Mary Helen Bowers: Brilliant Ballerina behind Natalie Portman in Black Swan

At 16 years old, professional ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers earned the opportunity to join the New York City Ballet. Ms. Bowers went on to perform at Lincoln Center and around the world. It was a dream come true for the ballerina. Today, she is excited to see a younger generation interested in ballet, thanks in part to the movie Black Swan – currently in theaters nationwide. Mary trained Natalie Portman in the ballet techniques the actress displayed in the film.

“It was really a dream come true and so I just feel very fortunate to have had that experience…One of the things that I think is really interesting and cool to see with Black Swan is how excited people are and particularly a younger generation about ballet with this movie. I think that’s something that’s always a challenge, is getting a new fresh audience excited about what’s really a much older more classic art. That’s just been really neat to see and I think it’s got a long ways to go and many more people to bring into the art and get excited about it and explore it in new ways.”

The world of a ballet dancer is very much like that of a player in the NFL or the NBA. There is a limited amount of roster spots for aspiring ballerinas. Ms. Bowers believes it is as difficult now as it was for her when she was asked to become a professional at 16 years of age.

“The thing with ballet is that, it’s really like being a professional athlete and there’s just a limited number of really great professionals, ballet companies, particularly here in the states. Getting a spot in a company like the New York City Ballet where you’re dancing in Lincoln Center and have access to that incredible repertoire and all of the beautiful choreography and people that you get to work with, it’s really an honor to dance there and I’m sure it’s as difficult now as it was when I was being asked to join.”

Getting Natalie Portman ready for her ballet role in Black Swan was no easy task. Ms. Bowers gave CYInterview the step by step process of what it took to teach ballet to Ms. Portman. Mary says ballet dancers have a very specific body type, which was important so Natalie could pull off the role, among other things.

“We started about a year before the film went into production. Initially we were doing about two hours a day, a combination of my ballet beautiful exercises and ballet class and choreography. Then at about six months before the movie, we went into a much more intensive training. The idea behind the training with Natalie for the film was pretty simple. She’s playing a professional ballerina in the film and a woman who is chosen to play the swan queen in the company’s production.

So we wanted to make sure that we were taking care of sculpting her body, to make sure that she looks like a ballerina physically because there’s such specific physical markers for ballet dancers. The muscle shapes are very different. Also make sure that number two, she was able to move and dance beautifully and very comfortable with the choreography because she does a lot of dancing in the film. So it was transforming her body to make it very specific for ballet. Natalie has always had a great body. She’s always had a beautiful great figure, but a ballet dancer has a very specific body shape, getting her technique improved and strengthened and getting her on point for the first time so that she would really be able to excel at the choreography, which you see in her performance in the movie.”

With Natalie’s acting career progressing, Bowers believes the Harvard educated Ms. Portman could’ve been a professional ballet dancer if she had wanted to be.

“Natalie is a beautiful dancer. She’s very gifted. I think that’s one of the reasons why we were able to come so far with her in our training. A year is a long time to train very intensively for a role, but if you consider that ballet dancers spend 10, 15 years building up to that same point, I think what she accomplished in a year on top of her regular life, she was working on other movies and other sets and training additionally with me for many hours a day. That was pretty incredible. So she really was leading the life of a ballerina on top of her regular life as an actress.”

Listen to the entire Mary Helen Bowers CYInterview:

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On Mary Helen Bower’s website,, people can take online ballet classes and dance sessions. This concept came about when Ms. Bowers had to go train Natalie in Los Angeles. She had clients in New York that she didn’t want to lose, so they continued to train online. Mary hopes to reach many people across the world with her ballet beautiful training and dance sessions. You can find more about her and the training regimen on her website.

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