When she performs with Boston Ballet II, 20-year-old Rachel Cossar stands out for her spectacular extensions and her utter fearlessness. But few would guess that she owes both to an unlikely kind of training: Cossar was, until last year, a world-class rhythmic gymnast.
Cossar started studying “regular” (artistic) gymnastics when she was very young, but soon it was clear that she would be too tall to compete successfully. Her coaches steered her towards rhythmic gymnastics, which involves the manipulation of various devices (ribbons, hoops and balls among them), requires incredible flexibility and incorporates aspects of dance—including ballet. Cossar began taking ballet classes and immediately felt an affinity for the artform. “I noticed that routines with the ball—which are often set to classical ballet music—were my favorites,” she says.
Cossar was a member of the Canadian national rhythmic gymnastics team for 10 years. But at 19—when she was ranked third on the team—she decided to retire. Ballet was calling her. She began auditioning for companies, ultimately securing a spot at BBII. Today she continues to train and also teaches at Rhythmic Dreams gym in Boston.
Cossar is thankful for the steely confidence that comes out of years of high-level competition. “To get on that carpet in front of a panel of judges—that’s incredibly stressful,” she says. “It’s made it easier for me to feel comfortable onstage.” But she doesn’t miss the pressures of competition. “I love that ballet isn’t about winning; it’s about giving the audience joy.”