Dancer Ruth Cheah & Her Mentors

Ruth Cheah by Angela Wong and costume courtesy of @charlesworthballetinstitute (Perth Western Australia)

Working in the arts is an exciting but challenging path. It can take a while to make a name for yourself as a freelance artist, typically requiring trial and error and very hard work. For salaried workers, good jobs can be hard to find and come up once in a blue moon. Not surprising then that uncertainty is a common theme among artists young and old. Questions like “Should I get more training?”, “How do I price my art” or “How can I expand my network?” come up often for many artists taking their first steps.

Australian dancer, Ruth Cheah, struggled with these questions when she was trying to establish herself as a professional dancer. Mentorly had the pleasure of talking with Ruth about her early career and how her mentors’ guidance has helped her chart a course for a bright future in the highly competitive field that is dance.

There is rarely a straight, upward trajectory in any field. It’s more of a rollercoaster where the highs are high and the lows are really low. For Ruth, it took a severe foot injury for her to take a step back and reevaluate the culture of dance and where she belongs in it. Ruth discovered Mentorly while perusing Facebook at this time when she was struggling to decide on her next move. She didn’t feel that she could ask her peers for help as she was competing with them for opportunities. She wanted help from an unbiased source, people who knew the dance world in Australia and abroad and who could offer insight and guidance specific to her needs.

Rather quickly, Ruth was able to connect with established mentors with 10+ years of experience in the dance industry who work all around the world. Among them, she connected with Joy Womack who was the Prima Ballerina for the Kremlin Ballet for a while. Joy offered insight into the Russian dance community, one with deep roots in ballet and contemporary dance. She also spoke with 5 other Mentorly mentors, getting specific guidance from each.

Mentor Andrea Peña, Choreographer and Artistic Director of Andrea Peña & Artists “provided very insightful feedback in relation to the specificities when it comes to how to phrase sentences and structure in grant writing.”

With Mentor Josephine Cheung, Professional Ballerina with the Samara Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Ruth was inspired by “her journey, her grit and determination when she told her mom she wanted to dance overseas at 15 and sent all the audition videos herself to various schools before being accepted into Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Her journey dancing in USA, Europe and then ultimately back to Russia was very inspirational as she relayed the typical day of a dancer now in Russia. It was very clear that networking, as well as determination and hard work, is definably a favourable trait of success. I will never forget the audition story she told me that secured her first European contract in Bulgaria.”

Ruth also connected with professional dancer formerly with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal  and Mentorly Cofounder, Ashley Werhun, professional ballet and contemporary dancer formerly with Les Grands ballets canadiens, Renata Commisso, and Choreographer Zoe Rappaport. Ruth was able to get the ‘nitty gritty’ about what it’s like in the industry – a true unbiased opinion from someone who has experienced the pitfalls of the industry firsthand. And how did these sessions help her? Ruth candidly shares a few more words:

“I must credit the sessions with Mentorly to have motivated me to have the courage to reach out to people at a calibre that I wouldn’t think would respond. I was surprised of the number of people that have been so open and helpful, giving me advice over the past year when I reached out both on and off the platform. I think speaking to such established mentors in their own field opened my eyes in their ways of thinking and words of encouragement that inspired me to be bold and open new ways of thinking (…)” 

It can be hard to wrestle with career choices and build out your professional network, but through mentorship, Ruth and other creatives are discovering the benefit of having a helping hand from more experienced professionals and investing in their careers through Mentorly. Mentorship is a buzzword these days for a good reason: it’s needed, has an incredibly positive and lasting  impact on mentees and mentors’ lives, and promotes inclusivity, continuous learning, and openness.

“As a small town girl from Perth, Western Australia, Mentorly motivated  me to think big and it totally paid off in terms of opportunities!”

Ruth will be travelling to St. Petersburg, Russia, and will be coached by Ekaterina Schelkanova of the Open World Dance Foundation, so she’s well on her way to concretizing her goals. We wish Ruth all the best on her journey!

Ruth Cheah, Instagram

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