The word triple-threat doesn’t seem adequate enough to describe Emma Dumont. From musical theatre productions as a young girl (she sings! She acts!), she eventually found her way to the silver screen. Her most prolific role to date has been that of the lanky, loyal Melanie Segel in ABC’s Bunheads, a delectable Amy Sherman-Palladino confection about ballet dancers in the small town of Paradise (she dances too!). Emma’s dancing sufficiently impressed the renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy and she was offered a place to train full-time at the St Petersburg school. It was an offer of a lifetime she had to pass up due to her acting and – wait for it – modelling commitments.
Because besides being an accomplished actress and dancer, Emma has also trotted down the runways of New York Fashion Week, and graced the pages of glossies such as V Magazine and Elle. And no, it doesn’t stop there. She is also an accomplished builder of robots, a roller derby girl and plays two musical instruments. She probably has a couple more talents up her sleeve that we don’t know about.
Triple threat? More like octuple.
We’d probably be jealous of her prolific list of abilities if she weren’t so likeable. Emma has a great sense of humour, and a good heart – we first came in contact with Emma when she generously lent her support to our fundraising drive for Bolshoi teacher Vasily Vorokhobko. We couldn’t put her in our Burn Book even if we tried. With her new dance-related movie, Starving in Suburbia, coming out this week, we were pleased to have the chance to find out more about the prodigious Miss Emma.
C&V SESSIONS WITH EMMA DUMONT
We always start with this question: what did you have for breakfast?
This morning I had oatmeal with a sprinkle of brown sugar and a big cup of coffee.
What do you wish you had for breakfast instead, if anything?
If I could eat anything for breakfast, I would probably have crepes. I just don’t know how to make them.
You dabbled in a lot of dance styles as a young girl – jazz, tap, African dance, why did you eventually decide to focus on ballet?
I love all dance styles. I think dance is a type of expression that can go far beyond speaking. My focus has turned more towards ballet, simply because it’s my favorite style. There is something especially beautiful about ballet. It’s magic, women up on their toes with such grace. Ballet appears effortless, even though we’re all actually bleeding through our tights.
We understand that you started as a child model, and modelling is something you still do. Do you have any recollection how you and your parents got you started down that path?
I started modeling when I was pretty young. I grew up doing catalogue work and runway shows in Seattle, Washington. My mum’s good friend is a makeup artist and she recommend getting me into modeling when I was three or four. Then when I was 13 I was scouted by a modeling agent on a bus. I started traveling for work when I was 14 and the rest is history.
How did you find eventually your way into acting?
I always loved acting, but I was more drawn to theater. I did a lot of musical theater growing up and eventually found my way into a few indie films. My old manager saw me in one of the films I did and wanted to arrange a meeting after he returned from a trip to Tokyo. It just so happened, I was in Tokyo too. Around 16 I moved to Los Angeles and booked an NBC/Fox Pilot and then Bunheads on ABC Family.
Of course, one of your most prolific roles to date was as Melanie in Bunheads, which we absolutely adored! Between the acting and the ballet, did you feel it was one of those roles that was perfectly suited to you? What was the audition process like?
The audition process for Bunheads was very different from anything I had ever experienced. For every acting audition we had, there was a dance portion. We either performed 60 seconds of classical ballet or went to separate dance audition. Melanie was definitely a fun role to play. I’d like to think she suited me well, but I really just had a ball getting to dance everyday at work.
Your character in Bunheads eventually took up roller derby, a sport which you do in real life. Was this a coincidence, or did the writers deliberately incorporate this into the plot because of you?
I think everyone on the show knew I did roller derby, so I definitely think that’s why it was put in the script. We actually shot all the derby footage at the Los Angeles Derby Dolls track, which is where I skated in real life.
Do your ballet teachers frown upon the roller skating for fear of injury?
I don’t think any of them are too worried. Injury scares me more than anyone else, for both ballet and derby.
How were Sutton Foster’s ballet skills?
Sutton Foster has great feet! I always told her how jealous I was of her insteps. She’s a fantastic dancer and was always so fun in class.
Do you think she can get you into one of her Broadway shows in the future?
I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a Broadway show with Sutton, but being in the audience is pretty amazing.
What was your favourite dance from Bunheads?
I loved “Oh So Quiet”. It was super fun and crazy. It incorporated ballet and jazz together, which was super cool.
Did you get to keep anything from the set?
A lot of smelly, dead pointe shoes.
Tell us about your favourite memory/memories from working on Bunheads.
The whole experience went by super fast. I think meeting all the talented dancers on set was probably the best part for me.
Besides acting, modelling, roller derby and ballet, you also build robots, play the viola and are an honor student. Many people would find just doing one of these activities to be pretty taxing. You not only do all these things, but you’re pretty good at them! HOW on earth do you do it?
I truly love doing everything that I do. They are all very important to me, so I just make the time. Sometimes I do wish there were more hours in the day though.
Do you ever get any downtime? Or never mind that, do you even have time to sleep?
No sleep, but I do get some downtime. I love stretching my feet and watching ballet videos or going to the theater.
Do you have any other talents that we haven’t listed down?
Nothing else that I can think of, but I am learning piano and Russian right now.
What’s a typical day like for you, if there is such a thing?
There are no typical days. Each is very different from the one before.
How many hours of ballet do you train a week?
Right now I can only do about 11 or 12 hours a week.
What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses as a ballet dancer?
I would say my main strength is my extension. I’m lucky to have naturally long and flexible legs. Though, that’s probably my biggest weakness too. I’m hypermobile in my joints, so I have to work very hard to build and retain strength.
You had a chance to attend the Bolshoi summer program last year. What was the experience like?
My time at Bolshoi this past summer, was one of the most amazing and fulfilling experiences for me. Russian ballet is very different from what we have here in the States. It was the best training I’ve ever had, and so much fun.
Which summer intensive will you be attending this year?
This year I have a lot on my plate in Los Angeles. I’m staying in town and taking class under Stefan Wenta.
You had to turn down a full-time place in the Bolshoi academy because of your other commitments to modelling and acting. You’ve got so many directions you can go with your career – where do you think the ballet will fit in?
I will always make a place for ballet in my life. Right now, I am super busy with other things, but ballet will always consume a part of me. Whether that be in a company or squeezing in class after work, it will always be there.
Are you concerned that there may come a time when you will have to choose between ballet and modelling/acting? Not so much that you will have to give up ballet, but that you won’t be able to pursue it as seriously as you’d like to due to your other commitments?
Sometimes I do worry about not being able to do as much ballet as I want. I could never give it up though, it’s part of who I am. Hopefully there will never be a time where I have to choose one thing over the other. I don’t know if I would ever be happy without dance.
You have a new movie coming out, called Starving in Suburbia, about a dancer who falls into an eating disorder. What else can you tell us about it? What character do you play?
I play the lead’s best friend, also a dancer. Starving in Suburbia tells a very dark, real story. It delves into the rawest parts of an eating disorder and a girl’s struggle to stay healthy.
Restrictive eating is an illnesses that unfortunately seems synonymous with classical ballet, not in small part due to the fact that slender, lean bodies tend to be favoured in female dancers. Do you think this will change anytime soon?
I don’t know if the ‘ballet body type’ will ever change. I think many American dancers are definitely breaking certain molds. But it’s similar to wondering if there will ever be short basketball players or tall gymnasts.
In your personal experience, are eating disorders a scarce or more commonplace problem in ballet?
I don’t think eating disorders are any more common is ballet than they are other places. I’ve found that dancers are actually very healthy. They have to be to make it through all three acts of Sleeping Beauty.
What other projects do you have coming up? We’d love to know!
I just wrapped an NBC pilot [Salvation with Ashley Judd], which was super fun. We filmed in Texas.
Starving in Suburbia premiers on Lifetime on the 26th of April, at 8pm.
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