Why I Dance: Isabella Boylston

March 30, 2016

Principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre

Boylston’s first connection to dance happened through music. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.

A ballerina is many things.
She’s a musician, athlete, actor, conjurer, muse and scientist—experimenting and discovering how a slight change of timing, placement or emotional inflection can alter the outcome of a step. Because of the complexity of our work, I find it endlessly fulfilling.

I think the first thing that connected me to dance was music. My dad was a drummer in a country-and-bluegrass band. I’d crawl around on the floor of a bar while he packed up his drum set, and listen while he spent hours practicing at home. When I was 3, my mom signed me up for some ballet classes at the local rec center in our hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho. No one in my family knew anything about ballet, and it never crossed anyone’s mind that I might someday become a ballerina.

But early on, I discovered the incomparable excitement of performing. Playing a frog in my ballet recital, I tried in vain to repress my enormous grin and hide my enthusiasm as I hopped around the stage. I was hooked.

Classes once a week turned into classes every day. Ballet became my refuge from a sometimes difficult home life. I looked forward to the hours in the studio, where I could focus on only the music and my body, and try to master the endlessly challenging steps. In the studio, nothing else mattered. Class was my meditation. When I went away to study at the Harid Conservatory, I immediately knew that I had found my niche. One of the greatest gifts dance has given me is friendship and community.

The late Freddie Franklin, who I was lucky enough to meet at ABT, said, “It’s a privilege to be a dancer,” and I couldn’t agree more. Many adventures awaited me when I moved to New York to join ABT. Through ups and downs, I’ve taken on roles that I barely dared to dream of. I’ve performed all over the world—Cuba, Oman, Japan, Russia. Watching my colleagues, I’ve learned how moving a great performance can be. I hope my dancing has the ability to move others.

As I grow as a dancer, my personality comes into focus, and as I gain life experience, my dancing changes and evolves. For me, dance and life are so inextricably intertwined that it becomes difficult to answer this question in a straightforward way. Why do I dance? I dance because it’s such a big part of me that I have no other choice. But the real answer to this question is an obvious one: I dance because I love it.