perspective on the pursuit of perfection within the ballet world: “There can never be a perfect show. I often find that trying to be ‘perfect’ as a dancer is not a good trajectory or way of thinking because you are thinking too far ahead, and in performance you need to be in the moment.”
Even though she is her own biggest critic, Stojmenov tries to focus on the things that were good after a show, in order to keep in the right mindset for the next performance. “I was told once: ‘If you feel good, you look good.’ So when I get caught up in something that is not working, I look for a feeling instead of worrying about it.”
Although Stojmenov is not dismissive of the challenges she faces, she counts her blessings as her motivators, “I am dancing for the Australian Ballet as a principal artist and I can have a beautiful family at home and that helps me to make it work. For now, I am just taking it one year at a time.”