Why I Dance: Ashley Bouder

July 27, 2011

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.