She Could Have Become Ski Star But Chose Very Different Path To Stardom

…She could have been among the best skiers at the world stage by now, with stadiums roaring her name. Instead she chose a different stage entirely…

A few years ago Johanna Albertsson was among the most promising young skiers not only in her native Sweden, but, by extension, in the entire elite youth skiing.

Because you don’t get invited to Sollefteå Skidgymnasiet , one the best teach & train institutions of its kind in the world, unless you are extremely good. Quick fact: Ebba Andersson and Frida Carlsson, cross country skiing biggest young stars, are both Sollefteå ski high school alumni.

But Johanna had chosen a different path. At the age of 17 she stored her skis and moved to pursue a different career – that of a professional dancer.

Photo courtesy of Matilda Westberg @mwestbergs

Nowadays Ms. Albertsson, 21, is a student of prestigious KhiO, The Academy of Dance in Oslo, Norway
We talk to her about her days in Sollefteå, how tough skiing regimen prepared her for the Academy, definitions of success in skiing and contemporary dancing – and pretty much everything in-between.

Johanna was born in Stugun, Jämtland County, Sweden – the town of 659 inhabitants and infinite ski/run trails around

…. I grew up doing both: dancer a bit, and skier a lot. The skiing have always been the ”main activity”. We were living some 50 km from Östersund where the closest dance studio was – and our incredible parents had to drive me and my little sister to the studio, to wait for us and then to drive us home. It was a big effort, one could only do that so many times a week.

…The skiing was different. I could actually put my Fischers on outside of our door and the properly prepared ski trail starts less than 100 meters from there. My mum hade been active skier in her youth, so she was our first coach. It felt natural that I carried on skiing – and I got better and better at that.

…But I never stopped dreaming of dancing….

Photo courtesy of Matilda Westberg @mwestbergs

Sollefteå Skidgymnasiet was great – I really liked It there. For me it was the place I got to know people more, a ”lone wolf” as I could sometimes be. We soon became close with Ebba (Andersson), a friendship I’m glad we have kept since, even though I’m not a pro-skier any longer and she is the world famous one. And that says something about her as well!

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Johanna and Ebba. Old friends who chose different …trails?

= Friendly atmosphere sure helps. What else makes Sollefteå such a “forge to cast new champs”? =

– Most important thing is that the coaches are really committed to their work – so a lot of cred goes to them!
I also think that the town of Sollefteå is what we call in Sweden ”lagom” – sufficient, adequate place to host a Skidgymnasiet. It’s not a big town but it’s not a small village either. There are great training facilities and everything you need to live and train is pretty close to each other.

Sollefteå Skidgymnasiett training camp. Johanna on the left, Ebba second on the right, first row

= So, you liked it at the Skidgymnasiet, you made good friends and your skiing career looked promising – but suddenly you leave it all behind…=

I always knew that I had to choose between skiing and dancing one day, and eventually that day came. I got accepted into a well-known dance school in Stockholm, House of Shapes. And I sort of knew that that was it. So I just packed my bags, said goodbye to coaches and friends and moved to Stockholm. I was 17. My brain said it was stupid, unprepared, hasty. But my heart said: Do it anyway! And so I did.

– == You do jazz dance. The website of your academy describes it as being “characterized by its specific physical style”. In other words, it’s physically demanding. Did the skiing “base” help? ==

– Skiing has helped a lot! I came from a very physical sport, so my dance is characterized by it. I love it when the dance is strong, explosive and includes a lot of movements , jumps, throws etc. You have to be in perfect shape to perform at the top level – and that’s what I got from skiing. I would not been the dancer I am today without that skiing background. I also use what I’ve learned back then when raining on the side of dance practice as well.
But there is more. When I switched to dance I very soon realized that my skiing background is of great help not only in physical sense, but psychologically as well. I have always been a goal-oriented, almost stubborn as I grew up and competing in cross country skiing sure solidified that . Now I took that ”competing-brain” with me into the dancing.

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– =How does your skiing days training compare to what you have to do in contemporary dance on daily basis?=

What they have in common is that the day is filled with training. The difference is how we train. As a skier, you are really physical for a couple of hours, then have a break to rest and then have a couple of hours in the afternoon. Then your’re done and reload for the next day. You make a plan for A1, A2 and A3 zones and strength training and and mix them at its best. In dance, its more spread out, so its often long days. Now at a school like Khio, we start at 9 am. And quite often I’m hitting the gym for some strength training before. Then we have two 1,5 hour sessions with a 15 minute breaks in-between, before we have a lunch break. It varies, but the basic is either Jazz + Ballet or Modern + Ballet. And that is, to speak in ski terms, comparable to A2 or sometimes, A3 training. Ballet is more of a strength and tecnique form of training.
At Skidgymnasiet I’ve trained, perhaps, up to 15-16 hours per week – that was my first junior year. I have more hours spent training now then when I was an active skier – it’s around 20-25 hours a week, but then again, it’s something different. And I’m also a bit older now.

– == You grew up in ” quiet parts” of Sweden – how are you taking that contrast with bustling Stockholm and now Oslo?==

I am a person really close to my roots. So I’m homesick a lot I long for the forest, the fjäll, the hunting, making coffee outside and making a fire to sit by. So I figured that I want to use that homesickness for something. I want to take the dance out of the stage and into the Scandinavian nature. To launch a dance company that makes videos that reflects the Nordic natural phenomena : Northern Lights, Fjällvidd ( mountain peak), Urskog ( wild, virgin forest) , Fjord, Eld ( open fire) etc. and work with that. To make my mark. But that’s for later!

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– = You ever put yourself back on skis?=

Just did Janteloppet’s 30k together with Ebba (Johanna’s time was 1:49:30 – some 30 minutes behind the winner, her friend Ebba Andersson, but well ahead of most participants)

Johanna at the start of Janteloppet 30K

Holmenkollen in Oslo is a pretty good spot for a former skier to spend Sunday. Another reason I love Norway with the nature, their ”brunost on waffels” and their love for the cross country sport. So I really liked the opportunity to be able to do my dance studies here.

– What’s next in your career?

Right now my plan is to graduate from Khio and begin working as a professional dancer. . My immediate goal, my motivation is to get a job with the Iceland Dance Company. That would be so inspiring! Eventually I really want to start a dance company of my own.

The life as a dancer is really unpredictable. It is not like in skiing: if you’re the first over the finish line, you win. Its a lot of other aspects that play part. Auditions, where people choose whom they want. You might have had a really good round and still don’t make it to the next cut because of your length, your style or because the choreograph wants something else. One year you may have a musical job in Stockholm, working days and nights, and then you suddenly have nothing for three months and take/teach classes instead. Then out of nowhere you might get a job on tour around Europe or USA. Or you make something on your own. So it’s hard to compare to skiing in that way. But if you are good, there often is a lot of travelling for sure – just like in skiing!

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