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Isabella Boylston

Meet the ballerina using Instagram to chronicle her pirouettes

When Isabella Boylston was just three years old, her mother did something that changed her life: She signed her up for a ballet class. “I lived in a small town in Idaho, and my mom just thought it would be a fun activity for me to try,” Isabella—now a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in New York—says. “At that age, it wasn’t really ballet, more creative movement, but it just really resonated with me. Also, my dad was a drummer and I loved the musicality of it.”

Still, it wasn’t until Isabella was ten years old that she really began to think about ballet as a career. “I checked out some videos from the library and saw professional ballet performances with dancers like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland. Simultaneously, I had a teacher who suggested that I audition for a summer intensive program in Washington, D.C., which was pretty much a ballet boot camp. I was the youngest kid to be accepted.”

Soon after, Isabella was off to ballet boarding school in Florida, and just before her senior year—when she was only 17—she got scouted by ABT. “My parents' only requirement was that I finish high school before going to New York,” she says. “I worked hard to graduate early and moved to NYC when I was 18—and into an apartment with five other women in the East Village. I was determined to make it work!”

Her breakthrough performance came when she danced the lead in Swan Lake. “I had done all the other parts—the court of ballet swans, the peasant, the princesses—but then I was cast as Odette,” she says. “That role is like a mini marathon in two hours. There are parts where you’re so physically exhausted, you don’t even know if you’ll be able to finish the show.” But in 2014, shortly after dancing the role, Isabella was promoted to principal dancer with ABT.

Looking back, she still pinches herself that this is her job. “It was never a big decision where I asked myself: ‘Do I want to do this?’ It was more, ‘I love dancing so much and I know that I’ll always do this.’ When I found out I could actually do it as a career, it was a total bonus.”

On her hair care routine after putting it up every night. “I’m pretty low maintenance. I usually try not to wash it every day, but every couple of days instead. After a show, I use a drugstore shampoo (like Aveeno) because it gets everything out. But if I haven’t been performing, I’ll use a milder option like Shu Uemura or Leonor Greyl—or something from Whole Foods even. Because my hair is colored blonde, it just gets really tired.”

On her pre-performance rituals. “Eating pasta is one. I always do this a few hours before a show. I also drink a cup of coffee and listen to my music. My taste is really eclectic. My current playlist includes Kendrick Lamar, Despacito, Drake, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Shora, HAIM, Led Zeppelin, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lana Del Rey—you get the picture.”

On the coolest place she's ever performed. “Well, the Met is probably my favorite because it’s our home stage, but the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is beautiful and old. Inside, it looks like a jewel box and the stage is raked, which is kind of tricky. Basically, raked stages are angled forward toward the audience so it’s not flat. You find it in old opera houses in Europe and South America because it gave the illusion of greater depth for the audience. The technique of ballet has evolved so much, but people still dance on it.”

On her perfect day in New York. “I live in Brooklyn, so just walking around the neighborhood with my husband, having some good meals with friends (Rucola is a must; also Chuko Ramen) and a glass of wine. I also love to read—I’m in the middle of The Soul of an Octopus right now—so some built-in reading time is great.”