Cinderella: An Empowering Heroine

Dancer Emma Hawes finds inspiration in the ever-popular ballet
By Madalina Hubert
Madalina Hubert
Madalina Hubert
November 9, 2016 Updated: October 14, 2018

TORONTO—Emma Hawes still remembers seeing “Cinderella” as a little girl at BalletMet in Ohio where she grew up and thinking that she would love to dance that part one day.

She fulfilled her dream. This month, she makes her debut as Cinderella in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of the ballet by the same name.

“It’s such a rewarding ballet to dance because there’s so much girth in this character and there’s so much integrity … you feel really satisfied by the end of doing a full run,” she says.

Hawes says this ballet is not a two-dimensional representation of the story—it’s not about a pretty girl who gets rescued, but rather there are many layers that Canadian choreographer James Kudelka has put in for the audience to discover.

“First and foremost, Cinderella never acts as though she is a victim,” says Hawes, who notes the character has strong core values and a kind heart that carry her through adversity.  “I think she really is the inciting force in all this magic that comes into her life.”

The dancer sees Cinderella as a character that many people, including herself, aspire to be.

“I think we all aim to create our own happiness, we all aim to not let ourselves become victims of life and all the unfortunate things that come with it.  I think it’s a refreshing and inspiring way to try to live,” she says.

“It’s easy for any of us to fall into the trap of feeling like ‘everyone is out to get me and there’s nothing I can do about this, these are just bad things that are happening to me.’ I think that there really is a lot of power in avoiding that mindset and just doing your very best to see the positive in everything and make the best of it—to keep your chin up and keep going even if things are not great.  That’s something I personally aspire to in my own life.”

It’s such a rewarding ballet to dance because there’s so much girth in this character and there’s so much integrity.
— Emma Hawes

As a dancer in the demanding world of professional ballet, Hawes knows she can’t let herself be overcome by negativity, although at times that’s easier said than done.

“You are constantly under criticism—that’s just the nature of it. You’re the vessel for telling a story or creating movement, so you’re at the beck and call of whoever’s in charge, so it’s constantly taxing on your confidence when what you’re so used to hearing are corrections and criticisms,” she says.

But she finds the qualities inherent in the character of Cinderella inspiring and uplifting.

“I think it’s a really valuable idea that this character promotes that you have it all—you have all the light and the goodness and the confidence within you. You inspire yourself. You don’t need to be inspired by someone else, and hopefully that light within you can inspire those around you.”

Emma Hawes (Sian Richards)
Emma Hawes (Sian Richards)

Love of ballet

Hawes can’t pinpoint exactly when she fell in love with ballet, but remembers that every time she would see a performance or hear the music, she would get chills and have an incredible urge to go onstage and put her own stamp on the role.

Today, she says she still gets moved when she watches dance, and feels that this has been the best means for her to express herself.  “I feel so lucky to have found an art form that really feels like my voice.”

For Hawes, dancing ballet sometimes takes on a very special feeling of transcending the ordinary when she feels as if she’s saying exactly what she is trying to say, when the steps are exactly right, and when she is sincerely communicating with the audience.

“You completely lose yourself. You feel like more of a vessel for a message or for a feeling than a human, which is something that I don’t think a lot of people get to experience,” she says.

“Or maybe they do in one way or another. Maybe everyone has their own thing that makes them feel that way, but I just feel so lucky to be able to do that for a living.”

The National Ballet of Canada’s production of “Cinderella” runs Nov. 12-20 at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. For more information, visit: