The thought of being a professional ballerina with a major company looks downright dreamy. From the crystal-studded costumes to the star-studded audience, going pro in the ballet world can be as glamorous as it looks.
But, according to a recent piece by New York Magazine, the lifestyle comes with its share of trying, non-glam aspects, too. The magazine talked to three current and former New York City Ballet dancers — Kathryn Morgan, Tiler Peck, and Kaitlyn Gilliland — to find out how they take care of themselves during their most grueling seasons. Here are a few highlights…
In 2012, Morgan was a rising soloist at New York City Ballet and was preparing to dance Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty — but then she got sick. “I was getting tired really quickly,” Morgan told New York. “I thought that was because I was dancing Aurora, which is the hardest thing in the world. But then I started putting on weight, which made no sense. I was getting migraines up the wazoo. I couldn’t get through class. I was getting really depressed; something wasn’t right.” After a series of tests (and a misdiagnosis saying she probably had mono), Morgan found out she had a thyroid problem. She gained 40 pounds in a month and a half — and eventually had to take a leave from the company.
“When it was all taken away from me, I had no clue as to how to be a normal person,” Morgan says. “I still haven’t decided if I want to go the company route again — maybe, maybe not. But if I did, I would do things differently. I wouldn’t be such a bunhead, not doing anything outside the world of ballet. Now, I’m an example to young dancers: You don’t have to be stick thin, you don’t have to starve yourself. I’ve been able to rework my technique; it’s just a matter of refiguring it out. I feel like I’ve forged a completely new path for myself.”
Gilliland, now a dancer with Twyla Tharp’s company, has a long history with illness and injury. And while that might keep some dancers down and out for good, it taught Gilliland a lifetime of valuable lessons. “More than anything, I want to know how my body is going to feel during the day,” she tells New York. “If I eat something foreign the day of a performance, or too heavy before a rehearsal, it feels as if I’m inhabiting someone else’s body. A solid eating routine is important to me… It’s a really fine line with dancers. Our training is so rigorous and specialized; what we think we know is good for our bodies or not, we have to decide how much we’re going to sacrifice for that, and no doctor or therapist can decide that for us.”
This ballet has always had such a special place in my heart and was no different tonight! It was the first thing I ever danced with @damian_woetzel when I was in the corps and tonight I got to share the stage with @zacharycatazaro in his debut. Memories that I will always cherish. #Carousel #nycballet #openingupthesky ?:Paul Kolnik
There’s no doubt that Peck is one of the ballet world’s golden girls. She’s a rockstar performer onstage, with a smile that lights up the entire auditorium and the top-notch technique to match. (Fun fact: She’s a former competition kid!) When she was 18, she had to take time off on account of a lower-back stress fracture. “When you’re young, you think it’s the end of the world,” Peck says now. “Then you realize, taking a week off is better than having to be out for a year.” Peck took six months off — as in totally off. “I literally laid on my back with my feet at a 90-degree angle, all day long,” she says. “And it healed.”