From Dromore to the Royal Ballet stage

Growing up in Dromore, Co Down, Melissa Hamilton had the same dream as many little girls, to become a ballet dancer.

And after many years of hard work, that dream became a reality when she joined the world renowned Royal Ballet at the age of 18.

Melissa began dancing at the Jennifer Bullick School of Ballet at the age of four but then it was just a hobby. She stayed in Northern Ireland for her GCEs at Banbridge Academy before taking up a prestigious scholarship at the age of 16 at Elmhurst School of Dance in Birmingham. “Most dancers join the Junior School at 11 and dance every day,” explained Melissa. “That is what is expected for a dancer. So when I joined at 16 I was incredibly far behind in comparison with everyone else.”

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But she didn’t let that stop her and after two years of dedication she went to Athens to train with the former Bolshoi ballet star, Masha Mukhamedov. “I had a ten month crash course in ballet in a tiny studio in Athens,” continued Melissa. “I won the Youth American Grand Prix and as part of that there was a contract with American Ballet Theatre in New York. But I couldn’t envisage my life in New York. I always envisaged my life at the Royal Ballet as it is the epitome of the place to be for a British dancer. My teacher sent a DVD of class work and solo work to the Royal Ballet and after a class with them they offered me a place in the corps de ballet on the spot. I had never even set foot in the Opera House or seen the Royal Ballet perform live. I had no idea what was about to come.”

Melissa Hamilton in Manon. Photographed by Alice Pennefather

However, with lots of hard work, Melissa’s career sky rocketed and in 2013 she was appointed as the company’s First Soloist.

Over the years Melissa has performed in many iconic roles, including the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker. “Every role is incredible and a different experience,” she explained. “A particular favourite would be Manon and probably my career highlight would be dancing Juliet. I have had some incredible things happen in my career that I could never have dreamt about. I even did a video for Elton John and was his Tiny Dancer on screen when he performed in Vegas.”

Now Melissa is back in Northern Ireland to perform on the stage of the Grand Opera House in Belfast on November 8 and 9 with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and she is delighted to return home: “As a professional this will be my debut in Belfast,” she continued. “It will be a real homecoming for me. I will also be performing a piece I have never danced before with a new partner and I have been invited by the Birmingham Royal Ballet as a guest so there will be lots of firsts.”

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Melissa Hamilton in Manon. Photographed by Alice Pennefather