“Whole Dancer” Feature : New York City Ballet Corps Dancer Jackie Bologna

Hi dancers! My name is Jackie Bologna and I am beyond excited to write a post for a platform as special as the Whole Dancer.  It is so vital to find communities that encourage you and share tips to make your training and career a positive experience and I truly believe that Jess is cultivating that with the Whole Dancer.

Jackie Bologna Ballet
photo by Rachel Neville

I am about to finish my third year in the Corps at New York City Ballet and I can finally say that I have found my own mental clarity and balance this year.  The jump from the school to company life was challenging in so many unexpected ways.

When I received my apprenticeship I was 17 years old and still living in the dorms at The School of American Ballet.  During my first couple of years in the company I had a lot of ups and downs.

Early in my first year in the corps I had to deal with my first serious injury.

Maybe the most challenging was figuring out how to navigate rest and cross training with our long and difficult hours, and probably the most important step for me was learning how to mentally adjust to the stress of what is expected of you in company life.

Up until this year I let the stress of trying to look perfect for the stage really negatively affect my life.  I was not in a good place mentally or physically and I found myself focusing on everything that was wrong in my life.  It was draining and exhausting in many ways and I constantly felt like a failure.

Although there were times when I wondered if I needed a drastic change in my life, like a break from dance, I never truly considered it a real option.

I started off the year reaching out to Jess and signing up for The Whole Dancer Program, which really set the ball rolling for some important changes that I didn’t even know I needed to make. After talking to Jess and doing a little bit of soul searching, something shifted by the time Nutcracker rolled around in the Fall.

Lilac Fairy Attendants
photo by Paul Kolnik

I had also just spent a few weeks off at home with my family and my niece was born.  I started going to church again and rekindling my relationship with God.  I realized how lucky I was to have a healthy and loving family and that if nothing else I should be happy for that reason.

I started writing down things I was grateful for every morning when our season started again and I realized that it made a huge difference in how I viewed my day and myself.  In fact, I started to think less about myself, and more about what a gift it was to be in the room with the extremely talented artists I work with every day.

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Taking the focus away from my internal struggles gave me the clarity I needed to remember how much I truly LOVE performing. 

It was also around Nutcracker that I started listening to the Bulletproof Podcast.  Obviously, even though I let go of the negativity I had towards my body, there is always room to improve.  This podcast was a new way of approaching nutrition that made complete sense to me and sparked a deep interest that I never knew I had.  I started thinking about my body in terms of health and prevention instead of just outward appearances.

It made me aware of the quality of my food and the more I learned, the more information I wanted.  It’s now a secret passion of mine and I recommend the book Deep Nutrition by Dr. Catherine Shanahan to anyone who will listen!

I’ve also taken allergy tests so I know what my body is sensitive to.  Obviously no one can eat perfectly all the time but I now try to stay away from anything that is processed or has too much sugar or vegetable oil.  Those are the three biggest things I’ve learned to avoid.

Jackie Bologna, Mimi Staker
photo by Paul Kolnik

I’ve also become obsessed with my biweekly strength training sessions with Tanya Trombly, owner of the Bulletproof Ballerina brand.  I enjoy starting my mornings with her so much and definitely credit her training with keeping me injury free during the grueling Winter and Spring Seasons we’ve had this year.

When I look back over this past few years I realize how much I’ve learned and I feel ready to tackle whatever the rest of my dance career has to throw at me. Some of the things I’ve learned and would share with you if you’re just starting your dance career are to work hard and work quietly, know your understudy roles to the best of your ability, and really try your best to enjoy the little things when you can because it does go by way faster than you think it will.

When you first get into a company people will notice your work ethic and the way you present yourself. One way to really test that is by going out of your way to know the ballets you understudy. You never know when the ballet master will need you to step in and there is nothing worse than feeling unprepared. It can actually be extremely rewarding and thrilling to go on last minute, but only if you’re not scared to forget the steps!

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Every time you go onstage it’s a chance to improve and have fun trying out new aspects of your artistry. It’s hard to remember that when you’re tired or hurting or just in a bad mood, but I sometimes take a minute in the wings to remind myself that it won’t last forever.

It truly is a fleeting career so I tell myself to make it good while it lasts, no matter my circumstances.

New York City Ballet Corps Dancer
photo by Rachel Neville

I realize how much I’ve learned and I feel ready to tackle whatever the rest of my dance career will throw at me.  In many ways I am very happy that I’ve had some good learning experiences and struggles early on in my time in the company.

I believe it’s the lessons I’ve learned after experiencing the hard times that have helped me find what it is to be a “Whole Dancer”.

This past spring and summer I’ve felt more joy during performances than any other time in my life.  It is a complete connection between mind, body, and soul that is hard to describe in words.  I am constantly aware of what a blessing it is to be a part of my dream company and get a chance to be included in some of the best ballets in the world.

For me, being a “Whole Dancer” means opening your eyes to how good you have it and trying your best to learn from your hardships.  It means focusing on the relationships and community around you, and supporting your friends because only you can understand what they’re going through.

It’s easy to let ballet become your “end all be all”, but in my experience you’ll love it a lot more if you let it be what it really is; an incredibly beautiful and disciplined art form. Ballet is a very prominent part of my life, and I believe finding joy in other areas outside of the studios is one of the best ways to enhance it and become a “Whole Dancer” and maybe even more importantly, a balanced person.

Being “Whole” in the Corps of a BIG company…