Tina Pereira: Balancing On Her Pointe Shoes And Her Business Too
National Ballet of Canada’s Tina Pereira took time out of her busy schedule to chat with Nicole Decsey about Ballerina Couture. This is part 3 of our Businesses Run by Dancers series, which previously featured Nicole Dymianiw on Social Media for Dancers and Brianna Clarke on (Art)versations podcast.
Tina has been a first soloist with the National Ballet of Canada since 2009, and started Ballerina Couture in 2014 at a point where she didn’t know what was going to happen next. Now she balances the demanding schedule of a ballerina with that of being an entrepreneur. This interview was squeezed in between socially distanced dance rehearsals, and somehow Tina managed to wear a smile through it all!
Tell me about yourself as a dancer...
There are so many great things I love about being a dancer, but I guess my favourite thing is just performing. And just being able to reach so many people through dance. One of my favourite roles to play is a character where can I can get lost in being someone else like a Swan Lake or a Juliet. I love the transition of energy between myself and the audience and that I can make someone feel happy or just something outside of themselves for a few hours.
I also really love the comradery with my fellow dancers. It’s such a hard industry and everybody has to work so hard and it’s nice to feel supported by people who do the same thing as me. As well to have that sense of community, that’s something that I definitely miss especially right now. I was just talking to some dancers that are here, and I think there are like five us in the building and I really miss having a sense of just running into people and sharing a studio. Sharing ballet with people is probably my favourite part of my job.
Why did you start Ballerina Couture?
I started it at the end of 2014 because I found out that I was going to have foot surgery. It was my first major injury.
I am definitely the type of person who likes to explore all sides of my creativity. At some point during my career, maybe around 2014, I was trying to figure out different things that satisfied me creatively and things I was passionate about. And I stumbled upon my passion for ballet and fashion. Then I sort of just took a deep dive into the history of everything and how ballet pretty much started fashion and just the correlation of the two. It kind of blew my mind, so I went on a little journey with that. And I ended up starting with a blog believe it or not, which my dad tells me is still up and people comment on and I’m like I don’t have time to go back to that.
But, I just love couture and the ballet aesthetic and at that time I found dance wear to be outdated. Of course so much has changed now and there is like a million dance wear bands which is amazing. But at that time there really wasn’t that many options for me that I felt were where ballet needed to be. So, I started designing some leotards and one thing lead to another. I bought a sewing machine and taught myself how to sew, I started making my own leotards and then dancers in the company started asking to buy them from me. I was like "there is no way I am selling you my terrible sewing work" but they were so insistent, and I realized that maybe there is something here.
So, I was dealing with this injury that wasn’t going away and then I decided to finally have surgery. I knew I was going to be off for six months or something and I knew I would go crazy if I didn’t have an outlet. So, literally within three weeks I was just like let’s do Ballerina Couture. So, I decided to do a launch and do the most I could within that time. And that’s when it was born.
I always tell young kids to try to cultivate. No matter what your passions are they could be so different or obscure but what I found is if I just keep looking for what I’m interested in something will happen. You never know when it can just mend together and then create your perfect reality. Because if I hadn’t wondered what else I was interested in this would never have happened. I never thought I was going to have a dance wear company when I started that blog.
How do you manage your ballet career along with Ballerina Couture?
I have no answer to that question. I feel like a crazy person, I really do, but in the best way. I’ve always said that my ballet career comes first. This adventure was a supplement to not being able to dance. You know, being a full-time dancer is so incredibly challenging. To be honest as Ballerina Couture is growing it gets a little harder. Like last year was definitely my hardest year because it was also one of my hardest years at the ballet. I would pretty much wake up at 5am in the morning and sometimes I would do my work on the elliptical, like I would answer emails or be writing down my schedule while I was working out. If you weren’t available at 10:15am today, I might have had to do this interview on the elliptical. But I like to plan as much as I can, and I like to use apps that help me to plan my posts. It’s just day by day and the way ballet works I don’t have my schedule till the Friday before but then my schedule could change 24 hours before. So, I could have everything planned but they have up to 24 hours to change it.
What skills have you developed in dance that have helped you in running your business?
Well, as a professional dancer I feel that you really have to just go above and beyond. I feel so lucky to be in this position that I’m in right now, but there are so many young dancers out there that are dying to be in big companies. I feel like...because of what this job demands of you and the level of physicality and the mental strength that goes into the endurance part of it, I feel it does give us a little bit of a superhuman edge. And I am very aware of how much work I have had to put into myself to be the kind of dancer I am today, and I know that translates into my business. This is like the craziest thing ever, but I also believe you can only handle as much as you can handle. Something about this business is just very accommodating to my situation. I also feel like what you put in is what you get out, it’s just that simple. But I think ballet really taught me to just go above and beyond and it’s been very helpful to translate all of that into another field.
How have you balanced finding some profit out of Ballerina Couture as well as the joy of running it?
At the moment, I do everything other than the sewing. At some point I had some help with social media and photo editing, and it was helpful, but at this point I really do everything. I am still small enough so it’s manageable that I can do this and be in control of a lot of things. It makes sense where I am at for what I can distribute. I also have a really amazing seamstress and I have a really well-structured system at the moment. I keep everything in Canada which is amazing, but moving forward I may have to explore other options. But that’s probably post-career. At the moment I am a small business so there are many expenses, but I am still able to grow and I am very grateful for that.
What tips would you give to dancers who want to run a side business like you do with Ballerina Couture?
Definitely starting early is my biggest piece of advice. But also, I think dancers underestimate themselves with their level of creativity and their discipline. I truly think we can be transferable into so many other fields, but I think sometimes dancers feel like they have this one passion and it is dance and they don’t have another passion in their lives that is even close to this. I would just say "the only way to find something else is to take time to explore yourself and your creativity and the things you really love." And it could be something so completely different than dance, but you never really know until you give yourself the chance to explore it.
I was talking to a younger person the other day about this and how it can be two different things. Like for me its ballet and fashion and I like them both, but I never thought they could come together for a dance wear company. So, you never know where life is going to take you but if you just start following your passions and chip away day by day something is going to land in your lap and you are going to be so happy that you started that journey earlier on to build on it rather than starting it 10 years after your career for example.
Because dance is so all encompassing it is hard to see outside of it when you don’t have to. That was one of my biggest fears, you know, what if my career was over because of that surgery and I had no plan B and I just never even gave myself the chance to think what else could I possibly do? I never wanted to be in that position. If I retire, I don’t want to be thinking "ok what do I like?" I want to actually be able to say "you know, I like both and now I feel like I’ve done everything I need to do in my career, and I can just shift over and the groundwork has already been done." Especially if you are going to go into business, there are so many hurdles and there are so many roadblocks in the way that you have to get through all of those to know that you are going to do it no matter what comes your way. And I feel like if you start that later it is easier to get discouraged.
All of Ballerina Couture’s leotards are handmade and packaged in 100% biodegradable paper. Keep your eyes peeled for some new designs and colour palettes coming out in 2021! Check out what is available for order now at ballerinacouture.com