A 20-year-old ballerina from Northumberland will become one of the few British dancers to graduate from the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.
Rachel Armstrong, 20, who grew up in the small village of Bardon Mill, has endured a grueling regimen at the prestigious Russian school for the past three years, learning Russian and living under the watchful eye of “strict” instructors.
Rachel, who has been dancing since she was six and applied to the Bolshoi at age 17, will complete the £17,000-a-year course later this month at the school.
She plans to apply for positions with ballet companies across Europe, although she admits the pandemic has made it a more challenging prospect.
Rachel said, “It’s gone so fast. I feel like I didn’t even blink. I still can’t believe it. It was sometimes very hard and stressful.
Rachel Armstrong, 20, pictured, has endured a grueling regimen at Moscow’s prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy for the past three years and now looks forward to reuniting with her family at Bardon Mill, Northumberland
When she was a kid, pictured at age six, Rachel’s parents converted their garage into a dance studio so she could practice
‘I’m so glad I graduated. When I started three years ago, I didn’t know if I would ever get that far. I still have trouble believing this happened.
“I’m really relieved that I’ve come this far to be honest and I’m really looking forward to going home, but I’m very proud, and I know my parents are too.
“Because of Covid it will be more difficult to find a job, but when I get home I will be busy with my video application. I am open to living anywhere in Europe and interested in life elsewhere than in Russia.’
Rachel studied at the Affleck Academy in Gateshead under the supervision of Hilda Affleck. Her parents, Peter and Lisa, turned her garage into a studio so she could practice ballet at home.
She left school at the age of 16 after receiving her GCSEs and studied full-time at Affleck Academy until she left for Russia.
Rachel received her offer to the Bolshoi just four days after she sent an application. It is thought that only seven Britons were ever admitted to the school.
Rachel does an arabesque. Her parents hope she will become one of the world’s best ballerinas
She flew to Moscow in September 2018 with her parents Lisa, 52, a teacher, and Peter, 57, a retired primary school principal.
At the Bolshoi, Rachel shared a dormitory with up to three other dancers.
They trained in ballet from 9am to 10:30am before starting Russian and other classes until 6:30pm.
Rachel added: ‘On the weekends I enjoyed exploring different parts of Moscow. We would also go to the theater as much as possible.
Rachel, pictured in costume, left, and doing arabesque, right, said her training had been tough and stressful, but she will now have her choice of companies
Rachel, pictured on the left, pictured with her fellow dancers in the Bolshoi. Very few ballerinas have been admitted to the prestigious dance school
After three years of intensive work, Rachel, pictured, is one of the few British ballerinas to graduate from the prestigious dance institution
‘It is certainly not a comparable experience to going to university. It is a much more disciplined and controlled environment.
“The people who looked after us were quite strict and we shared dormitories with dancers of different ages.
“It was an overwhelming experience, but I enjoyed it immensely and now I look forward to going home, working on my applications and seeing my family and friends.”
The ballerina with her father Peter and mother Lisa Armstrong when she was admitted to school in 2018
Rachel with her fellow dancers in Moscow. The ballerina will soon be returning to the UK before leaving for a dance company
Lisa, right, with her fellow dancers and dance teacher. Her mom Lisa said Rachel’s confidence grew thanks to her time at the academy
Rachel shows off her skills. In addition to graduating from one of the world’s leading dance schools, the Brit now also speaks Russian
Rachel’s mother Lisa added: ‘She has done an incredible job and we couldn’t be more proud of her.
‘Of course the hope is that she will become one of the world’s best ballerinas, but no one can predict the future.
“She is very determined and has learned so much in her absence. She was very shy, but has grown a lot in self-confidence and is now eager to experience other countries.
“She speaks Russian because all her classes were in the language and she says she sometimes finds it difficult to think of the English word because she’s so used to it.”
Pictured: Rachel in costume with two of her fellow dancers at the Academy. Lisa said her daughter was determined to make it big