THE OUTNET’S Head of Content, Claudia Mahoney, got to catch-up with dancer, model and movement director, Sophie Apollonia. In case you missed their live conversation, we made sure to save some of the best bits…

Wedding pictures
Blue cashmere sweater

Claudia: Hi Sophie! Welcome to In Conversation! So, for those that don’t know, you’re a classically trained ballerina and you won a scholarship at 11. So, where did it start?

Sophie: I grew up in an estate in South London and my mum and dad are really supportive, absolutely no clue of like the ballet world whatsoever. And it was actually when I went to Pride Festival when I was little, my mum and dad would take me to Pride Festival, open my eyes to the world. And I was looking at these drag queens and being like ‘I want to be a Queen mum! I wanna be on the stage.’ So, she found this ballet school in Brixton and I suddenly started to get good and my ballet teacher said ‘hey, let’s get Sophie to audition for Royal Ballet. It’s a long-shot but let’s do it!’ I literally had been dancing for maybe a year…

Claudia: Wow! So, you must have serious, raw talent, because you have these children that are trained from sort of four sometimes.

Sophie: Yeah, well yeah that happens a lot. I felt behind when I came to Royal Ballet School, but I had the passion. I maybe didn’t have that much technique, but I certainly had flair and passion for dance at a very young age and I feel like that’s what got me through. They were like ‘we see something in this little girl.’

Claudia: So, do you remember going for the audition?

Sophie: Oh, absolutely yes. I was an absolute baby. I was number 11 and I remember a panel of people, just watching you, marking you… I wasn’t terrified though.

Claudia: That’s incredible because you hadn’t come from that background and you were not sort of versed in what to expect and you haven’t necessarily had a mentor…

Sophie: I think maybe that’s why. I didn’t have somebody saying, ‘this is really important, it’s Royal Ballet.’ I was just doing it because I was having fun and I felt beautiful and it took me away from the world I was in, I was suddenly this little prima ballerina, I was in a ballet studio living my best fantasy. 

Claudia: Did the fantasy wear off with the hard work and responsibility that came with it?

Sophie: Yes, in a way. Of course, I went to the Royal Ballet School and it was like going to Hogwarts. Very few people are accepted, so I was very grateful that I got the scholarship. But, the training is full on. Six days a week.

Claudia: And then, I was reading that you were the only black girl in your class, is that right?

Sophie: The Royal Ballet School is incredible but there were very few people of color. I think there were two in the whole school from year 7-11 even going into graduating when I was 18, actually. I look back now and think ‘wow, you’re such a strong little girl,’ because yes, it was noticeable. And you know, I’ve got this massive mane of hair.

Claudia: So, you’re obviously working as a model as well. What was that sort of process then to accepting your innate beauty?

Sophie: It took me a really long time to be like ‘I’m beautiful and I shouldn’t be ashamed of my hair and my features and color.’ I guess it still took me a while to accept my hair because in ballet it’s all about slicking it back, nice, neat and tidy. And you know, I remember teachers looking like ‘how are we going to get this mane back?’ There was some minor bullying going on, at the time I didn’t notice. If the teacher remembered my name, somebody would be like ‘oh, but they only remember you because you’re black.’ But still, even then I was like ‘whatever, I know why I’m here.’

Claudia: Do you think the ballet world is much more accepting and diverse now?

Sophie: The whole art of ballet, it goes back centuries so it’s already quite behind. Looking from the outside now, they’re doing their best, but there still is a lot of work to be done.

Wedding pictures

Claudia: I wanted to ask about when you performed to your contemporaries at school, a routine that you choregraphed to Snoop Dogg’s Drop it Like it’s Hot.

Sophie: I remember at the time I was 15, 16 and I was like ‘this is something that’s never been done.’ And, I mixed Snoop Dogg with a score, a very famous solo from the ballet Sleeping Beauty, and I fused in ballet and hip-hop. It was a huge risk. Some people I don’t think understood, but my reaction was joy, appreciation and seeing that sort of reaction from my superiors. I would have thought they’d have thought I was destroying what ballet’s about. They didn’t, they seemed to enjoy it.

Claudia: Have you done other projects where you’ve pioneered this blending of the contemporary with the very rigorous original?

Sophie: I live by that; I live by it. I’m still doing it to this day. That’s my thing, I feel like that’s what I’ve been booked for a lot of the time, the fact that I can switch from having beautiful line, having strength and beauty but also edge, raw, just a little bit more real. Maybe someone who doesn’t understand ballet will now see something I do and say ‘oh! I never watched ballet before but this music I’m hearing to ballet, I relate to, and now I’m understanding it and can appreciate this.’ I feel like I was trying to reach people and give them a little look and insight and say that ballet can have an edge and it isn’t always what you think it is.

Claudia: You strike me as someone that’s really curious about lots of different things and who’s got fizzy brain.

Sophie: I like the way you said, ‘fizzy brain.’ I am incredibly curious. I wanna know about music, art, poetry, literature. I just wanna collaborate with artists across the field and maybe make a new form of art, who knows?

Claudia: That’s such an inspiring way of looking at things. So, what was it like working on The Nutcracker Disney production, and what was it like working with Misty Copeland?

Sophie: Every little girl dreams about doing a Disney film. It was an incredible experience and I feel very honored to be chosen to dance in it. But working with Misty, I was in awe of her, obviously. She was kind, open and it was a joy to work alongside her. There was just a level of understanding like, us being women of color in this industry.  And, it’s like every little girl’s fantasy and we’re wearing these beautiful gowns; living that little renaissance fantasy is wonderful.

Claudia: Is that something that you have in your real life, that you like dressing up? Or are you fully in athleisure?

Sophie: I love dressing up! I love the way clothes make me feel and the sort of character I’m going to be for the day. So, if I wanna feel like a badass, I’ll dress like a badass. And if I wanna feel like a lady, I’ll dress in a little dress and put heels on! 

Claudia: So, because of the global pandemic, do you train still every day?

Sophie: I do! Well, not every day… I work for myself and with my lovely agencies. So, I don’t feel like I need to be training every day. If I know I’ve got a big job coming up, I’ll get into training mode. But, for now, I will do a little barre fitness. I’ve been training others, trying to show them what to do. It’s really good for you and it’s fun, if you’ve got a great playlist wink mine’s disco, I’m obsessed with disco.

Claudia: I want to do your class. Ok, so, tell me about your lockdown experience.

Sophie: I’ve been in Stockholm so I haven’t had a lockdown. It was the best place to be because we weren’t forced to stay in our homes. But of course, I was still affected. Castings stopped, production stopped, so, I was just sitting around realizing ‘oh, god, when’s the work coming back? What am I doing? What’s my purpose? What’s happening?’

Claudia: Yeah, so, are you able to say anything at all about what you’ve got coming up?

Sophie: I can say that I’m working on something that I’m incredibly excited about and you can catch it on Netflix. That’s all I’m saying.

Claudia: Ok, that’s enough to sort of tempt us into the future. I wanted to ask you, what sort of advice would you give to people who wanted to pursue their dream of dancing? 

Sophie: Just be yourself because that’s what got me to where I am today. Don’t be concerned about numbers on your Instagram, if you don’t have a huge following, it doesn’t mean you’re not talented. Just concentrate and be you and be authentic, people will see you for your talent and that’s what’s important.

Claudia: I think that’s really good life advice full-stop. Thank you so, so much for talking to us, we’re really, really grateful.

Sophie: Thank you so much for having me THE OUTNET!