BWW Interview: How NYC Ballet's Tiler Peck Is Keeping Us Dancing Daily!
While sticking to a daily routine and seeking out the positive may be difficult during this time of uncertainty and social distancing, there is one person you can count on every day to get you up and moving: Acclaimed ballet dancer Tiler Peck.
Tiler Peck has been a Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet since 2009. While the New York City Ballet is currently on pause due to the global health crisis, Peck is bringing her world-class talents directly to you by hosting an hour-long Instagram Live ballet class every Monday through Friday at 10am PT/1pm ET.
Born out of the need to keep herself in a routine and continue training while NYCB is on pause, Tiler Peck's virtual ballet classes are free, accessible to everyone, and require nothing other than the space available in your own home- she teaches barre work at her kitchen counter top, while adagio combinations are done in the living room.
If you never thought you would have the opportunity to take a ballet class with one of the world's greatest ballet dancers, you aren't alone. While many of the people tuning in to take Peck's Instagram Live class are students whose own studios have temporarily shut down, Peck shared that those taking her class include former dancers using this time to get back into dance, and people who do not have much dance training, but are picking it up as a hobby!
I spoke with Ms. Peck - who is as focused and dedicated as she is effervescent - about how she prepares for class every day, her advice on keeping yourself active during this time, what it means to her to be making ballet accessible to so many people and more.
Tell me how you came up with idea for daily Instagram Live dance classes!
My mother owns a dance studio and my sister is a principal of a high school. So my sister was the first school here in Bakersfield [California] that was doing online classes through Zoom, and my mom needed to move her studio over to Zoom as well... My mom also teaches dance at my sister's school for a P.E elective, and her first class was at 10 in the morning. My mom said, "Do you want to teach them today? They would probably freak out!" And I said, "Okay, I'm going to give myself class at that time so I'll just do it with them." And then I thought, "Well, If I'm doing it with her students, I might as well just put it on Instagram Live and let anybody who's at home that isn't able to take their normal classes take it along with me." It started out as a little thing like that. And then I saw the response and how much people were looking forward to it. I've always been a super disciplined person, I need to stay in shape to be in the New York City Ballet, and so I was planning on doing [class] for myself every single day. So I thought, "I might as well just open it up and let everybody dance along with me if they want a class!"
What does it mean to you to be able to virtually bring ballet to so many people who ordinarily wouldn't have the opportunity to take a dance class, or may not have the confidence to take one?
I've gotten so many comments like that saying, "I would never have had the courage to come take a class from you, and I am loving this because I am in the privacy of my own home, I'm not feeling judged, and I'm able to be doing ballet class with you." What's really great is that there are so many people taking. Some are students that are really very advanced, some are 6 year-olds, some are people that are starting it off as a hobby. There are also people that are like, "I haven't done dance in ten years and now I'm bringing my shoes back out!" It was important for me to make the hashtag #turnitoutwithtiler because that's the only way I could see the people I was teaching. I've always been a really hands-on teacher. I taught at my mother's studio since I was little, so I feel like it comes naturally to me... I really wanted to see my audience because I needed to know to make a beginner's version and an advanced version for every combo so that people aren't feeling like they have to do this hard combination that they aren't technically ready for. And then I'm able to correct them individually which is nice. People will tag me and then I'll write back and say, "You know, your foot is a little sickled, you should have the toe pointed." And then they send me another picture back and I'm like, "Yup, that's it."
I try to make it feel like it is a class where we can all be connected. I've never been able to reach 2000 people at once in a studio. So, to be able to do that through Instagram is great. And then by the time the day is over and I've left it up for 24 hours there's 15,000 people that have come into it! I've also thought about if I were in their shoes and had I had this opportunity to dance with somebody and take class from somebody that I looked up to, how cool would that have been? Seeing the videos brightens my day and makes this hectic uncertain time so worth it. I would never have been able to pass along the knowledge that I'm getting to to so many. So if I can do that during these weeks where we're at home, I'm more than happy to do that, it makes me very happy.
How do you prepare for the classes every day?
My very first class I wrote out the combinations, and then I said, "You know what? This is going to be really natural. I want it to be like it would be if I were just giving myself class so I'm just going to make up the combinations during the real time." The only thing I do is check out the music the night before. My whole family has become like, "Okay, let's all pick out the music for tomorrow's class!" It's become a fun thing for us to do after we watch a movie or something. It is kind of taking everybody! I play music off Spotify from my mom's phone, I have a speaker in the house that my mom happened to have from my sister's school because she's also the cheer coach... And then I use my phone to do the Instagram Live, and my mom has the iPad set up so that her students can also tune in.
Tell me a little bit more about the process of picking the music for your classes. Do you take suggestions from the people on Instagram?
Oh yeah, I keep telling everybody, "Write me suggestions, tell me what you want to do." Some people say, "Pop songs!" Other people say, "Classical!" So, I've thought, "One day I'm going to do full on classical, one day I'll do pop songs, and on another day I'm going to join them and and do pop songs but classically played by just instruments." That way the people that aren't happy with the pop songs still feel like they're getting their classical ballet class music, but people can still say, "Oh, that's the Demi Lovato song!"
What is your advice to people on keeping themselves physically active during this time?
I think it's really important to find a schedule. We're so used to either going to work or doing something at a certain time that now it's a free-for-all, and that's why I didn't want my class to be at a different time every single day. I wanted people to know, "Okay, from 10-11 [am PT] we can really focus and do a structured ballet class." And not to wear their pajamas. Put your hair up, put on tight clothing for your workouts, something that's different than what you're going to sit and watch TV in. Even though you're in the same setting, change your clothes, change your hair so you can change your attitude and really use this time as, "Okay, I'm really going to be serious for an hour."
Have you learned anything new about yourself as a teacher during this process of teaching virtually?
When I'm in the room, I feel like I'm really hands on. I can't be hands on here... that's why it's good for me to get these videos with the hashtag #turnitoutwithtiler because I can see what mistakes are being made, and then make sure to say... "Okay, don't look forward," because I know that's the tendency on this one part. I think hearing corrections is good especially when you don't have a teacher in front of you. And then someone even said, "Well you say, 'good', but you can't see us!" And I say, "Yeah, but I know I'm telling you guys these corrections, and if I were in the room saying 'don't look down', you guys are all going to look up! It's not like you're going to hear me say 'don't look down' and you're going to keep looking down." But you still have to be motivated. I think everybody needs to hear a "good" now and then to be like, "Okay, she's being tough, she's saying all these things, but then she says something and I fix it and it's good." That's how I am in class. I basically do these live classes exactly how I would if I was in a physical studio.
Would you ever consider continuing these Instagram Live dance classes even after we're no longer social distancing?
You know, nobody's asked me that! But I feel like yeah! I wouldn't be able to do it every day because I would be in my own class at New York City Ballet, but I think I would feel guilty leaving everybody without maybe one class every once in a while!
Check out Tiler's Instagram HERE and tune in every week day at 1pm ET! Need even more diversion to get you through social distancing? Tiler is walking us through five of her past performances:
"This is from my debut in Swan Lake at the New York City Ballet. This snippet is from the coda from the BLACK SWAN pas de deux where the ballerina must pull off the famous foutee turns."
"This is a section from Jerome Robbins' ballet Other Dances and is thought to be a true ballerina role. There have been very few dancers since it's originator, Makarova, to be cast to dance it."
"This is a clip from the Kennedy Center Honors when I performed my favorite variation Fascinatin' Rhythm for the Patricia MCBride tribute. It is probably one of my favorite performances ever! "