Young Athlete Series: Olivia Ashton, Dancer
In the first of our Young Athlete Series, we chat to dancer Olivia Ashton about what's required to break into the competitive world of dance, the pressures young dancers face today - and how important mental strength is in this industry.
Name: Olivia Ashton
Based: Bird College, London
Favourite dance brands: La Bella Boutique leotards, Capezio, First Position
My favourite activewear brands: Adidas, Nike, Lululemon, Sweaty Betty, Lorna Jane
As a little girl I always dreamt about becoming a professional dance/musical theatre performer but I had no idea how hard it would actually be. I’ve been dancing ever since I was 3 years old; I’m now 19 and still loving every second of it. I've won trophies, travelled, and been on stage, but it hasn’t been easy and I’ve had my struggles along the way.
Dance takes dedication
You may not know the amount of dedication and focus it takes to be a dancer. I currently train 5 days a week, Monday to Friday, and my day starts at 8am and usually ends between 5 and 7pm. Sometimes I have days with no breaks! I'm not going to pretend it’s all glitz and glamour because it's not: sometimes I may have a fabulous day and everything goes really well, but the next day I might just want to curl up in a ball and cry because it isn’t going so well. That's why this type of training is not just tough physically, it's so much tougher mentally than anything else!
When I’m not in dance school, you can often find me at the gym
On top of my dancing and musical theatre training at college, I do a lot of fitness work and running. I love to train at the gym as I get to have some time to focus on myself and zone in on my body. I love to do cardio as it helps with my dancing, and I train my abs and arms for strength which is a really important aspect of dance. I’m tiny at just 5ft so have to pack a lot of strength into a little body!
I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved so far – but know there’s more to come
I’ve appeared in UK touring musicals such as Scrooge, Half A Sixpence, Whistle Down the Wind and even danced at Disneyland Paris! Before moving to London aged 18, I won the title of North-West Modern Champion four years running and held the Song and Dance title for two years. I was also awarded a British Ballet Organisation Jazz Scholarship when I was 14, which I only gave up to start at one of the top musical theatre and dance colleges in London, Bird College. This is where I’m currently in my second year, and I feel very privileged to be training at such an outstanding college with such talented teachers and students! After I have finished my three years training here, I’ll be auditioning for various different shows. I hope to make it on the West End, travel on a cruise ship and – my ultimate dream – get into the Cirque Du Soleil!
Coping with pressure and body confidence as an athlete
There is a lot of pressure on dancers and athletes to have a good body, and this is where the dangers can start. As a child I was always conscious of how I looked – as I am so small I've always wanted to be taller with long legs, like a stereotypical ballerina! This led to me restricting my calories to the point where I would nearly pass out. I was young and I had no idea what I was doing, but then it became habit and I didn't know any other way. Yes I may look healthy, have abs, and look muscular, but don’t be fooled: not everyone who struggles with an eating disorder has a skeletal frame and is underweight, it is a mental illness not a weight loss diet!
Mental health is incredibly important in the world of dance
Depriving myself from the things we need the most has made me unhappy and suffer mental health problems that I have never opened up about. Dancers need to be in the best possible mental health to be able to function, and depriving yourself from the necessary nutrients is not the way to go! I learned this the hard way, but choosing recovery is the best thing I ever could have done and I am so happy I did. I already feel my dancing has improved since I’ve begun my journey of recovery and can’t wait to keep getting better!
Here are my top tips to staying positive:
1. Practise positive reinforcement in the mirror daily- tell yourself what you’re thankful for.
2. Stop comparing yourself to other people. You are you, and that's so unique!
3. Work hard and stay humble!
4. Don't overwork yourself and take a day to relax and have fun when you need it!
I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported me along my road to recovery. I'm so grateful for everyone in my life – family and friends are so important, so never ever take them for granted!
Thank you for reading, and please comment below if you have any questions for me. Stay positive and keep sparkling!