In honor of our co-founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s latest book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($13), we’re running an interview series featuring 17 questions (to parallel the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of inspirational female leaders who are at the top of their fields. Last round, we tapped Cowboy Ventures talent partner Michelle McHargue. Next up, the incredibly talented principal ballerina, Isabella Boylston.
As a child, what did you wish to be when you grew up? Our colossal imaginations conjured up all kinds of incredible (sometimes farfetched) ideas of how we expected our lives to look as adults, but not all of them made it. But when Isabella Boylston dreamed, she made them come true. Since the age of 3, Boylston has danced herself into history as the youngest principal ballerina of the American Ballet Theatre.
Born in Sun Valley, Idaho, Boylston began training at Boulder Ballet, where she studied expressive and playful interpretive dance along to piano. This introduction became the catalyst for a career in dance, and she was hooked. At just 12 years old, Boylston commuted two hours on a public bus to attend the Colorado Ballet Academy in Denver. Her tenacity and passion paid off: Boylston won the gold medal at the 2001 Youth America Grand Prix in New York City.
She eventually found her way into the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company in 2005 and flourished in various lead roles. But her standout moment was in 2012, when she debuted as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera House, and her performances have had critics raving ever since. “One look at Isabella Boylston on stage and you are hooked,” wrote Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn for Huffington Post. “She draws you to her. It’s difficult to look anywhere else once she’s on stage.” Intrigued to learn more about the life of a ballerina? We quizzed Boylston on her inspiring career, morning routines, and so much more.
“Ballet dancers are both athletes and artists. I train and rehearse six days a week and perform all over the world.”
“I think people are often surprised to know how much we dance. I dance for up to nine hours a day. People are also surprised to learn how much we actually eat.”
“I guess you could say my first interview was an audition. So I was wearing my favorite purple leotard, pink tights, and pointe shoes.”
“I would love to speak with Melinda Gates. I have so much respect for her intelligence and all the good she does through her foundation around the world.”
“The ballet world is really small, so mainly news spreads by word of mouth. I also get updates on Instagram sometimes because I follow so many dancers from around the world. And, of course, the NYT Arts section is thorough about reporting on dance events as well.”
“I truly don’t regret anything. Looking back, I wish I didn’t sweat the small stuff so much. Some of the things I agonized over now seem inconsequential.”
“I think what you wear is a great opportunity to non-verbally communicate something about yourself and also make yourself feel more confident. However, I definitely don’t think women should feel pressured to dress a certain way, because style is very personal. On the day of a big show like Swan Lake, I’ll always wear something special that makes me feel good. I love dresses from Cushnie et Ochs, Zimmermann, and Stella McCartney.”
“I get inspired by any kind of art: going to a museum, a concert, the ballet or a movie, or reading a book. Sometimes feeling unmotivated is a sign of being burned out. Relaxing with friends or anything that inspires laughter helps me fight burnout.”
“I love the roasted squash salad at ’Wichcraft, and I’ll add chicken. I also love walking over to Haven’s Kitchen when I have time to get a gourmet sandwich. They have a different sandwich every week.”
“@ZoeGhertner: Zoë is a photographer friend of mine, and her photos are beautiful. She shoots mainly fashion, and I think she has a classic almost balletic sensibility.
“@NatGeo: I love seeing all the animal images, and although it’s sad, it’s important to see reminders about how global warming is affecting our planet.
“@EmilyWeiss: The founder of Into the Gloss. I’ve never met her, but I love her style.
“@DAlberda: He is a dancer at New York City Ballet, and his photos of backstage life are stunning.
“@GaryPepperGirl: My friend Nicole Warne posts gorgeous travel and style pics.”
“Coffee in the morning is of the utmost importance. I love waking up a little earlier and having time to drink my coffee, answer emails, and reflect on my goals for the day and for the future. At night, I love reading in bed. I’m a huge fantasy and sci-fi nerd, and I also love reading biographies and historical novels. Right now I’m catching up on the show Game of Thrones.”
“Approach your career with joy. Just do your best with what you have and keep moving forward.”
“I’m really looking forward to ABT’s tour in Paris this September. I’m also very excited to be directing performances in my hometown—Sun Valley, Idaho—next summer.”
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