Why I Dance: Ashley Bouder
New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder embraces every role with great relish and dazzling technique. She sparkles in Balanchine's Stars and Stripes and exudes just the right whiff of romance in his “Emeralds." She's a favorite of visiting choreographers too. She seems to be bursting with happiness in Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH, and in Wayne McGregor's recent Outlier she projects a slightly sinister shading. Her brilliance stretches across the wide-ranging NYCB repertoire.
Bouder grew up in Carlisle, PA, where she studied at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet from the age of 6. She attended the summer program at the School of American Ballet in 1999 and enrolled full-time that year. After the workshop performance the following spring, she became an apprentice with NYCB and joined the company in the fall. While still in the corps, Bouder stepped into the lead role in Firebird as a last-minute replacement, earning her a “25 to Watch" in 2001. She rose to principal within four years and has performed an enormous number of leading roles. During breaks from her NYCB schedule, she's been a guest artist on the international circuit, dancing Giselle with Rome Opera Ballet and Kitri with the Kirov. On top of all that, she's a guest blogger for The Huffington Post.
Why do I dance? Because I love it. Why do I love it?
Ah, there's the difficult question. I ask myself, Why did I choose this life of endless ache? Why did I pick this career when I know that around the age of 40 I'll have to choose another? Well, I'll tell you. For me, it was not a choice. There was no big decision to make ballet my life. It just simply is.
Recently I had to rehearse the Robbins ballet Other Dances, and I needed to review the choreography. As I started the tape and kicked off my shoes to mark through the first solo in the NYCB video room, I could suddenly feel the sun on my face and see the water. The steps came back and I was flooded with the imagery of the dance.
I delight in the sheer joy dance can bring. When I am dancing a piece like Balanchine's Square Dance, the choreography and music take me to a very happy place. The music is gorgeous and the steps fit perfectly. It is like once I learned the choreography I literally couldn't do anything else to that music. Even thinking of the steps or just marking through them puts a smile on my face. Unfortunately, I've been accused of premeditating my onstage smiles by a critic. I can assure you that is not the case. It is just my joy in what I am doing coming out in the most appropriate place I can think of: the stage. I treasure the quick lightness of many of the ballets I dance; being in New York City Ballet and having the opportunity to dance so many Balanchine roles is another reason why I dance.
Dancing is also one of the best ways I can think of to let out extreme emotions. I look forward to the challenge of carrying a storyline without words. I find that all those life experiences that I'd rather forget about, like having my heart broken or losing someone close to me, can be turned into something helpful and meaningful. It is a thrill and a challenge to express the tragedy of Giselle, the joy of Kitri, or the romance of Aurora with only the limitations of my face and body.
On the other hand, I like that dance can force me to put aside my emotions. That nervousness before a show disappears when I step out of the wings. I get out there and think, “Whatever happens, happens. If I fall, I fall. This is live theater and I am living in it." It is a necessity to overcome fear and insecurity in order to get onstage and I think that helps in other life situations too.
I also love to walk into a studio and check my baggage at the door. I'm just a dancer working. I'm just a ballerina perfecting her craft through literally blood, sweat, and tears. Sometimes it's just me and the music. That's the best.
Bouder as Princess Aurora in Peter Martins' Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT