Charlotte Ballet’s Evelyn Robinson Finds Peace and Strength Through Rock Climbing

May 17, 2024

This is only Evelyn Robinson’s first season at Charlotte Ballet, but it’s one of the biggest in her career: In early May she debuted as Odette/Odile on opening night of the company’s first-ever Swan Lake production. She brought radiant stage presence and refined technique to the dual role—and she lives a double life offstage, too, as a dancer and a rock climber. “People have a hard time believing that I dance all week and go rock climbing on weekends,” says the 22-year-old. In fact, one of the reasons she joined the company is for the easy access to nearby Whiteside Mountain and Stone Mountain. “It’s very therapeutic to get away from the dance world for a little bit,” she says, and adds that the peace she finds outdoors only enhances her dancing.

During a performance of Swan lake, Evelyn Robinson is shown from the thighs up in a white tutu with feathered trim and a feathered headpiece and crown. She looks out, her eyes filled with fear, and touches the left side of her face with the back of her right hand as she pulls her left arm in close to her torso.
Robinson in Swan Lake. Photo by Taylor Jones, courtesy Charlotte Ballet.

The Great Outdoors

After injuring her left knee two years ago, Robinson started climbing in a gym for exercise. Before long, she tested her skills outdoors. “I feel like the purest form of climbing is outside, on actual rock, and I wanted to uphold that tradition,” she says.

During dance season she sticks to smaller climbs, from 20 to 70 feet, but on summer camping trips she goes big-wall climbing—navigating thousands of feet up on craggy, vertical cliff faces, where her flexibility, hand–eye coordination, and leg power are assets. “It feels like a whole-body workout as well as a peaceful way to be out in nature.” For safety, she belays with a partner—both climbers wear a harness with ropes that are clipped to bolts embedded in the rock so they can catch each other if they slip.

Reaching Inner Peace

The mental focus rock climbing requires doubles as active meditation. “Rock climbers talk about the ‘flow state’—once you home in on the climb and just think about the moves, there is a state of mind you reach where nothing else is there,” she says.

“The connection I feel when I’m climbing has transferred into the studio,” she says, and accessing that flow state helped her prepare for her Swan Lake debut. “When we did our first full run-through, I was surprised by how in-touch I was with the story, the music, and the dancers around me. I lost track of how exhausting this ballet is.”

During a performance of Swan Lake, Evelyn Robinson does a first arabesque on pointe towards stage right with her left leg raised. She wears a black tutu with gold trim, and gold tiara, pink tights and pointe shoes. Dancers dressed a nobles sit in the background and watch.
As Odile in Swan Lake. Photo by Taylor Jones, courtesy Charlotte Ballet.

Power Food

Robinson cooks healthy meals using techniques learned from her mother, who is Chinese. “I eat a lot of rice, fish, or tofu, and Chinese vegetables like bok choy. I use the same spices that she has, like oyster sauce.” During dance season—and while out climbing—she keeps her energy steady by snacking on peanut butter, pretzels, and dried fruit.

Regular Maintenance

Along with weekly physical therapy to rehab minor injuries, Robinson cross-trains with cardio, bodyweight exercises, and five-pound hand weights. “You’d be surprised—there is a lot of back and forearm strength that doesn’t affect the lines of ballet. I find the muscularity and the intricacies of the back muscles very beautiful.” She also swears by frequent infrared-sauna sessions at Mood House in Charlotte. “It promotes blood flow and reduces inflammation.”

During a performance onstage, dancer Luke Csordas squats slightly in second position and holds Evelyn Robinson be the waist with his left arm. She reaches forward with her right hand as Csordas touches her wrist with his right hand. She pliés and props her right foot up onto pointe. They both wear brown pleated skirts and mesh tops.
Robinson and Luke Csordas in From Africa With Love by Mthuthuzeli November. Photo by Amber Bliss, courtesy Charlotte Ballet.

Get a Grip: Rock-Climbing Pointers

“Before you start climbing, make sure you have the mechanics down,” Robinson says, “like how you tie in for belaying.” A climbing gym is a great place to learn the essentials before going outside.

Safety is paramount, so Robinson’s must-haves include a first-aid kit, a headlamp, and a helmet. She and her climbing partners also carry Rocky Talkies, two-way radios designed for backcountry use that have a GPS emergency signal. Weather in the wilderness can change quickly, so Robinson, who climbs year-round, packs plenty of layers. “The first time I went climbing was in December, and it was icy and snowing on us.”

Most of all, tune in to your sense of adventure. “A lot of people are scared to try things outside of dance,” she says. “But other passions that bring you joy can strengthen your dancing.”