The Wendy Whelan You Probably Don't Know

Wendy Whelan can surprise you. For someone so highly-revered as a dance icon, her incredible down-to-earth candor can take you aback the first time you meet her. While reporting our May cover story, I uncovered a few fun facts I had to share.


  • Her mom initially put her in ballet class at age 3 so she'd stop jumping on her baby sister.

Little Wendy practicing her tendu

  • She's a regular at Zvi Gotheiner's class at New York City Center, which is mostly attended by modern dancers. "She's so revered, she could relax now," says Gotheiner. "But she's dead-serious in class, always practicing on the side."

  • She comes from a family of smart, strong women: Her sister is a homicide detective and her mother was a legendary college basketball coach in Louisville, Kentucky.

  • She's a die-hard cat person: Her ringtone is the sound of purring, and she and her husband own two former strays, Charleyrose and Seamus.

Making Charleyrose "dance." Photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe.

  • She has no problem casually dropping an f-bomb, or a very dirty joke. "She can make a brother blush!" exclaims Kyle Abraham, who choreographed on her for Restless Creature, during her last year at NYCB. "It's like, 'Oh, you really are so real.' "

  • She recently taught a choreography course at Barnard College (where she is the first-ever Orzeck artist-in-residence). "I was pretty good at teaching choreography for not being a choreographer," she says with a laugh. She tried her first stabs at composition along with her students, but has no desire to choreograph herself: "I like to be the brush. I don't want to be the one that puts it on the canvas."

With choreographer Alexei Ratmansky

  • She goes gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian as often as possible. "But I'm not hard-core strict about anything in my diet."

  • She loves searching YouTube for comedy videos. Favorites: Kristen Wiig, Samantha Bee and Amy Schumer, "because she's dirty and naughty and bad."

  • She's great at parties. "She's hysterical—and a great dancer at parties," says New York City Ballet principal Rebecca Krohn, who considers Whelan a mentor. "She has so much joy, and loves having fun."

"Decompressing" with Fang-Yi Sheu

Want more Wendy? For an intimate look at Whelan's last year with NYCB, be sure to check out the new documentary Restless Creature, which opens May 24 in New York, and will be released in theaters nationwide this summer.

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July 2021