“As soon as I started ballet I loved it; asthma didn’t stop me.”

Scottish Ballet’s prima ballerina, Constance Devernay was diagnosed with asthma when she was 2 and started on her brilliant ballet journey at just 5 years old…

Constance portrait“It was hard on my parents when I had asthma attacks as a child but they always encouraged me to keep fit. I tried horse riding, but I was allergic to horses so I did ballet instead. My ballet teacher never let asthma hold me back.

“I used to think I wouldn’t get past the auditions because I had asthma. But I got through – I was 15 years old when I moved to London and by the time I was 16 I was at the English National Ballet School.

“When I’m dancing I feel free. The stage is home, and ballet is my comfort zone. My favourite roles have been Odette in Swan Lake, and Cinderella. If I’m tired I keep going – what motivates me is knowing how good it feels when I’m at my peak performance. I was promoted to principal dancer last year so that really motivates me too!

Ballet fitness and staminaConstance D in rehearsal

“There’s a stereotype that ballet is not athletic but actually you need to be very fit and have a lot of stamina.  At first, I found the cardio training difficult – I’d go running with my father and he had to keep stopping because I was so slow. But I’ve built up my fitness and now it’s me that has to stop and wait for him!

“I am currently rehearsing the role of the fairy in The Fairy’s Kiss, which is a very challenging work in terms of stamina and technique, but I am absolutely loving it and I am very much looking forward to performing it as part of our autumn tour.  

Taking asthma seriously

“When I moved to Scotland at 17 I knew I had to take my asthma very seriously, especially with the colder weather. I make sure I don’t train outside when it’s cold and dry; I use the gym instead.

“I’ve had a couple of asthma attacks on stage – luckily, it’s only been in rehearsal but it was still frightening for everyone. If they use a dry ice smoke machine, I get short of breath. I have a bag with my inhaler in and the stage manager knows where everything is so I can get help quickly.

“We do a lot of touring all over the world, so it’s great when we get a day of rest after travelling. It helps my body adjust to the new climate – China was difficult because it was warm and smoggy, which made my asthma worse. I find yoga helps me deal with the stress of performing. It also helps with my breathing, and pacing myself on stage.

“Regular asthma reviews help me to look after my asthma well – so I have a lot fewer attacks now than when I was younger. My GP knows I need to train a lot and encourages me to keep fit and active. I know what I’m capable of, and what my limits are, and I use my reliever if I need to. On a good day, I don’t notice my asthma at all.

“I think it’s important to keep active when you have asthma. Being active keeps your body healthy, but also your mind. I’d tell anyone with asthma who wants to do ballet don’t be afraid, just try it and see how it feels. It’s about building up slowly. As long as it feels good, it is good – for me it’s like a mental transformation.”   

Whether you’re dreaming of being a dancer, or just want to keep fit, find out more about how to stay active when you have asthma.