Like most little girls, American Ballet Theater ballet dancer, Sarawanee Tanatanit, had always dreamed of being a dancer. Coming from Thailand, where ballet is a rare dance form and is not considered a stable profession, Tanatanit didn’t let that stop her from pursuing her dream. At age six, after having visited her cousin at a dance studio, she became interested in ballet and began training as a ballerina at Thailand’s Dance Centre School of Performing Arts. She later went on to study at Varaporn-Kanchana Ballet School. At the age of eight, her interests widened and she got involved in rhythmic gymnastics as well.
Sarawanee recalls her childhood being very “busy” as she was involved with not only ballet and rhythmic gymnastics, but also other hobbies. She did a lot of intensive training in rhythmic gymnastics for many years and excelled in the sport – “ as is evident from her competitive wins.
In 1994, she won the gold medal at the Junior Rhythmic Gymnastic Championship of Thailand, and the following year she earned a gold and silver medal for Thailand at the annual I>South East Asian Games (SEA Games) in Chiangmai.
But as Fate would have it, ballet was to be her forte. Being an athletic powerhouse at the time, the Sports Authority of Thailand awarded her a scholarship to further pursue rhythmic gymnastics in Canada. However, a year later she quit and pursued ballet. Since then, she has been nothing but appreciative for the art form and happy about her decision.
“I am very grateful to be able to work with so many amazing teachers in Thailand and outside Thailand,” said Sarawanee. “I had many opportunities to participate in many competitions and performances all over the world since I was a child. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood and none of it could have happened without help and support from my parents.”
Since I was a child, it had always been my dream to join with American Ballet Theatre. Everyday is constantly a competition, especially among girls.
In 1997, in Canada, she trained at the Goh Ballet Academy for many years. During her ballet studies, she participated in many well-known international ballet competitions and it was after having won the Prix de Lausanne Apprenticeship Award in Switzerland in 2001, she knew she wanted to pursue ballet professionally. In 2002, she became an apprentice at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) company in New York City, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies. In 2003, she officially joined ABT and has been working with the ballet company since.
“Since I was a child, it had always been my dream to join with American Ballet Theatre,” said Sarawanee. “American Ballet Theatre is one of the best ballet companies in the world and it is every kid’s dream to be with them. Lucky enough, I received an award to join with their junior company.”
Obviously, it was more than luck that got the Thai native a chance to work with ABT – “ it was true passion and talent. And, Sarawanee knows her career as a ballet dancer is never to be taken for granted, working as hard as she always had since childhood.
“American Ballet Theatre has about sixty to seventy of the best dancers from all around the world,” said Sarawanee. “Everyday is constantly a competition, especially among girls. I am aware that there will always be younger and better dancers joining the company. I learned that my dancing career is not going to last forever, therefore I want to do my best everyday and enjoy every moment while I am dancing on stage.”
And, as much as Sarawanee works hard to keep a spot for ballet in her life, she works even harder to do the same for others longing to grace the stage like her. Sarawanee stresses that it has always been tough for Thai dancers pursuing ballet back home, saying she’s “disappointed” that ballet does not have many supporters. And, according to Sarawanee, many Thai dancers have to give up their dancing careers because there were no or limited opportunities for dancers like themselves, unless they were to work outside of Thailand.
With such a predicament at hand and the ability to help change the situation, Sarawanee has made it one of her goals to help ballet, and contemporary performing arts in general, become more exposed to the Thai public. Late last year in Bangkok, her and many renowned Thai artists came together to put on the production of “Remember …What You Have Done in 24 Hours?” Here in the U.S., in 2006, she took part in the modern Thai production of Thailand’s most treasured, national epic, “Ramakien.” The production was named “Ramakien: A Rak Opera,” and it was put on during the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. Sarawanee played the part of Princess Sida.
Though Sarawanee expresses discontent with Thailand’s lag in the “dance scene,” she still feels hopeful.
“I’m hoping that it will grow and people will show more interest in the art.”
Currently, Sarawanee is still working with the American Ballet Theatre in New York.