Ballet Dancer Isabella Boylston Says Her Home Dance Studio Keeps Her Inspired
How the renowned ballerina created a serene dance space in her Brooklyn apartment.
While many have been able to adapt their jobs fairly seamlessly to a WFH environment, there are others who have been met with some considerable logistical obstacles. Take, for instance, ballet dancer Isabella Boylston. For 15 years, the Idaho native has traveled around the world as a dancer for the American Ballet Theater (ABT), visiting everywhere from Tokyo and China to Cuba and London and "having a really wonderful time and working really, really, really hard." But, then, COVID-19 happened.
Almost overnight the award-winning principal dancer — who's played iconic leading roles like Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, Princess Aurora in Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty, and Odette in Swan Lake — found her jet-setting life and days as a live stage performer coming to an abrupt halt. So what happens when the expansive stages and studios once used to float and spin across, are replaced with cramped kitchen floors you can barely move in? Well, according to Boylston, you improvise — and make social media your stage.
"I guess in a way, a lot of my job has moved online," says Boylston to TZR. "I got more into TikTok during the pandemic. I try to think of creative and fun entertaining things I can film myself doing in my apartment."
She's also gotten into the home redecorating game (like so many others). Ahead, the 34-year-old talks to TZR about how she's navigated the global pandemic in the Brooklyn apartment she shares with husband Daniel Shin, discovered the magic that is linen bedding, and created the perfect at-home dance studio with the help of some beautiful ombré wallpaper.
How would you describe your personal style?
I think because I am a professional dancer and athlete, comfort is really critical for me. I have to be comfortable at all times so that I can perform my best. So, I think that applies to both how I dress and my apartment. I enjoy color, but I'm not a huge print person. I love bright colors and monochrome.
Tell me about your favorite space in your home?
When the pandemic hit, all ballet dancers around the world were unable to perform and unable to rehearse. It's been very challenging for me to maintain my conditioning. When I'm in season I dance up to nine hours a day, and I obviously can't maintain that level at home. So, at the beginning of the pandemic, I was working out in my kitchen and holding on to the kitchen sink as a barre. But then, at a certain point, I got sick of kicking things in my kitchen every day. So, I ended up converting our guest bedroom into my ballet studio.
Talk me through the decor of the space. What are some elements that you made sure to include?
I bought a ballet barre online — I had never owned one in my whole life! I also bought a patch of marley, which is the special floor [ballet dancers] need, that I can roll up so I can do some floor work. Pointe shoes are really dangerous if you just wear them on wood floor; it's really slippery and you can get injured. I also invested in some really gorgeous wallpaper from Calico, which is based in Red Hook Brooklyn. It's like a work of art; I picked a sort of ombré sunset-y looking wallpaper. And we also have a painting in there that's a gift from a friend and a large fig tree, because it's nice to have some greenery around you. So, it's pretty minimal.
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Besides it being a space for you to practice your craft, what is it about this particular space that you love so much?
Probably how minimal it is. I really don't like to have a lot of clutter around me. I feel like I can't relax when I have a lot of stuff around me. I like that it's a big open space with really high ceilings, huge windows, and a lot of natural light.
How much time do you spend there?
When it comes to the rooms I spend the most time in, it probably comes down to my studio and my bedroom. I've never had a desk job or anything, so I tend to do most of my emails and traditional work-related stuff on my bed with a pile of pillows. So, yes, my days are spent in my office-bed or my ballet studio.
As a professional dancer, you’ve been all over the world. Is there a place or country that you love from a style and design perspective?
That's a hard question! There are so many places I find really inspiring. One is Tokyo. I love traditional Japanese aesthetic and how simple it is with a lot of wood and natural fibers, which I think adds warmth. Also, there's always great lighting [in Japanese spaces]. Good lighting is so key. I don't love to have bright lighting, especially at night, and it's nice to have like dim, cozy warm lights.
The other place I love is Stockholm, because my mother is actually Swedish — she moved to America when she met my dad. I spent a lot of time in Sweden growing up and I definitely love Scandinavian design, I just think it's very light and airy.
What inspires your style?
I get inspired by people I see on the street in New York City. There are so many fashionable women and I think by living in the city, the style and the energy rubs off on you in a good way.
What home decor brands or stores do you gravitate toward right now?
We just put in some wallpaper in our guest bathroom from House of Hackney, and it's so beautiful — it's black, actually! I would never think that I would want black wallpaper, but it has this really intricate, explosive floral design on it.
I also recently invested in a new set of linen sheets from Dazed But Amazed. Everything is hand-dyed in Australia It's just a really nice quality linen and they have such beautiful colors.
I think you can find nice things everywhere. The ABT studios are right next to ABC Carpet & Home, and I love just wondering through there, there's so many gorgeous things. Otherwise, I like the usual suspects like Design Within Reach. But, I also love just looking on Craigslist for vintage things; you can find some really good deals there. Oh, and 1stDibs — it's so great!
What are you most excited to do again, post-pandemic, when it's safe to do so?
Definitely performing. I miss performing so much and I really miss my friends. I love the people that I dance with at ABT — there's so many amazing people from all over the world, and all different backgrounds and I miss everyone. They're like my extended family.