Isabella Boylston is one of the most famous dancers in the world. Besides being Principal Dancer with New York’s American Ballet Theatre, she was notably Jennifer Lawrence’s dance double in the movie Red Sparrow. At 32, she’s at a point where’s she starting to take on more in her career, like collaborations with musicians and her own choreography. We talked to her about life as a dancer, plus five questions centered around creativity we’ll be asking everyone in this series.
What are you working on now?
I’m in a new work, Deuce Coup, by Twyla Tharp. I wish I could record anything she says because she has these incredible one-liners. Like, men notoriously jump higher in ballet and Twyla was talking about this. She said, “Don’t do a girl jump, that looks sucky, you can jump like the guys.” I also collaborated on a show with Rozzi, this pop singer who reached out on Instagram to ask me to be in a video. We got along so well and are doing our own show and are going to tour it. She sings, and me and two other dancers dance. I choreographed for the first time for it.
Do you do your own stage makeup?
Yeah, I like doing my own makeup. We play so many different roles that a big part of my transformation is how I do my makeup. It makes me feel the part. I drink coffee and listen to music and it gets me in the mood. I like doing dramatic eyes. I always wear fake eyelashes—any cheap ones from Duane Reade—and Nars Illuminator foundation. Really, more is more. I’ll do two pairs of fake eyelashes sometimes and I love a red lip for stage.
What is your version of a T-shirt and jeans?
These are vintage Guess? Jeans from the 90s I got on Etsy. Give me that mom jean! Jeans and a T-shirt and a hoodie is my uniform. I got this hoodie at the Kacey Musgraves concert. I love her message and her look. I wear a lot of sneakers: Nike, Allbirds. But when I first moved to New York City I wore heels everyday and would wear four-inch stilettos to walk to the ABT studios from my apartment in the East Village. It was my Sex and the City moment, I guess.
How do you get your best ideas?
A big part of my inspiration comes from other works of art: a play, a Broadway show, reading a book, going to a museum. I’m hungry with my career and always thinking about the next step, how to improve myself and share my art with the widest audience possible. I love making lists and I’m very goal oriented.
What do you do when you're stuck?
Getting stuck in my choreography process is like the equivalent of writer’s block. I won’t know what to do next or think this looks like shit. The last time I was stuck, my friend who went to ballet boarding school with me, came over to the studio. Just going through it and sharing my vision with a trusted friend and talking through the issues helped. After one hour, I was unblocked and could get through my own barriers of insecurity.
Are you afraid of anything?
A lot of things, honestly. Sometimes I’m afraid of performing, but I still have to get out there. Losing people I love. Fear about the future. Thinking bad things will happen. But I realized that sometimes it’s so simple, and I have dark thoughts just because I’m tired or hungry. I’m an animal that needs food and rest!
What is your most amazing recent discovery?
This Goop product called Exfoliating Instant Facial. In the winter there is no end to the dry skin. You put it on and it tingles so you know it’s working.