BWW Interviews: Allison and Rex of Ballet West and the CW's BREAKING POINTE on Real Life
I recently had the honor and privilege to sit down and chat with Allison DeBona of Ballet West and the CW's Breaking Pointe. I found Allison very easy to talk with and I learned a lot about her life, dancing and yes, her relationship with Rex Tilton. And Rex eventually opened up a bit too.
You started dancing at age three. Why did your parents put you in ballet over anything else?
They put me in ballet and gymnastics and I just chose ballet. There was a moment, that I remember fondly, when I was in a class and, being little, there wasn't much dancing, basically you just run around and I had to run across the floor and pretend that I was picking up a flower and put it in a basket and I just loved that. I just loved to dance and I would never stop; I always danced around the house. I was always the youngest in all of my classes and being around the older girls was intoxicating enough to make me want to be like them.
Do you remember your first ballet teachers and their influence on you?
I recently went back to my first ballet company in Pennsylvania for the first time since I was twelve. So, I hadn't seen this my ballet teacher, Debbie, for 17 years. And she gave one of her speeches and it was like she hadn't changed at all. She was just one of those women who everything she ever taught me was about finding yourself and being different and learning how to be a performer, because that is more important. She didn't like competition in the room, she just said every part was important. It was never a hostile environment. I think there is a difference now in training than there was when I was young. I remember my mother never being allowed in the studio. She would drop me off, and you were at your other home, and my teachers were another set of parents and you were left to be raised at the ballet studio, but it was okay because you were learning a discipline that helps you in so many ways. Kids today are so coddled and my mom was never like that. She never let me complaint. If I would say something was unfair, she would always ask me what I was going to do to change it.
What kind of child were you?
I was out there. I don't think I'm that different now. I used to sing and do a lot of different things, not just dancing.
You stopped dancing for a while. Why and what made you come back?
My parents got divorced and I had to change schools, and at the new ballet school I was a young little girl dancing with 18 year-olds and they didn't like that, so I remember thinking that something has to change. It was really hard when I came back to dancing. I remember thinking that ballet was a lot easier when I was younger and I've never recovered from that. But I made some goals, even when I wasn't dancing, that I wanted to be on stage. When I came back, we were doing Stars and Stripes and I remember that this was what I wanted to do.
When are you performing, are you a meticulous counter, do you say the steps in your head, or do you just get lost in the music?
Usually I'm super nervous until my foot hits the stage and then I calm down, generally. Only a few times have I stayed nervous. I don't think so much about the steps, because I think when you've rehearsed so much, your body knows what to do, and if you think too much about that then you lose the performance aspect of it all. But I do drive myself insane in the studio, when we're rehearsing.
What is a normal day for you?
We start ballet class at 10:00 and that ends at 11:30. Then we rehearse from 11:45 until 6:45. The day doesn't seem that long, because we have to go and do something that is super energetic. It's hard at the beginning of the season, when we've been off, but then it stars to feel normal.
Have you had any major injuries that you thought might be the end of your career?
I had one serious injury in my senior year of high school where I torn the place where my Achilles heel and my calf met. It was a partial tear, so I was in a boot for three months. Other than that, I suffer injuries, my back goes out all the time and I have an issue with my hip. I'm pretty sure I have arthritis everywhere.
If you weren't a ballet dancer, what would you be doing?
I've always been interested in journalism. I started studying journalism in college.
What is your favorite role you've done? (Rex finally joined in the conversation!)
Allison: I always like doing contemporary work, but I could do Swan Lake everyday and not get bored.
Rex: Swan Lake. Is the best full-length ballet. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are very trite. If we did Romeo and Juliet and I got to be Tybalt, that is my dream role. I think he's a bad ass.
Allison: I've never dreamt about doing roles, because you're just sad if you don't get it. Most little girls want to be Cinderella or Aurora, because I don't think I embody either of them. I can't relate to either of them. But Giselle or Odette I would love to do.
About Breaking Pointe, how did you get picked to do that?
Rex: The BBC approached us and said they wanted to do a mini-documentary, that's how it was presented to us, and they did not have a network for it yet. They said they just wanted to get things going and after we agreed on our contracts, we found out the CW was going to be our network.
Were you hesitant to let cameras into your life?
Rex: I think some people didn't realize what was going to happen. For me, I wasn't initially looked at as a key participant, so I was fine with it. Then once the cameras came, they chose who they wanted to use.
Allison: They chose who they wanted and we had the opportunity to say yes or no.
Rex: And we all signed the same contract, so there was no way to know what they were going to do.
Do you think the editing of the show was faithful to how you are in real life?
Rex: They could have edited it completely different and it would still be the same. True, but not true. They would alter sentences, but at the same time, they are still trying to get across an overall feeling.
Allison: The show only presents us as one dimensional throughout an entire season, and we're not. So people become obsessed with that one dimension that TV is showing, but we're human and we have good days and bad days. If something really good or really bad happens to you one day, and they want to stick with that one thing, then the rest of the season, they're going to pick out anything that is in relation to that thing.
Rex: There was a lot of interesting things that we learned along the way. Yes, it was real, but in a completely different context. They'll put two people together that don't normally hang out, so it's going to be awkward. Then you watch the episode and you think that they hate each other. In reality, those people would be indifferent to each other, but you get the right looks and they put the right music with it and it's drama.
Allison: How I see it is that this has given us an opportunity to show people who we really are in other ways. Like in season one, I was the bitch. And for two or three weeks I was obsessed with getting online and seeing what people were saying about me, but I knew that wasn't the best, but then I thought that I would use it as an opportunity to use it as a voice for things that I do find important. So it can be good and bad. I do take responsibility for everything I do and say on the show. If you were in a glass room and had ten people watching you and you just went over and punched the wall, you would have ten different ideas for why you punched the wall without even saying a word. That's reality television. You have a set of producers who are going to watch your actions, but they are not in your head, so they'll come up with whatever story they find most interesting. That's the nature of the beast.
Did you have to be very careful about what you said?
All the time.
How do you think your life has changed since the show? Do people recognize you now?
Rex: I think they recognize me, but only when I'm with Allison.
Allison: I have a different theory on this, because even when we're together, people can't make eye contact with Rex. I think they are scared to talk to hiM. Little girls will be scared to come up to a guy they think is cute, but they'll come up to another girl. I can see it and I think it's so cute! He doesn't see it.
Rex: I usually kind of dress homely and not shave and I've let my hair grow long, so people don't recognize me, but they'll recognize Allison and wonder who that bear man with her is. Oh, that's Rex.
Allison: This is our world first and we get a lot of flack from our own community about why we did this or that, but our ballet company has seen a lot of benefit from the show.
Is any of the show scripted?
Rex: I have a theory that some of it is with certain people. This past season, there were some situations where specific instructions were given. They weren't just going to let us have a party, they had to take someone in the back room and slap someone in the face. They don't approach us to do that kind of stuff anymore. They wanted some weird stuff from me last season. They took us to a Hooka bar and Josh and I were not comfortable there at all. I would rather play video games.
What is your favorite non-dancing thing to do?
Rex - I follow professional football. I'm from San Diego, so I'm a Chargers fan.
Allison - I follow the Steelers.
Rex - Recently, she likes going on rides with me on my motorcycle. That's been fun.
Allison - We get home from work at 7:00 and we have two dogs, Zipper and Colby. So we take care of the dogs and make dinner and then we're exhausted. We make plans on the weekend, but we're lucky if we get two of the ten things done. On Sundays we don't do anything except watch football.
What about your future? Marriage? Kids?
Allison: We live in a ballet world, so everything is stressful and crazy all the time, this is our life.
Rex: It's hard to think about settling down and having kids, because not only do we barely have any time to take care of our dogs, but ballet is very financially unstable.
Allison: Plus, as a girl, I would never want to have a baby and then come back, I know myself and I know how hard it was to come back after that.
Thank you to Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton for their time and openness during our conversation. Both were extremely fun and informative to talk with.