Healthy Dancer Summer Features
Share a bit about your journey in dance…
I’m a corps dancer with the New York City Ballet. I started dancing ballet and tap when I was 3 years old. I trained in ballet, jazz, tap and modern until I was about 11 or 12 then decided that I wanted to put most of my efforts into ballet.
I had many wonderful teachers growing up. One of the more influential ones was Shawn Stevens, who was a soloist with NYCB. She choreographed a contemporary solo for me to perform at YAGP in 2009/10 and since then we have been extremely close.
She staged the first movement of Serenade on the company at my home studio in Texas, and basically introduced me to Balanchine and the New York City Ballet. She inspired and pushed me to audition for the School of American Ballet summer course. In 2010 I attended the SAB summer course on a full merit scholarship and was invited to attend their winter term starting that September.
My family, teachers and I knew that if I ever wanted to dance in the New York City Ballet, or any major ballet company, I’d have to leave home. Thankfully, I have the most supportive family anyone could ask for and they sent me to New York at age 13! I started at the School of American Ballet that fall.
I went through levels B2, C1, C2 and about 2 months of the final level D before receiving an apprenticeship with NYCB in October 2013. I had just turned 17. I was an apprentice for a year and then got my corps contract in 2014!
What’s a challenge you’ve faced in pursuing dance professionally? How did you overcome it?
I’ve had a pretty smooth career in the company so far, despite a minor injury that caused me to be out for about 2 1/2 months. Coming back from that injury, even though it wasn’t very long, taught me a lot about myself and ballet.
Being out I was able to attend the ballet a lot, which I never got to do once I danced with the company because I was always on every night. I was able to appreciate the art form all over again. Instead of it being this job like routine where I come in, rehearse, perform, leave, repeat.
Since then I’ve tried to fully take advantage of every moment I have onstage. One struggle I really dealt with, and honestly always have dealt with, was my body not being in shape the way I wanted it to be. I’ve always been very self conscious with this subject and not dancing for so long, and then coming back to not so much dancing at work really put me in some dark places.
One day though I finally decided I was going to accept that everyone is different, everyone has their own path, and having self deprecating thoughts and feelings will only make things worse. Comparing yourself to others is the worst thing any dancer could ever do. Anytime I start to think badly of myself now I just say no, you’re not going to sit and make yourself upset, you can do whatever you want, life is good, move on. Yes every so often I’m in bad mood or I’ll complain but I try to only let it last for a second, then I let it go.
What do you think it means to be a “whole” dancer?
To me, being a whole dancer means embodying the dance lifestyle, but also being your own self in the real world. We can get so caught up in what it takes to be a dancer that we forget that were people as well.
Being happy with who you are when you’re not dancing is just as important. And then for the lifestyle aspect, working hard in class and rehearsal, fueling your body well and cross training, I think are steps to making a whole dancer.
Do you have any special self-care rituals that help you feel balanced?
I have a very routined life. I think most dancers do actually, but its especially comforting for me to live like this. Every morning I sit with my heating pad and warm lemon water and just have a quiet moment before my day begins. I have breakfast and coffee after and usually read or watch a little bit of a lighthearted show on Netflix. Lately its been Our Planet, a series informing viewers on the different plant and animal species in the world.
On days off, I love to do face masks and to take my miniature poodle Poppy, on long walks. These calm mornings and practices are very important to me. They help me take time for myself in a calm, comfortable environment where I don’t feel any of the stresses of the world. I also always surround myself with an abundance of plants!
What role does cross-training play in your life?
Cross training is a huge part of my life as a dancer. Its a major injury preventer and helps you technically improve. I’ve always done many different forms of cross training, but my favorites are swimming and gyrotonics. I do the elliptical or swim on days where I haven’t done much cardio and go to a gyro session at least once a week. My gyro trainer also works with many other dancers in the company and comes to ballet often, so she knows exactly what each of us needs.
I’m also constantly doing stabilization and pt exercises. I think a dancer is born with a facility and natural ability, but its our job to maintain and build upon it. Cross training allows me to consistently improve and take more risks within my dancing. Plus it can be very therapeutic!
How do you keep a positive relationship with food and your body in the face of aesthetic pressure in dance?
I practice an everything in moderation mindset, and love to eat seasonally and locally. I enjoy so many different foods and kinds of foods, that I don’t ever want to restrict myself. That only leads to self guilt.
Feeding my body fresh and nutritious foods while also responding to cravings, helps me keep a positive relationship with food and my body.
When I know I’m giving it the best it can have, how can I not be positive? Of course every so often I’ll indulge in something not so healthy, but I never let myself feel guilty for it. I have a major sweet tooth that I can’t ignore.
Photos : Kenneth B. Edwards, Paul Kolnik, Erin Baiano