American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)
Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:
On Her Anything Goes Preshow Playlist
Rather than make playlists based on her mood, Brandt listens to a mix of songs that are new to her at the time—including everything from rap to pop to classical. She doesn't have a pre-performance playlist or particular sound she likes to hear preshow—"whatever I'm listening to at the moment sets me up just fine," she says. Brandt recognizes that her eclecticism isn't everyone's preshow jam: In the dressing room she shares with five other soloists, she says she's "happy when other people put whatever they want on."
On the Beauty of Noise-Canceling Headphones
Most New Yorkers don't look forward to their commute. But Brandt does, thanks to her noise-canceling headphones and the opportunity to prepare herself for the day with music. "My most prized possession is my noise-canceling headphones," she says. "I can really hear everything and it blocks out the sound of the train. My parents always tell me, 'Sky, you have to be really careful crossing the street because you can't hear if there's someone honking at you!' "
On Leaving It in the Studio
Though Brandt says she's "anal" about musicality, you won't find her outside the studio listening to music for pieces she's working on. "That way I get a break from it," she says. "I don't want to get sick of it." After she's performed a piece though, she'll listen to the music "constantly," she says—that's why you'll find Andrews Sisters songs from Paul Taylor's Company B and Beach Boys songs from Twyla Tharp's Deuce Coupe on her playlist. (Brandt has never even danced Deuce Coupe: "I'm sure my friends who were in it never want to hear those songs again," she says. "But I can picture them dancing when I listen to it.") Philip Glass' In the Upper Room is another favorite—Brandt recently danced the "stomper" role in the famous Tharp piece.
On Discovering New Music
Brandt is admittedly old-school about finding new music, often getting recommendations from her sisters or friends, or looking up songs she's heard at performances. Sometimes she finds music on Instagram—as was the case with Cardi B & YG's "She Bad," which she became obsessed with after watching a hip-hop routine to it.
Movies, too, are a place to find music for Brandt: Songs from La La Land, Blue Is the Warmest Color, The Land Before Time, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (which she's never even seen!) made it onto her playlist.
On Her Penchant for Nostalgia
"A lot of my taste comes from experiences that are tied to specific songs," she says. "There are some songs that I'll listen to that make me happy because of a memory I have. 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' reminds me of my dad. There are some '90s songs from Destiny's Child and TLC that remind me of my older sisters." Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" reminds her of her mom, who was Lauper's fitness trainer for a time.
She even has "Hava Nagila" on her playlist, which reminds her of weddings and celebration, and some Punjabi music she discovered at an Indian wedding she recently attended.