Whether it’s an Oscar-winning movie or a reality show, the media never fails to paint the ballet world as a cliquey and extremely competitive environment. But it’s not hard to believe seasoned New York City ballerina Janie Taylor, when she said, “I’ve never seen a movie or TV show that has gotten it 100 per cent right.”
Taylor, a principal dancer at the prestigious New York City Ballet (NYCB), knows more than anyone the strenuous and heartbreaking reality of the ballet world. Back in 2004, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), which resulted in a surgery to remove her spleen. But despite the halt in her career and going through a slow recovery, Taylor manages to see the bright side of things and said that because of the incident she “definitely mastered patience and the ability to listen to my body.” Taylor’s optimism and relentless passion for dance shows what the ballet world is really all about.
At two years old Taylor began dancing and even then she had determination and embraced new challenges. “I have always loved trying to create exact positions with my body and I have always needed to move a lot and with much freedom,” she said. “I think I found ballet to be more of a challenge than other forms of dance that I took classes in, but that’s what I liked about it.” Liked is an understatement since Taylor went on to train in New Orleans at age 12 and enrolled in the NYCB’s School of American Ballet in 1995, ultimately working her way up to a soloist and then principal dancer for the company.
Ballet has been so ingrained throughout Taylor’s entire life that it’s hard to imagine having much free time. However, she has shown immense interest in fashion, photography, and anything that allows her to quench her artistic thirst. “I love fashion, and I have had the opportunity to design and create costumes for dance, and I also experiment with making clothes for myself. I like to draw and do other artsy-crafty things… basically creating with my hands, when I’m not creating with my feet!” Taylor even shares a photo blog: Ballet, Cats and Other Things, with fellow dancer, Wendy Whelan, who Taylor called “one of my dear ballerina friends.” Two ballerinas starting up a creative blog together certainly contradicts the tired image of rampant jealousy and bitchy rivalries plaguing the ballet world.
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When asked to share something one might not know about the NYCB, Taylor revealed, “Most dog owners bring their dogs to class from time to time, so we usually have a couple dogs hanging out by the barres while we take our morning ballet class.” For a place that is often portrayed as overtly strict and disciplined, it’s clear that this laid-back and playful side often gets overshadowed. Taylor acknowledged that “the ballet world is almost impossible to get a real grasp of unless you are a part of it. It’s a place where people can co-exist and have completely opposite or different experiences than each other, which makes it hard to capture.”
It takes years of experience and the occasional setback to be truly prepared for and accepting of whatever the ballet world sets at your feet. With Taylor’s share of obstacles and a career spanning from adolescence to adulthood, it’s obvious no film or show can neatly sum up what it’s like to be a professional ballerina. But over the years she’s certainly gained a fresh perspective. “You aren’t in as much control of your life as you like to think you are,” she said. “There are always going to be things you didn’t plan on, but you can’t let those things take over your life or you as a person. Sometimes you have to give in to something to be able to get past it.”