On a summer afternoon, in a mirror-walled Madison dance studio, Rachelle Butler and Annika Reikersdorfer sit on the floor stretching their muscles before a practice session. Both are professional dancers with the Madison Ballet.
“Ballet is basically the first style of dance that was created,” Butler explained. “It’s basically your standard … where you build your technique.”
Reikersdorfer, who recently graduated from Middleton High School, has been dancing since she began studying with the School of Madison Ballet at age seven.
“A lot of my friends were doing ballet, so I obviously wanted to do what they were doing, and I took a trial class here and loved it immediately,” Reikersdorfer said. “A lot of the girls I started with … are still my friends and are still dancing today, some of them with the company.”
Butler, a Madison native, also began dancing as a young child, first taking a jazz dance class in about third grade, then taking classes in ballet. At age 14, she was accepted into the Rock School of Dance Education in Philadelphia.
“It’s basically a professional school, so it prepares you to be a professional dancer,” Butler said.
After her time there, Butler danced with Ballet Chicago and other companies. About five years ago, she returned home to Wisconsin to dance with Madison Ballet, a decision inspired in part by the company’s artistic director W. Earle Smith. During her time with Madison Ballet, the company has grown its season from four weeks to 32.
While dancing, Butler also taught students, including Reikersdorfer.
“Annika was my student five years ago until, what, last year when she joined the company,” Butler said. “She’s a beautiful dancer, so I’m very, very proud of her. She’s been with the company for one year, one season, as an apprentice, and she will be joining the company as a full company member next season, so that’s exciting.”
“She started off as my teacher, so we had the teacher-student relationship,” Reikersdorfer said. “This year I started out at the company, so we are like co-workers, which is kind of fun to see our relationship evolve.”
While both dancers have a passion for ballet, they also say dancing can be demanding.
“One of the biggest challenges in injury, and working through and back from injury,” Butler said. “It’s hard to take that time off and really recover properly. I had a stress fracture in my shin for three years, because I kept coming back too early and kept re-fracturing it.”
“I think the hardest part is not being hard on yourself,” Reikersdorfer said. “Obviously with teachers giving you corrections, directors giving you corrections, that’s difficult, but the hardest is believing in yourself and not making yourself feel bad.”
Still, Reikersdorfer and Butler said the enjoyment of dancing makes those challenges well worthwhile.
“I think performing is definitely the best part of ballet,” Reikersdorfer said. “You practice in the studio and you run through everything hundreds of times, but when you get on stage, it’s totally different: with the lights on you and the audience, and like feeling everyone around you dancing. It’s just really cool.”