Story by Rachel Schwartzmann – Visit Courtney’s Instagram – Photos by Joanne Pio for The Style Line
If there was ever a time for
ballet to bask in the spotlight the moment of glory is now. Even for those who may not consider themselves purveyors of the performing arts, dance in one form or another, ends up becoming a very present element in our lives. Yet for dancers, weaving beauty into the movement of their profession is all in a day’s work – enter American Ballet Theatre’s Courtney Lavine, who proves that athleticism and artistry coupled with a positive attitude always steal the show. Courtney (who just finished a busy performance season) graciously gave us the opportunity to experience a day-in-the-life of a ballerina before signing off for a few weeks of much needed R&R.
As the student intensive came into full swing, the energy at ABT’s studios here in New York City was high, and spirits seemed to be even higher. A wash of quiet confidence and focus from those we encountered (from studios to office suites) seemed to follow us as we made our way through the halls. The untouched elements of the building itself eluded a sense of nostalgia and classic charm – all distinct traits that make American Ballet Theatre so timelessly celebrated. Speaking more to this idea, we asked Courtney what role she believes dance plays in some of the world’s bigger conversations. “Dance, in history, has been an outlet where people can express deeper social and even political issues,” she explained in our interview below. “I think dance can help inspire change where it is needed and shine a light on ideas that are not usually discussed.”
By experiencing Courtney’s infectious passion firsthand, it soon became clear that bringing ballet to the masses is just as important to this budding ballerina. Beyond billowing costumes, inimitable grace, and the curious allure of dancing en pointe, Courtney argues that there is so much more she wished people knew about life as a dancer. “I’ve had people ask me if my life was like the movie Black Swan, and no, it is definitely not,” she shared. “Yes I have had to give up a few things to get to where I am… but when dancers are at home they’re just like everybody else.”
With her unwavering determination, we have no doubt Courtney’s strides will not go unnoticed. Read on to learn more about how Courtney got her foot in the door (and on one of the world’s most coveted stages) and enjoy a few beautiful snapshots from our morning spent chatting all things dance, personal style and New York City.
*THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY 2015 AND REFLECTS AN UPDATED INTRODUCTION AND LAYOUT
My name is Courtney Lavine and I am a professional
ballet dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. I have been in love with dance since I was in diapers and I have dedicated my life to it, but once I step outside of the studio or the stage, I’m pretty removed from the art (pretty normal). I value my family more than anything else and my friends. I love all kinds of art–from visiting museums to going to the movies. I love that art can inspire and move people and that it adds something special to someone’s life, (art is like dessert for the brain).
Ballet is at the helm of creativity and athleticism. What tools or resources would you advise aspiring dance to tap into for their own creative endeavors?
Whenever I am asked to give advice to aspiring dancers, I look back and try to remember things I wish I had done.
I believe watching professional dancers, whether it be on TV, DVD or even YouTube will help aspiring dancers understand artistry– which takes years to develop. YouTube is the easiest way to do this right now because it is the most accessible. If young aspiring dancers could make it to live performances that would be even better. I’m aware that orchestra tickets at the ballet don’t come cheap, but I think ballet companies are working on ways to make ballet more mainstream and affordable.
How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role are the performing arts, and more specifically dance, playing in this shift in thinking?
New choreographers and dancers are constantly creating works that are inspired by something they either believe in or something they want to see changed. Dance, in history, has been an outlet where people can express deeper social and even political issues. I think dance can help inspire change where it is needed and shine a light on ideas that are not usually discussed.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
I feel like I’ve been asked every question under the sun when it comes to ballet. Usually, I am asked if I can stand on my toes or if my feet are atrocious and I usually say yes to both of those questions. But I wish more people would ask me how they can get to a performance and what to expect at a show. The majority of people I meet have never seen a ballet, or if they have they’ve seen the Nutcracker when they were a kid. I would love it if going to the ballet was just as popular as going to a movie on a Friday night. Maybe that won’t happen in my generation, but a girl can dream.
How would you characterize the dance community in New York and how do you think the city fosters its creative community?
New York City has one of the biggest dance communities in the world. I run into all types of dancers, every day walking down Broadway. The New York dance community is diverse and thriving which is why I moved to the city ten years ago. New York City has made dance accessible by having some of the best schools, teachers, theaters and, let’s not forget, advertisements for dance so you know what is around.
“I think dance can help inspire change where it is needed and shine a light on ideas that are not usually discussed… I would like people to know that my life is the same as everyone else. I’ve had people ask me if my life was like the movie Black Swan, and no, it is definitely not… but when dancers are at home they’re just like everybody else.”
What do you think New York can do more of for aspiring artists?
New York has done so much for dancers. I think all dance students and professional dancers should be able to go to other dance performances, outside of their own company, for free or for an extremely discounted rate. I feel like dancers in one field of dance rarely have the opportunity to see other forms of dance. I believe discounted or free tickets would make it a lot easier for aspiring, and professional, dancers to be more well-rounded artists.
What are some of your favorite/go-to brands for life in the studio and on the city streets?
When I’m in the studio, my go-to brand of leotards has been Yumiko. I also love older, discontinued leotards that have been passed down to me. At work, we have a “give away” pile in the locker room where people put their unwanted leotards and warmups. From afar, the pile looks like a ballet wasteland but I always seem to find the best pieces amongst the chaos. In life, my street style tends to be on the feminine casual side. Occasionally I’ll buy something that resembles something I’d wear in ballet class.
How has dance inspired some of your off-duty passions and what are you looking to explore this summer?
I have always been passionate about understanding the world around me. My father is from Barbados so I grew up having a deep respect for other cultures outside of my own. Being a ballet dancer has allowed me to travel all over the world which is something I dreamt of doing since I was a kid. Ballet has allowed me to sate my appetite for seeing, understanding and learning about other cultures. This summer I’ll be vacationing in New Hampshire, roughing it in the woods.
How are you exercising your passion for dance both on and off stage?
My passion for dance never leaves me. When I leave the stage, it is with me and will always be a part of who I am. That being said, I like to express the same passion I have for dance and focus it on other things. I love spending time with my family and loved ones, it is one of my favorite things to do outside of ABT. I also love nature, being outdoors and finding ways to help people. There are so many things in life to be passionate and excited about, I think it’s healthy to spread it out and “share the love,” so to speak.
The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, if what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe?
Dance will always inspire my wardrobe, even if it is on an unconscious level. I tend to like clothing and fabric that has an interesting way of moving on my body when I’m walking or when it blows in a gust of wind. I’ve noticed I also like clothing that drapes and falls in the same way that a costume would. This style influence is most likely caused by my love of ballet movement. I am fortunate enough to see beautiful movement from my colleagues every day and thinking about that makes me extremely happy.