For Isabella Boylston, the body is a creative tool to be treated with care.
The elite ballerina has traveled the world, performing everywhere from the Metropolitan Opera House to the Hollywood Bowl. And yet she continues to find inspiration in the same love of music and physicality that propelled her to dance as a three-year-old child in Idaho.
Always an athlete, the onetime skier and skater was discovered at 17 years old by the director of American Ballet Theatre. She relocated to New York City, becoming a soloist with that company in 2011 and a principal dancer in 2014. She is currently American Ballet Theatre’s youngest principal ballerina.
Since then, she has danced ballets from Giselle to Swan Lake, worked with famed choreographers from Benjamin Millepied to Alexei Ratmansky and has performed as as a guest star with companies from Mariinsky Ballet to the National Ballet of China. Most recently, she produced and starred in Early Sunday Morning, a film that was released at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Here, Boylston describes her strategy for staying balanced, mind and body:
Live The Process: What about ballet initially attracted you and continues to inspire you?
Isabella Boylston: When I first started dancing as a kid, it was just for fun. I wouldn't have been able to put it into words then, but the things I loved about ballet as a child are the same things that inspire me today: I love the physical challenge, and I love the musicality. Ballet is a chance to express something without words. It touches people in a deep, abstract way that connects to our human nature. When you hear music, the natural impulse is to dance.
LTP: Your body is creative tool. You’re an elite athlete, as well as an artist. How do you take care of yourself, considering your rigorous schedule and the strain that must sometimes put on your body?
IB: Mainly, taking care of my body is just doing the obvious: sleeping enough and eating well. I try to get 9 hours of sleep every night, especially if I have a show the next day. I eat everything—lots of pasta, vegetables and fish, chicken and red meat, and I’m not afraid to eat fatty foods. The only thing I don’t eat is sugar because I feel like it dehydrates my muscles.
Also, warming up is critical. This means starting every day with ballet class, which is a series of exercises we do to warm up, stay in shape and work on technique before starting to rehearse.
LTP: What are some of your personal rituals for keeping your mind balanced?
IB: It’s so important for me to take care of my mental state, as well as my physical one, considering the amount of pressure I put on myself to perform well, in addition to dealing with pre-performance nerves.
To relax after a long day of rehearsal, I take a hot bath. I also get deep massages regularly and occasionally acupuncture, if I’m working through a minor injury. I always listen to music while I’m putting on makeup before the show. I like to unwind with a glass of wine and a meal with friends or family after a performance.
LTP: Do you have any obstacles or temptations that can divert you from your wellness path?
If anything, I would say the temptation is to overwork myself and my body. So, the challenge is maintaining balance in my life, especially during our intense eight week season at the Met every summer, or when I’m on the road performing.
LTP: What’s next for you?
IB: I’ll be dancing Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and the swan queen in Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera house in June. After that, I’m performing at Jacobs Pillow and Vail International Dance Festival, followed by The Hollywood Bowl in LA in early September.
Also, I have a dream of producing an evening of dance in my hometown, Sun Valley, Idaho, where I first started dancing. So, I’ll be there in August trying to lay the groundwork.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
IB: I agree with what the Dalai Lama said: “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how do you do that every day?
IB: Living the process is taking time to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.