Ballet academy

The British ballerina is about to graduate from the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow

A 20-year-old ballerina from Northumberland is set to become one of the few British dancers to graduate from the famed Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.

Rachel Armstrong, 20, who grew up in the small village of Bardon Mill, has spent the past three years on a grueling diet at the prestigious Russian school, which has seen her learn Russian and live under the watchful eye of instructors “strict”.

Rachel, who has been dancing since she was six and applied for the Bolshoi aged 17, will complete the £17,000-a-year course at the school later this month.

She plans to apply for positions with ballet companies across Europe, although she admits the pandemic has made it a more difficult prospect.

Rachel said: ‘It’s gone so fast. I feel like I’m not even blinking. I still can’t believe it. It was sometimes very difficult and stressful.

Rachel Armstrong, 20, pictured, has spent the past three years on a grueling diet at the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and is now looking forward to being reunited with her family at Bardon Mill, Northumberland

When she was a child, pictured aged six, Rachel's parents turned their garage into a dance studio so she could practice

When she was a child, pictured aged six, Rachel’s parents turned their garage into a dance studio so she could practice

“I’m so happy to graduate. When I started three years ago, I didn’t know if I would ever get to this point. I still find it hard to believe it happened.

“I’m quite relieved to have come this far to be honest and really can’t wait to get home, but I’m very proud and I know my parents are too.

‘It will be more difficult to find a position because of the Covid, but I will work on my video application when I return home. I am open to living anywhere in Europe and interested in experiencing life outside of Russia.

Rachel studied at Affleck Academy in Gateshead under the tutelage 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 16 after passing her GCSE and studied full-time at Affleck Academy until moving to Russia.

Rachel received her Bolshoi offer just four days after submitting her application. Only seven Britons are thought to have been accepted into the school.

Rachel doing an arabesque.  Her parents hope she will become one of the best ballerinas in the world

Rachel doing an arabesque. Her parents hope she will become one of the best ballerinas in the world

She flew to Moscow in September 2018 with her parents Lisa, 52, a substitute teacher, and Peter, 57, a retired primary school principal.

At the Bolshoi, Rachel shared a dormitory with up to three other dancers.

They practiced ballet from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. before embarking on Russian and other lessons until 6:30 p.m.

Rachel added: “On the weekends, I liked to explore different parts of Moscow. We also went to the theater as much as possible.

Rachel in disguise.  The ballerina will now have her choice of companies to choose from

Rachel doing an arabesque.  The dancer said her apprenticeship had been difficult and stressful, but she was proud to have graduated

Rachel, pictured in costume, left, and doing a spiral, right, said her training had been difficult and stressful but now she will have her choice of companies

Rachel, pictured left, pictured with her fellow dancers at the Bolshoi.  Very few ballerinas have been admitted to the prestigious dance school

Rachel, pictured left, pictured with her fellow dancers at the Bolshoi. Very few ballerinas have been admitted to the prestigious dance school

After three years of hard work, Rachel, pictured, is one of the few British ballerinas to graduate from the prestigious dance institution

After three years of hard work, Rachel, pictured, is one of the few British ballerinas to graduate from the prestigious dance institution

“It’s definitely not a similar experience to going to college. It’s a much more disciplined and controlled environment.

“The people who took care of us were quite strict and we shared dormitories with dancers of different ages.

“It was an overwhelming experience, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and now can’t wait to get home, work on my applications and see my family and friends.”

The ballerina with her father Peter and mother Lisa Armstrong when she was accepted into school in 2018

The ballerina with her father Peter and mother Lisa Armstrong when she was accepted into school in 2018

Rachel with her fellow dancers in Moscow.  The ballerina will soon return home to the UK before leaving for a dance company

Rachel with her fellow dancers in Moscow. The ballerina will soon return home to the UK before leaving for a dance company

Lisa, right, with her fellow dancers and her dance teacher.  Her mum Lisa said Rachel's confidence grew from her time at the academy

Lisa, right, with her fellow dancers and her dance teacher. Her mum Lisa said Rachel’s confidence grew from her time at the academy

Rachel showing her skills.  As well as graduating from one of the best dance schools in the world, the Briton now also speaks Russian.

Rachel showing her skills. As well as graduating from one of the best dance schools in the world, the Briton now also speaks Russian.

Rachel’s mother Lisa added: ‘She behaved incredibly well and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

“Of course, the hope is that she will become one of the best ballerinas in the world, but no one can predict the future.

“She is very determined and has learned a lot during her absence. She was very shy, but has gained a lot of self-confidence and she now wants to discover other countries.

“She can speak Russian because all of her lessons were in the language and she says she sometimes has trouble thinking 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 succeed

Pictured: Rachel in costume with two of her fellow dancers at the Academy. Lisa said her daughter was determined to succeed