Why I Dance: Adam Hendrickson

July 27, 2010

A compact dancer with an intense or playful presence, Adam Hendrickson has been a soloist at New York City Ballet since 2005. He started ballet
lessons with Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet at 6, and in 1996 received the Rudolf Nureyev Scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet. At the SAB workshop the following year, he caught the eye of Clive Barnes, which led to a 2001 “25 to Watch,” in which Barnes compared him to the great French dancer Jean Babilée. Since joining NYCB in 1998, he’s danced firecracker roles like the Jester in
Swan Lake, Puck in A Midstummer Night’s Dream, and Candy Cane in Nutcracker, as well as character roles like Dr. Coppelius. He has originated parts in works by Peter Martins, Alexei Ratmansky, Boris Eifman, Christopher Wheeldon, and Eliot Feld. The films he has appeared in include Center Stage and the recent N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, in which he was memorable as an edgy teen.

A budding choreographer, Hendrickson has made pieces for NYCB’s 2008 Dancers’ Choice evening, the Yale School of Music, and the NYCB-affiliated New York Choreographic Institute. 

My name is Adam and I’m a “stageaholic.” I have spent the last 24 years of my life addicted to being onstage. While I love to be front and center, I have learned that I can gain the same thrill from any location on the stage.

My first taste of performing actually came in the form of sabotage. My older sister Jessy was always dancing, dancing, dancing. She couldn’t get enough of it, so my parents signed her up for a little show at our church. Did they really think that I would sit idly by and watch her get all of the glory? No way.

As the story goes, I snuck backstage during the perfor­mance and drew on a mustache (I was obsessed with Charlie Chaplin) and slowly pushed a gigantic mop across the back of the stage as my sister danced to Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals. While Jessy twirled around imitating a baby seahorse, I proudly pushed that mop back and forth, soaking up the laughter like an intoxicating perfume. That feeling is still in me, and that perfume still lingers deep inside, wafting up into my head every time a curtain goes up.

I began studying ballet after spending countless hours in the car with my mom, waiting for Jessy to finish her lessons. Finally, one day I just went into the ballet office and signed myself up, only to quit a few weeks later when I realized that you do the same steps over and over. This is still my greatest grievance with being a dancer, the repetitive nature of “class.”

Soon after quitting, as I watched one of Jessy’s perfor­mances, I was enthralled by seeing my friend Zach Hench fly across the stage. He wasn’t just doing classroom combinations, he was dancing. That, then and there, was all that I needed. After about a year of dreadfully boring classes, I finally got to perform in our school’s recital. Wearing a lovely pair of green tights and green leotard (think Kermit the Frog), I executed some dazzling port de bras and brilliant waltz steps. It wasn’t the most demanding repertory, but the sound of that squeaky curtain being pulled up had me as nervous then as I would be now if I were premiering in Apollo.

Once I began performing regularly, there was no stopping me. I couldn’t care less what my peers at school thought. I had a taste for the stage and I just kept chasing after it. Nine years of training at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet led to two years at the School of American Ballet and then the jackpot—a contract with New York City Ballet and somehow, a little later, a promotion to soloist.

Dancing with NYCB has provided me with much more than just a fix for my addiction. I am surrounded by some of the world’s most gifted artists, from whom I learn each day how to better my craft. I can feel the joy that dancing brings to my co-workers as I watch them, and it gives me an even greater joy when it’s me out there. I dance because I have to. I hardly see it as a choice. It has become so ingrained in the person that I am—although if things don’t work out, I can always go back to pushing that mop.

Adam in Balanchine’s
Symphony in Three Movements. Photo by Kyle Froman, copyright The Balanchine Trust