Have you met Isabella Boylston, principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre and host/co-creator/producer of Ballerina Book Club? As we introduce the first month of Ballerina Book Club, we asked Bella to share some insights into her bookworm habits.
Read on below to hear more from the avid reader. Bonus: Here is Bella’s suggested recipe to make while reading this interview.
What was the last book you recommended to a friend?
Probably “If I Had Your Face,” by my friend Frances Cha. It’s a beautiful depiction of friendship between young women, and I felt like I could see the action unfolding cinematically in front of my eyes. Even though it is set in the glittering city of Seoul, it reminded me of when I first moved to New York — I had a ton of roommates, and we stuck together to survive. My husband is Korean, and it was fascinating for me to read about contemporary Korean culture.
What’s your reading style?
I usually read at night for a couple of hours before bed, and when I’m really in love with a book, I’ll stay up into the early morning reading. I’m not a huge snacker at night, actually, but I love to read with a glass of wine in hand.
What was your relationship to reading like as a kid?
My mom worked full-time and would drop off my brother and me at the library multiple times a week, so I was always checking out books and VHS tapes of ballet. I was a huge bookworm and would read all the time. On occasions when we got to eat out, I would read throughout dinner. I must have been delightful to hang out with!
How do reading and books inform how you relate to your career as a dancer?
When I’m working on a new role, I try to read any books that are associated with the particular ballet. Like, if it’s based on a text like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Jane Eyre,” I’ll start with reading and highlighting anything useful. I also enjoy reading dancer biographies. It’s interesting to learn how much has changed and also how dancers today still go through the same challenges, joys and disappointments. We definitely need to do a feature on my favorite dancer biographies! A lot of the stories we tell in ballet are very fantasy/sci-fi, so maybe that’s one reason I enjoy reading those genres so much.
How did you get into ballet as a profession?
I grew up in a small town in Idaho, and my mom signed me up for some classes at the local rec center when I was three. No one in my family knew anything about ballet, but my dad is a musician — a drummer — so maybe I inherited some rhythm from him. I loved the creativity and expressiveness of ballet so much, and I found the extreme physical challenge addicting.
What advice would you offer to someone trying to break into your field?
You have to work really hard and not be deterred by setbacks like injuries and rejection. While ballet is incredibly athletic, it’s also an art, and artists need life experience to inform their artistry. Read books, go to shows, listen to music, and get out and live so you have something to say on stage.
What’s a passion outside of your public persona that people might be surprised to know about?
Does pasta count as a passion? I love spaghetti and any kind of pasta. It’s pretty much the only thing I ever bother cooking. I also am a major nature lover from growing up in the mountain west. I love hiking whenever I can get out of the city.
Favorite pasta recipe?
Chrissy Teigen’s “Spicy Miso Pasta.” Vegetarians can substitute the bacon with mushrooms.
Favorite book store?
Boulder Bookstore in downtown Boulder, Colo. They have excellent staff pics and a wide array of books. It’s definitely curated by hippies.
- “The Name of the Wind,” by Patrick Rothfuss
- “My Brilliant Friend,” by Elena Ferrante
- “Spinning Silver,” by Naomi Novik
- “Just Kids,” by Patti Smith
- “The Fifth Season,” by N. K. Jemisin
[Learn more about Bella’s top five picks here.]
A book you’ve always wanted to read but for whatever reason haven’t?
I loved Gloria Steinem’s “My Life on The Road” so much and have been meaning to read her “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.” There’s also a ton of classic literature that I haven’t read — I’ve never read anything from Jane Austen.
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