Iana Salenko

Iana Salenko - Principal Dancer With Berlin State Ballet and Zarely Role Model

Iana Salenko - Principal Dancer With Berlin State Ballet / Guest – The Royal Ballet


Some call it luck. Some say it’s talent. I feel it’s a bit of both, as well as a lot of hard work. My life gives me everything a ballet dancer could dream of — being a principal dancer in many prestigious dance companies, and having the opportunity to dance roles that fulfill you.

To make it to the top in the ballet world one usually finds stories filled of sweat and tears.  My story is a bit different.  I feel grateful to the people who enabled me to achieve what I have today. One could almost say it all happened effortlessly.

As a child of a mid-class family with five other siblings residing in Kyiv, I grew up trying to fulfill the expectations and hopes of both of my parents. My mom wanted me to have a “serious job”, such as becoming a doctor, while my dad was the one who inspired me to dance.  He told me his dream was for me to dance for a queen one day.

Iana Salenko - Principal Dancer With Berlin State Ballet and Zarely Role Model

Who would have thought that after starting ballet at age 12 (which was believed to be two years too late by many of my teachers) that I would be able to win first place at a major competition after only one year of training?  By 14 I moved to Donetsk to continue training at the Pisarev Ballet School, and by 15 my professional career took off at full speed.  Pisarev told me, “Enough of learning, time to work,” and I became his dance partner in many leading roles.

I have immeasurable love for ballet — I suppose that is why I feel happiest when I am dancing from dusk until dawn.  I think this passion is what enabled me to win first place at Kyiv competition, to get a contract with Kyiv Opera House, as well as receive a lot of media attention.  Gaining this type of fame so quickly is very difficult for most people; however, for me it was unimportant. In fact, even though I gained so much so quickly, I still felt that I wanted more.  I needed to find even more ways to challenge myself to continue growing.

Iana Salenko - Principal Dancer With Berlin State Ballet and Zarely Role Model

This desire for growth lead me to travel the world in order to participate in different international competitions, from which I was bringing home gold medals.  Competitions helped me grow as a dancer, but they also unexpectedly changed my personal life. During one of these competitions I met the love of my life.  

I have lived in Berlin for over 10 years now, and my husband and I have a wonderful child.  My son is seven years old, and I am so proud of him.  Who knows, he may even make my mother’s dream come true by becoming a doctor one day!  

Iana Salenko - Principal Dancer With Berlin State Ballet and Zarely Role Model

I am so happy and grateful for what ballet has enabled me to do with my life.  I have even been able to fulfill my father’s dream that I dance for a queen. Dreams can come true!

However, what really keeps me going every day is the desire to help my family back in Ukraine in this difficult socio-economic reality of the country.  I am so grateful to all the professionals and people who supported my growth that I want to give back helping more people from my home country. This is my Zarely drive - to give back.

Photos by Dean Barucija