Ashley Bouder, Principal dancer with New York City Ballet
Ashley Bouder finished off New York City Ballet’s fall season performing the principal role in Harlequinade, a ballet that she says “doesn’t go very often.” That’s dancer-speak for ballets that don’t see the stage as frequently as the classics. It had been eight years since its last run, and this time something hit her—but it wasn’t just the affectionately named #BouderBump protruding from her tutu.
“I realized that the next time Harlequinade goes, my daughter could be in it with me,” she says matter-of-factly. “She could be one of the little kids and I could still be doing Columbine. It’s absolutely possible!” That is, “if she wants to be a dancer, of course.”
Bouder approaches her pregnancy with the same can-do and will-do attitude that has been a through line in her life. She sat down with NYC Dance Project to discuss her most precious pas de deux yet: motherhood.
When I was younger little kids annoyed me. You’re like, I need to warm up—can you stop asking me for my pointe shoes? I remember what it’s like to be one of them, but I was never obsessive. I was like, I’ll do what you do someday. I can do that.
Now I’ve totally changed. I’m going to be a mother, so being around kids at work is the most rewarding part.
It was pretty risky to do Harlequinade three months pregnant, because there’s a lot of belly stuff. I was dancing with Andrew Veyette, who is one of my favorite partners. He’s just so good that you don't even worry. We walked through everything together, so I felt good like, I can do this.
The best compliment I’ve received was this past week, my boss said I touched him very deeply in Harlequinade. He said, “Sometimes you get it right here [gestures to chest]. And you can’t even tell you’re pregnant!”
My biggest fear is getting injured and not being able to dance the same, even though I’ve had major injuries before. I’m the only dancer in the world who’s missing an ACL, which is basically impossible. I remember going to the doctor and I could hear these residents watching videos of me on YouTube and they were like, “How do you do this?” I’m a medical anomaly.
It’s a relief to come home to my boyfriend and talk about something that’s not dance. He talks about finance, and I have no clue what he’s talking about. I can follow along, but sometimes it’s over my head which is nice. I can zone out, but I don’t have to hear anything related to dance or your body.
If I weren’t a dancer, I would be a political strategist or a consultant. I like gambling on who’s going to win, or figuring out what the other side’s going to do. What direction they’ll take, how that will backfire with the public. I like to take things into account and figure out who’s going to do what.
I like directing and being able to decide for myself who I work with, which dancers I want to see. I need to pick what happens. I’ve been in every piece we’ve done for Ashley Bouder Project, but that won’t always be the case. I’m going to have a baby, I might get injured—it’s totally likely.
I got criticized for Ashley Bouder Project because people thought the choreographers I chose were underdeveloped. It’s like, I wonder why? I’m not trying to make masterpieces, I’m trying to work with people that are interesting. I want their work to be seen and improve and have the opportunity to feed off of them artistically.
When you’re a dancer for so long, you learn that if things don’t go well on stage it’s your fault. You have total control over what’s happening on stage. Even if things are going terribly, or the performance is the worst, I’m fine so long as I’m on stage. But watching something go badly from the audience? I just can’t.
I put too much on my plate sometimes… or all the time. Especially now that i’m pregnant, the last three months have been really hard. I had a really big drop of energy at around seven or eight weeks, and that was during Swan Lake.
I was in dress rehearsal and I finished my Black Swan solo and I was just like, “I am so tired!” I walked off stage, walked back on and did 32 fouettes. I go on autopilot sometimes. I had to remind myself that I love what I do.
I cannot meditate because my mind goes a million miles a minute. It doesn’t work. I just keep plugging along. I distract myself when I need to and try to sleep when I need to. My boyfriend is really good about it, if I’m tired he just lets me go to bed and do what I need to do. He’s like, “Take care of yourself. What can I do to help?” And I’m like, “Want to do my homework?”
My daughter will grow up backstage. I want her to do what she wants to do, but having said that, she is going to come on an amazing amount of gigs and performances. Two months after she’s born she’s going to go to paris for three weeks. And I’ll be breast feeding.
I just want to have a healthy baby. I’m going to listen to my body and not push like I normally do. Try to set my career not as a top priority for this next six plus months. I don’t have any goals for the winter season, or the spring season because I’m not doing them. I just want to take care of myself to take care of my baby.