home Dance Back to the Barre: How Zara Lim found her love for ballet again

Back to the Barre: How Zara Lim found her love for ballet again

Tahlia Sinclair speaks to former Australian Ballet School student Zara Lim about finding her way back to ballet through teaching.

Zara Lim photographed by Bjoern Boeing

Ballet is not a sport. 

It’s a distinction that former Australian Ballet School student Zara Lim was quick to make. 

But while the stage lacks the scoreboards and team huddles of the field, the artform has created its own world of competition and elite programming. 

Much like promising junior footballers who are whisked away to academies and national championships from the time they are 10, the pre-professional careers of ballerinas around the globe start at young ages in local studios. 

And for those dancers, who are athletes in their own right, the path to success can be winding. 

Leaving hobbies behind

From a young age Lim was on a pathway to a career in dance. 

By 13 she was a student in the country’s top pre-professional program, training six days a week alongside the best dancers of her age in Australia. 

But she quickly felt the toll of trying to be the best among the best.

“I always wanted to be a professional ballet dancer,” Lim said. 

“I think if you ask most of us, there’s not like a time or a date where you realise it, you dance from a young age and you become good at it and you love it and it is just kind of a given that you’re going to do it.”

Lim said she struggled with the pressure of being in a high performance environment and believes she peaked during her audition. 

Moving into a situation where everyone was vying for a professional career, knowing that many wouldn’t make it, heightened tensions. 

Ballet was no longer a source of joy. 

“As soon as I got there, I just crumbled under the pressure and it was all downhill from there,” she said. 

“At that elite level it is competitive and it’s hard to not compare yourself to others as well because everyone has their own different qualities.”

Like many athletes marked at a young age for elite success, Lim had been told repeatedly how talented she was.

She fell into negative habits and found herself unable to focus on any positives.

“Ballet dancers tend to be perfectionists, and probably most elite athletes are, and perfectionists are really driven to be high achieving,” she said. 

“I was a really negative perfectionist… I used to be really negative in a sabotaging way, I would get angry with myself, and annoyed, I had this doom and gloom mindset.

“You’re basically training six days a week, all day in front of a mirror, trying to become perfect.”

Zara Lim photographed by Bjoern Boeing

No finish line on a stage

No matter how hard or how long a dancer trains, their success is subjective.

Thousands of hours of training and incredible mental resilience is needed to make it as far as Lim did, but if she continued, a career on stage was still no guarantee.

“I think ballet is inherently competitive,” she said.

“When you graduate, it’s still basically a competition, you go and audition, and I think that’s the hardest thing about ballet, is it’s not who can run the fastest, it’s subjective.”

Through this realisation, and work with her school psychologist, Lim decided to step away from dancing. 

And with no idea where to go next, she threw herself into a law degree. 

“I say this with quotation marks because I don’t actually think it, but I had ‘failed’ at ballet, so I really wanted to succeed at something else, like law, that was one of the most ‘prestigious’ careers. 

“I needed to do something where I could just keep achieving, so I did my honours, I got a scholarship, my grad job, I became a judges associate and I just kept achieving stuff.

“I wasn’t even passionate about law at all but in hindsight, I think I was trying to make up for failing.”

Finding her way back to the barre

Gradually Lim found herself spending more and more time dancing and after leaving law in 2019, began teaching online.

Since then she has expanded her offering, and tapped into the growing adult beginner market. 

It’s become one of her favourite demographics to teach. 

“I definitely have found enjoyment again, but ballet always was my number one,” she said. 

“It’s what I wanted to do, ballet is who I really am.

“It made sense for me [to teach], I thought I can’t be a professional dancer, it’s too late, but I wanted to do ballet stuff so I started teaching. 

“And I actually genuinely enjoy teaching my adults because it’s social for all of us as well/

“I think I’m good at it as well, and it’s nice to have a belief, to do something that you actually believe you’re good at.

“It’s not just a job, I get to do my passion for work.”

Zara Lim photographed by Bjoern Boeing

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