The spring performance season might be cancelled, but America’s top ballet dancers still need to stay in shape. Since New York and California issued stay-at-home orders, these dancers have found inventive ways to keep practicing, turning their homes into makeshift studios. The shift presents a unique set of challenges: there’s the whole matter of not kicking some valuable piece of furniture mid-grande-jeté, of course, but also more basic issues to confront, like the floor itself.
“Wood floors in general are extremely slippery and therefore very dangerous to dance on,” explains Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. “When you put on a pointe shoe, it’s like an ice rink.” But thanks to some creative thinking, she and these other renowned dancers are making dancing at home look easy — and pretty stylish, too.
Isabella Boylston, principal dancer, American Ballet Theatre
Location: Downtown Brooklyn, New York
Her space: In the light-filled, new construction condo Boylston shares with her husband Daniel Shin, the biggest space is the kitchen, so that’s where she dances, using the counter-top as her barre. The mint green finishes were included when the couple bought the apartment; the well-stocked bar cart and art wall — featuring an original photo by Boylston’s friend Zoe Gertner; paintings by Shin’s uncle in Korea; and a few prints of Boylston from The Ballerina Project — lend personal touches.
How she’s using it: “I tried using our middle room, which is Dan’s workout area, but I kept kicking things. So I went back to the kitchen. I was given a piece of marley from Harlequin Floors — it’s a material that has the traction you need for a pointe shoe. I’ve never been that great at giving myself class, because I find it so hard to get the same workout I do in an actual ballet studio, but I think I’ve gotten better at it — I just have to discipline myself to do it. Sometimes I’ll put my sneakers on and go outside to an empty area in Brooklyn Bridge Park where no one’s around, to do grande allegro — big jumps. My floor’s just too hard to do a lot of jumping — when I did it on the kitchen floor, it was giving me shin splints. One thing that I’ve been doing that’s fun: I finally figured out TikTok. I did the Toosie Slide and Savage challenges — I just put my own ballet twist on them.”
Dores André, principal dancer, San Francisco Ballet
Location: Twin Peaks, San Francisco
Her space: Design is paramount for André, who keeps her one-bedroom apartment — the lower level of a two-floor home — “very minimal and utilitarian. I see it as a canvas.” The open-plan living space, where she does most of her dancing, is largely done in white, wood, copper and pink tones. “My sofa is pink; my chairs for my dining table are pink; I have a painting by my ex-boyfriend that is pink; the rug is pink,” she explains with a laugh. Most of her pieces are sourced from flea markets, Etsy, or Chairish, with a few splurges from 1stdibs.com.
How she’s using it: “I have two studios, as I call them. In the living room, the floor is concrete, so it’s so hard. I put a Harlequin marley floor on top of a carpet or maybe a little yoga mat. It’s still not great — for someone who’s never in pain, I’m now sometimes in pain. We have to be careful not to overdo it, because it would be so sad to get injured during this time.
I have so many plants — all of them have names, and I just realized I’m gonna have to move a big one, Ricky, ‘cause I keep hitting it. I’m using a chair as a barre, or sometimes the back of this massive canvas that I want to paint someday — I turned it over and sometimes I use the wood on the back as a barre. And when it’s nice out, I do my jumps in the little backyard I have.”
Gonzalo Garcia, principal dancer, New York City Ballet
Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York
His space: A little over a year ago, Garcia and his partner, filmmaker Ezra Hurwitz, purchased the parlor apartment of a brownstone. One strong selling point? A charming backyard garden, which the couple has transformed into an intimate outdoor lounge of sorts — and, now, a ballet studio for Garcia, complete with a real ballet barre and mirror. Garcia dances on the deck, surrounded by hydrangea, astilbe, hostas, boxwood, succulents and a dogwood tree. The French riviera and Mediterranean kind of decor he and Hurwitz favor enlivens the space — cheery yellow chairs from Article, a table and couch from CB2, and tiki torches and bistro lights. When the weather’s chillier, he dances in the bedroom, which has a giant mirror inherited from the previous owner.
How he’s using it: “I started out in the living room, but the floors — you’re so aware of balance — there are inclinations, and it was slippery. I was holding onto the wood paneling, and I was always afraid I was going to pull it down! I was dying to see my body, what I was doing right and wrong, so I bought a barre and put it in front of the mirror in the bedroom. That gave me more of a structure for dancing. But I was waiting and waiting for good weather so I could move my marley floor and barre outside. Being able to move a little bit more in the garden helps. There are moments you feel like, “Oh my God, that almost felt like a real class!” And then another day you realize you still have limitations. But within those limitations, I’m super lucky that I have this. The dance community is so determined — you grow up with such discipline, so no matter what, you have to make it work.”
Joseph Gordon and Adrian Danchig-Waring, principal dancers, New York City Ballet
Location: Shelter Island, New York
Their space: A complex and fortuitous set of circumstances led the couple to temporarily relocate to a midcentury ranch-style home owned by their dear friends, who are City Ballet patrons. The open layout, with three skylights and a vaulted ceiling (“It’s like living in a lightbox,” says Gordon), allows them to take (virtual) class in separate rooms if they wish; when the weather’s nice, they’ll repair to the expansive wraparound deck outdoors. They’ve also brought their “very wabi-sabi, boho-chic” style, as Gordon puts it, into the house, gradually adding many of their own belongings to make it more homey: Noguchi lanterns, Pendleton blankets, African baskets from a trip to Kenya, and beeswax candles. “We’re kind of like vampires — we live by candlelight,” says Danchig-Waring with a laugh.
How they’re using it:
Gordon: “It’s all very surreal. The biggest challenge for dancers right now is that nothing compares to 7 hours of dancing a day with rehearsal, class and performances. We’ve been trying to think of other ways of getting cardio in: plyometrics, running around the yard, and biking.”
Danchig-Waring: “We talk a lot about staying motivated without a ballet master’s eye on us, and being together is a net positive — we push each other.”
Gordon: “I actually just ordered a barre to use outside. Inside, I use the window sill in the sunroom, and it’s a bit high, though that’s better than being too low.”
Danching-Waring: “I have the opposite problem: I have a dining chair that’s a couple inches low for me. It’s a challenge for alignment and stability.”
Gordon: “Here, you feel like you’re living in the forest. The deck is wrapped around the backside of the house, so when it’s nice out we have a whole different living/dancing space.”
Danchig-Waring: “In general, as ballet dancers, we’re so particular about the environments we’re willing to dance in, and this moment is making us come to terms with our self-seriousness about our dance practice — to be freer about how we use our bodies, and how we actually practice our artistry.”
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