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A day in the life of a ballerina

A day in the life of a ballerina

With Indiana Woodward of the New York City Ballet
A day in the life of a ballerina
Indiana Woodward is pictured in the hours before a New York City Ballet performance at SPAC on Wednesday.
Photographer: peter r. barber/gazette photographer

By the time the curtain goes up on New York City Ballet performances at SPAC this week, ballerinas like Indiana Woodward have already been dancing for much of the day. 

And Woodward wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Born in Paris with dancing in her DNA — her mother is a dancer and choreographer from South Africa — Woodward started ballet at a very young age. 

“My dad always said that I did the dance du soleil, which is the sundance when I was little. I feel like what drew me to it was the music. Ballet, in particular, was really nice because I liked having a way to improve every class and you have to work hard. It’s challenging and I really like the challenge. And it’s just so beautiful. Whenever I saw performances I was always enchanted by everything that was happening on the stage and I just wanted to go and do it,” Woodward said. 

She first trained in Paris, then Philadelphia and then California, where she focused on the Russian style. As a teen, she was invited to a summer program at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Russia and shortly afterward she was accepted into the School of American Ballet. 

“My idea of classical ballet really changed because it was much more free, the Balanchine technique. It’s so dynamic and I really liked the fast-paced aspect of it,” Woodward said. 

In 2012, at 18, she became a member of the New York City Ballet. Five years later, she became a soloist.

Her open and warm nature off stage, as well as her elegant technique on, has drawn a comparison to Violette Verdy, a French ballerina and former star of the NYCB. 

In Woodward’s time with the NYCB, she’s taken on plenty of challenging and rewarding roles. Earlier this week, before she performed one such role in “Principia,”

Woodward allowed the Gazette to step into her (toe) shoes for a little while, talking about what a day in the life of a dancer looks like.

8 a.m. In the city, I wake up at around 8 or 8:30 and then I have some breakfast. Usually, a smoothie or oatmeal, something pretty basic because I’m not super hungry in the morning. I always have coffee too. 

10 a.m. I go to the pilates room, which we have in the theater. I do a lot of pilates exercises to warm my body up. 

10:30 a.m. We start class. When we’re not performing, we finish at 11:45 and when we’re performing we finish at 11:30.

12 p.m. Now that I’m a soloist, I don’t have as many hours as I used to have, but I have a good three hours of understudying, which is learning [from] whoever is doing this part now for when you do it later or if they get injured. In the beginning, I usually watch and try and learn it [by] watching and doing. Eventually, you have your own rehearsals just in case. But it’s only usually if there’s time left over at the end to teach you. So it’s kinda your job to pick it up. If [the role] is really hard, I go to another studio to practice. Or sometimes I just do that for fun. It’s a really good way to learn.

1:30 p.m. We work so that we have one hour [off] every three hours. I usually have lunch in the dressing room. When I’m dancing I can’t eat too much because I feel like I’m going to throw up. So I usually have a salad; a whole vegetable salad with as much fruit as I feel like. Or I’ll have yogurt. 

2:30 p.m. Back to understudying. 

4 p.m. Then I usually have an hour of rehearsing whatever I’m doing in the season. Some days we end up having everything that we’re doing in the season in one day. 

5:30 p.m. When we’re not performing, we finish at 7, [though] that varies as well with what’s scheduled. When we’re performing we finish at 5:30 and then we have two hours before the show to get ready or have food, take a nap, walk your dog. When we’re getting ready [with hair and makeup] in [the] dressing room, we usually play hits of the 2000s. It’s a throwback to all of our childhoods. 

6:30 p.m. I always warm-up, do my barre exercises, and practice some steps. I always do a Kramy barre, which is [from] Andrei Kramarevsky, was one of our teachers. He recently passed away but there was a class that he taught that’s ingrained in every persons’ mind. So I always do his barre before I dance. It’s my favorite thing to do; wherever I am, I do that. And I check if I’m sewn in. That’s always a fear of mine.

7:30 p.m. The show begins. 

10:30 p.m. After a show is done, I usually go straight home. We’re also always hungry after a show so we run home and have dinner. I love having grilled vegetables with some sort of rice or quinoa. It’s my go-to meal. I have a dog named Luna and I usually have to take her out. I always take an Epsom salt bath when I’m having a hard season. Before bed, I lay on an Acupressure mat. It has spikes on it and it’s good [for] releasing your back and it helps you sleep. Then, sometimes I watch TV and go to sleep. 

The most challenging aspect of being a ballerina: 
The hardest part for me is the mentality of perfection and not wanting to be like anyone else. We understudy so much during the day that you end up watching similar dancers [with] similar skills to yourself. It’s very easy to be like ‘I just don’t look like her. I wish I could’ or ‘I don’t do this as well as her.’ So that’s always challenging for me. That’s a very continual thing. 

Toughest roles:
“This one [in ‘Principia’] was really hard for me because I couldn’t go to a lot of the rehearsals because I was busy doing other rehearsals. When you’re not there during the process of it, it’s so hard. But they took a lot of time to teach it to me afterward.  
Another was [in] “Mercurial Manoeuvres,” by Christopher Wheeldon. That one was impossible because it’s very mathematical. You’re counting the entire time and the movement is very mechanical and rigid. It’s beautiful but it’s very sharp. And I’m with another person so we have to be perfecting synchronized. It’s hard to learn that and concentrate on the other person. 

Advice for budding dancers:
Just believe in what you have. Everyone is special and beautiful in a different way and you don’t have to become or mimic anyone else. It’s important to learn from [others] and to watch someone you admire and try and do the things they do but [don’t] be consumed by it, where you just want to be them. That’s very easy, especially because you’re always looking in the mirror, you’re always looking at other people. 
Also, hard work, with classical ballet, really pays off. Staying open to all types of dance and art, it enriches everything you put on the stage. 

Favorite ballets to perform in:
The one that comes to mind first is “La Sylphide” because it was my first. It’s a full-length story ballet. My mom and I always loved watching those kinds of ballets. My teacher is Russian trained and a lot of the movement was very classical and it just felt like home. 
Another one that I loved doing was “Year of the Rabbit,” that’s a Justin Peck ballet. That was one of the most special roles because it’s very different from what I usually do. It’s called the Lord Pas de Deux and the music is so ethereal and you’re just in a totally different world. 
The spotlight is on you but it’s really dark so you don’t see anything. It’s just you and your partner so it’s all just very trusting movement. 
Aurora [in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’], that was probably one of my biggest dreams. I would always watch all the solos and all of my favorite dancers online growing up. I remember the first time I went out there I just couldn’t even believe that I was doing this role because I’ve seen all of my favorite ballerinas do it. It was the most surreal feeling. 

Reporter's note: 

When I met with Indiana Woodward earlier this week, we both got to experience a “first.” 
Neither of us, in our 25 years, had ever met another person named Indiana. It turns out that we also share the nickname “Indi” and we both have had people call us “Indiana Jones,” and sing “Indiana Wants Me” to us. 
After we’d shared cringe-worthy experiences like that, she also shared her name’s origin story with me:  
“My mom said that she’d read it in a novel. It was between Phoenix, Leigh or Indiana. She was in the bath one day and she saw a little light land on her tummy and get absorbed into her tummy. She said she knew [Indiana] was my name.”

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