''Unfortunately complications with the operation lead to a very very slow recovery. I was so frustrated … but also determined and I guess I channeled the resultant energy into the formation and development of my brand/company 'Designed by Alice'. I made ballet skirts in a basement in north London and illustrated my first children's book sitting on my bed. It was a mixture of pure escapism and a very pragmatic survival strategy!''
This particularly wondrous Alice did not fall through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world, however her fantastical adventures are of her own making and her creative flair outside the studios have manifested into establishing her own name sake company that is soaring within and beyond the dance world.
Alice Williamson is now a freelance dancer, illustrator and creative based in London. However her dance career has spun her on a worldly adventure, dancing with The Northern Ballet, Royal Opera, Hong Kong Ballet and Staatsballet in Berlin.
Her brand 'Designed by Alice' grew from a time when she was unfortunately troubled with an injury. While the set back forced her to step out of the ballet studios to recover, it was during this time she discovered a gap in the industry for uniquely crafted ballet skirts. Out of a basement in North London, Alice established her company which kept her creative mind and hands busy while her feet were gradually healing.
Alice's story is very inspiring, her path highlights how unique a dancers life can be if you have the mind set to defy life's lemons into lemonades! In her case building her little niche empire with a dancers touch of tenacity and grace.
'Designed By Alice' (a company run all by herself) now produces the most coveted and best fit ballet skirts worn by dancers all around the world. You can tell when dance apparel has been designed by another dancer - they just understand the dancers practical fit, perfectly.
As her signature skirts took off, her injury healed and Alice's diligence resulted in landing her dream contract with the Staatsballet Company in Berlin. Professional ballet dancer and designer aside, Alice has an array of creative talents under her belt that can make you feel like 'paint by numbers level' next to her. Did I mention she is also an in-house designer for a global toy brand, working on illustrating her own project as well as managing her online company?!
You just need to follow her Instagram account @designedbyalice to see how magical and 'double tappable' her whole story board feeds are...
Earlier this year she flew across the seas to Australia where we wandered and giggled through Melbourne with sneaky collaborative works in between. Being apart of her 'fish project' was super delightful, it is one of my joys to share and experience the collaborative process with artistic visionaries. Check out her 'Fish project' via her Instagram @designedbyalice and her new inspired range in ballet skirts here!
Between the laughter and knuckling down a few creative collaboration sessions together, we chatted all things 'DBA' (Designed by Alice) , ballet politics, power of social media and life after Berlin. There is so much to share about Alice's adventures but I think it is best to have her stories spoken through her words in a Q&A we did together....
A little more about Alice....
1. Tell me about your beginnings, starting from where you grew up and how did you get into ballet?
I grew up in the UK, I’ve always danced, going to ballet class was just formalizing what I already did… supermarket aisles were my favorite, being an especially good floor surface for spinning!
2. Where did you train and what companies have you danced in?
I started my vocational training fairly late. I was 16 years old and I went to Elmhurst school for Dance in the UK. At school I apprenticed with New English contemporary Ballet and upon graduation joined Northern Ballet. I was forced to freelance for a few years after a fairly major operation on my ankle when I was about 20, I wasn’t sure if I get back into pointe shoes... I had a lot of fun amidst the stress however and did the whole ‘commercial’ thing: backing dancing, film, modeling etc… but my highlight from that time was dancing and touring with the Royal Opera. My foot began to sort itself out after a while so I began auditioning for ballet companies again: I moved to Hong Kong, to work with Hong Kong Ballet before suddenly and rather unexpectedly landing my ‘dream job’ with Staatsballet Berlin.
3. How was life in Berlin and dancing for Staatsballett Berlin?
I experienced a lot of things dancing with Staatballet Berlin, some were great, others far from so; It was a rather tumultuous time for the company. But it was wonderful sharing the stage with some truly special dancers, live that ‘ballerina’ dream and our repertoire was varied and interesting!
4. How did Designed by Alice come to life?
Well …I’d only worked professionally for one year before I was faced with a difficult choice to either have surgery my ankle or stop dancing altogether. (I opted for the surgery. I wanted to dance!) Unfortunately complications with the operation lead to a very very slow recovery. I was so frustrated … but also determined and I guess I channeled the resultant energy into the formation and development of my brand/company 'Designed by Alice'. I made ballet skirts in a basement in north London and illustrated my first children's book sitting on my bed! It was a mixture of pure escapism and a very pragmatic survival strategy!
5. Why did you choose to create ballet skirts?
I always struggled to find skirts that looked good, there wasn’t as much dance wear around then, I thought I could do better than what was in the shops. I thought we needed better dance skirts, and there was the opportunity to have fun with print and fabric and cut. I also knew that my skirts were popular. Northern Ballet ( my first company) were already kitted out in a good number of early DBA outfits! They were my test dancers, and they were enthusiastic and discerning! …I had a very obvious product to develop! But I kept the name of my company non specific because I knew I’d want to develop my voice and create a good many other things too!
6. You have generated a huge following on social media and produce beautiful images and stories as well as making your covetable ballet skirts... what is your inspiration for both designing skirts and curating stories?
Social media has been great for me. I really enjoy using it. I can’t believe I was such a reluctant and late joiner! (sorry @patricia you were right!) I‘ve always created things and enjoyed curating stories, Instagram particularly just gave me a platform to share what I did in a more public way. As for inspiration, it’s non specially living I guess, I am a magpie for everything, colours, stories, things, and experiences. I love life and I love communicating and enthusing about the things I see as beautiful/interesting/important to share.
7. How have you been able to juggle both a dancing career and establishing your own creative business?
Dancing was always first. It’s as essential as breathing to me. The creative business side of things grew organically around my dancing career…. as I also have an energetic voice, and a mind that’s interested in all sorts of different things, I didn’t feel satisfied enough ‘only dancing’ so! (I would feel suffocated if I was only able to experience life with half of my senses.) The creative business just followed through naturally …an opportunity arose or an idea needed making and I went for it! Some of the things have been for big names latterly and got great exposure. Some things were just things I really wanted to say, so I made them.
8. What moves you in the ballet world?
9. Describe your studio style & street style?
Simple. Comfortable. I wish I could be a bit wilder with what I wear, but when it comes down to it I want to be able to dance in an outfit and not stand out too much, I rather enjoy observing!
10. What would you not be caught dead in?
Actually quite a few things! Ha, for a low-key dresser I am still quite opinionated!
11. Who is your style icon in which you would swap your wardrobe with?
That’s’ tough, I don’t know Natasha, you should probably tell me. I am more into eras and books… Style wise I reckon I was born in the wrong one, take me back to the 1920’s please. But only for the fashion!
12. Latest obsession?
Seeing the world! Scuba diving! Was that what you meant?! Ha
13. What are your first memories of dance?
My child hood memories are flooded with music and dancing, I loved dressing up and dancing round the house, or garden anywhere really .
14. Why ballet? What lead you to choose such an artistic path?
That requires a very long answer. I am not sure I have it yet! It just was. Is. I have never consciously decided any of it. I like ballet, I like its ‘purity’ although I am increasing drawn to new vocabularies of movement that have may or may not have been drawn from a classical ballet base…
15. Whats the most rewarding part of being a dancer?
The best moments?! The best moments have an uncanny way of overwriting all the trauma and work that lead up to them. The best moments are irreplaceable. When you feel like you are absorbing, giving and living everything to the maximum.
16. The pros & cons of this career?
Haha, That requires another essay! There are a lot of pros. The hugest of course being able to live a dream. It’s a gift and hugely empowering to have loved something, worked so hard to earn it and then achieve. You never stop feeling fortunate in that way.
BUT, there is a huge but. Everything is a balance and the supreme highs have their counterbalance certainly. There are a lot of ‘issues’ in the dance world many people unfortunately often curtail careers, years before they may necessarily want or need to stop from any physical limitations . Many dancers get tired of fighting the ‘system.’ A system that often doesn’t nurture or support Artists in any capacity. Its old fashioned and backward and often ends up relying too heavily on extreme conformity and insecurity and commerciality.
17. Any falls or funny moments on stage you would like to share with us?
YES! I did a spectacular ninja role in a open dress rehearsal for swan lake one time….I was leading the line, slipped on some dry ice, and rather than holding up my fellow swans and get tramped over by a high anxiety flock…I decided that the swiftest action to get from A to B was to roll straight, like a sausage all the way down the stage…I must have done a good few roles before I stood up, perfectly might I add… right on my mark …in swan pose. What a pro!
18. Most memorable time on stage?
My first La Bayadere in the corps de ballet of Staatsballett Berlin. It's slow enough to really enjoy and feel present. It felt so special. So magical. The little girl inside me squealed and cried simultaneously!
19. How do you prepare for a show? Do you have any quirky pre-show rituals or superstitions?
I am fairly random. But I like to arrive early and have a good stretch.
20. You have recently just left Staatsballett Berlin, what are your plans for the near future? Are you enjoying this new found freedom outside the ballet world?
Yes, I can’t believe it was only last summer I left Staatsballet Berlin! I love my newly released wings and the way I can catch and glide any current these days. It’s incredibly exciting, who knows where possibility will lead!
21. What spurred your travels to Australia?
I am very interested in natural history, flora, fauna, and I wanted to learn to scuba and see the Great Barrier Reef! I promised myself in the depths of a Berlin winter that I would go when I left Staatsballet Berlin, so I saved up and I went!
22. Where would you want to be in 10yrs time?
No idea! Hopefully doing something simulating, and having refined and developed some skills and learn’t some more!
Thank you Alice, for letting me share your story and to all the readers I hope you too have been inspired by Alice's adventures! We can't wait to see where 'Designed by Alice' takes us next!
As it was an impromptu street style shoot, I let Alice rummage through my wardrobe and she picks her favorite Maticevski dress from my collection! She could not stop smiling and spinning that afternoon. I guess Maticevksi does that to you!
Photographs taken by myself on Alice's camera!