Onstage, ballerinas are focused and poised, translating an explosive amount of energy and emotion into perfectly crafted characters and movements. At home, in their bedrooms, things are a little different.
For the better part of six months, HuffPost Arts & Culture accompanied photographer Damon Dahlen on a tour of ballerinas’ apartments in New York City. We trekked across boroughs, visiting the spaces that women like Cassandra Trenary, Zhongjing Fang and Ebony Williams call home. The dancers ― who perform for the American Ballet Theater and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, as well as less traditional dance companies ― invited us into their bedrooms for an intimate series of photographs that show a different side of ballet. Without their costumes and tights, these women opened up about what makes a personal sanctuary and what helps them unwind after a big performance.
Check out the series ― and a few clips of audio from our interviews ― below.
ELINA MIETTINEN, Corps de Ballet member at American Ballet Theater
Elina Miettinen was born in Russia, lived most her life in Finland, and now resides with her husband and a yorkiepoo in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. She describes her space as “sophisticated,” “modern,” and “romantic.”
“In rehearsal, I am obviously very focused on what I am doing and I don’t really like to talk to people much at work or during rehearsal,” she told HuffPost. “But outside of work I am completely different. I like to go out and socialize. And then in the bedroom, I am just obviously really relaxed and I just feel like myself. I feel like I can finally be like, OK, this day is over. I can take it easy and go to sleep and be with my husband and my dog. It’s two completely separate things.”
INGRID SILVA, Dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem
Born in Brazil, Ingrid Silva lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her French bulldog, Frida Kahlo. She described her room as the place where she thinks, relaxes, sleeps ― and sometimes eats and works, too.
“I usually get back from work around six or seven,” she told HuffPost of her nightly routine. “Then I take Frida for a walk. Usually, I cook dinner and prepare food for the next day so I can take it to work or rehearsal. And then I watch TV shows and relax.”
CASSANDRA TRENARY, Soloist at American Ballet Theater
Born in Georgia, Cassandra Trenary lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with her husband, fellow ABT dancer Gray Davis. She describes her bedroom as “cozy,” “simple,” and “country-ish.”
“I feel like when I’m on stage I really kind of attack whatever it is I’m given to do,” she told HuffPost. “I feel like I’m the most confident onstage. I’m just serious most of the time, unless the role requires it to be otherwise. I take it so seriously; it’s my passion, it’s my art. When I’m at home, you’re just so relaxed and you just want to not put on a face and not be somebody else. Because our job is to be other people, which is super fun. But when you come home, it’s the best because you can just above all be exactly who you are. Just relax.”
EBONY WILLIAMS, Freelance dancer and choreographer
Ebony Williams welcomed us into her New Jersey apartment during a rare break from traveling with Beyoncé’s “Formation” tour. Since she often falls asleep on her comfortable couch, we photographed Williams in her living room, which she describes as “colorful,” “feminine,” and “dynamic.”
Discussing her nightly routine, she said, “I take a nice hot shower or bath. I play Sade, I’m so corny. I f**king love Sade. It gets you all the way relaxed. And I stretch. I roll a lot. Rolling is my friend. [...] I get myself right where I need to be. I have tea every night. Sometimes I put a little whiskey in it depending on how I feel. Or sometimes I have a nice glass of red wine. And then I go to sleep. A deep, nice long sleep.”
ZHONGJING FANG, Corps de Ballet member at American Ballet Theater
Originally from Shanghai, China, Zhongjing Fang now lives in vintage furniture-filled studio in Manhattan. She described her space as “dreamy,” “comfortable,” and “relaxing.”
“I usually get back home and I like to make some food for myself,” she told HuffPost of her nightly routine. “I either cook some pasta or salad. I like eating Chinese food, too, because I’m from China. After eating, I will watch some movies on Netflix. That’s what I like to do ― it helps me. I also like to take a bath in my bathtub. That’s pretty much it. Just rest.”
DANIELLE SCHULZ, Dancer at the Metropolitan Opera and freelance artist
Danielle Schulz lives in a shared apartment in Brooklyn, which she describes as “bright,” “organized,” and dictated by feng shui.
Asked what her favorite part of her bedroom is, she said: “My closet. With dance, and especially freelance, I’m mostly at the Metropolitan Opera. But it’s not a full-time gig. So you kind of have to supplement it with other choreographers or print work or however it comes out. There are a lot of things that are out of your control. So with my bedroom and my house in general, it is pretty neat. I have a very organized closet. It’s nice, when you have all of these things that are out of your control, to come home to this at the end of the day.”
SKYLAR BRANDT, Soloist at American Ballet Theater
Skylar Brandt invited us into her childhood bedroom in Manhattan, which she describes as “quiet, “clean,” and “beautiful.”
What is her nightly routine? “It depends on how exhausted I am,” she told HuffPost. “Typically I come home, shower, eat dinner, and then get into bed and watch some of my favorite shows ― ‘Family Guy’ or ‘Adventure Time.’ And then go to sleep, just to be able to wake up for the next day.”
KATHRYN BOREN, Corps de Ballet member at American Ballet Theater
Born in Dallas, Texas, Kathryn Boren lives in a studio in Manhattan. To describe her apartment, she used the words “clean,” “organized,” “purple,” and “bright.”
“On stage and in rehearsals, I’m very professional and composed. And I take it very seriously,” she told HuffPost of her persona at work. “When I’m at home, I just goof around and I like dancing in my underwear to pop music or whatever. I try to keep my home environment as stress-free as possible.”
CAMILLE WORKMAN, Freelance dancer
Camille Workman lives in a unique one-bedroom in Manhattan that opens up to a sprawling roof terrace. She described her space as “beachy,” “trinket-y,” and “relaxing.”
On the difference between her personas onstage and off, she says: “Onstage I’m a maniac. I’m a ‘yes man.’ If a choreographer asks me if something is possible, the answer is always ‘yes.’ At home is my lazy, beachy kind of self.”
DEVON TEUSCHER, Soloist at American Ballet Theater
Devon Teuscher describes her Brooklyn bedroom as “dark,” “quiet,” and “minimal,” adding, “It’s very much my little oasis. Like, my place. I don’t really like many people coming in here.”
When asked if her persona on stage differs from her persona at home, she replied: “I feel like they’re actually quite similar because, for me, I’m completely free onstage. To me I’m not holding back anything. That’s where I am most comfortable. And again, like I said, this is also where I feel comfortable. [...] So I think they’re quite similar in that sense ― feeling the most content.”
CATHERINE HURLIN, Corps de Ballet member at American Ballet Theater
Catherine Hurlin, a New York City native, lives in a DIY-friendly two-bedroom in Manhattan, which she describes as “super girly.” Her favorite aspect of her home? Her bed.
“My bed was the first thing that I bought,” she explained to HuffPost, recounting the early moments of living on her own in NYC. “So I feel pretty proud of it because it was my first piece of furniture [...] It was the first big purchase that I made in my life.”
REBEKAH LETCH, Freelance dancer
Born in Singapore, Rebekah Letch now resides in a spacious one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with her husband and dog. She described their space as “contemporary” and “warm.”
“I love my bed and I love my pillows and I love the color white,” she told HuffPost. “I travel a lot and hotel rooms are always white. I actually bought the mattress and the sheets and the pillows off a hotel website. Just because I really need to recover! Yeah, I take it a little far. [...] Also, my dog sleeps with me and she has arthritis and I want her to get a good sleep, too.”
ELISE KING, Performer with Jennifer Muller/The Works and Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company
Elise King grew up in South Bend, Indiana, and now resides in a shared apartment in Manhattan. She describes her space as “open,” “zen-y,” and “filled with character.”
When asked how her persona on stage compares to her persona at home, she noted a difference. “Especially, with Jennifer’s choreography, a lot of it is very fierce and dynamic and really intense, which I love. I love showing that type of passion on stage,” she told HuffPost. “But I’m really soft in person. I’m a nice, kind person and love talking to people. So sometimes I have this really fierce stage persona, whereas in person I’m really calm and gentle and chill.”
STEPHANIE RAE WILLIAMS, Dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem
Born in Texas, Stephanie Rae Williams currently lives in Manhattan. She describes her bedroom as “colorful,” “cave-like,” and “good-smelling.”
“I really enjoy a glass of wine,” she told HuffPost, recounting her nightly routine. “I like to cook dinner or get takeout. Take a shower. And I like to just sit on my couch for like half an hour and just decompress and relax. I’m still at that age when I get FOMO. So if I do get, like, I want to go out and see what’s happening, I might take a walk. But then I usually remember that I’m exhausted and I want to go to sleep.”
STEPHANIE LO, Royal Court Dancer in “The King and I” National Tour
When we visited Stephanie Lo, she was sharing a two-bedroom apartment with her roommate in Queens, which she had organized according to the KonMari method. She described her space as “minimal,” “chill,” and “transient.”
“I love being on stage. I can do so many things on stage that I couldn’t do in real life,” she told HuffPost, nursing a foot injury at the time. “In real life, my last name is Lo and everyone says, ‘YOLO! YOLO! Do people call you that?’ And I’m like, no, that’s not really me. I just want to live methodically [...] I like things to be really chill and really organized.”
SHANNON MAYNOR, Freelance dancer and artist with CelloPointe
Shannon Maynor has lived in her shared apartment in Manhattan for the past four years. She describes her bedroom as “peaceful,” “spacious,” “homey,” “artsy” and “fantastic.”
“My nightly routine involves elevating my legs for at least five minutes. I usually put them up against the wall and just let everything drain. Because by the end of the day, everything is just filled with fluid and stress. I teach as well. So sometimes I’ll rehearse all day and then go and teach until 10 o’clock at night. So that’s the first thing I do ― elevate.”
Want more? Check out some of the amazing outtakes from the shoot in the gallery below.