Chase Finlay, Principal dancer, New York City Ballet
For the first time in years, Chase Finlay, Principal with New York City Ballet has free time. He had surgery on his foot this fall, and since then has made recovery his fulltime job. He goes to physical therapy, takes classes at Fordham, and works out at the gym—like a layperson.
“It’s nice to just do life stuff,” he says. “When you’re dancing all the time, everything else is in disarray, so you’re focused on one thing and everything else becomes scattered.”
He spoke with NYC Dance Project about his return to the stage and the value of perfectionism in the dance world.
The amount of physical exertion it takes to perfect a role or make something good is incredible.
It’s been a long time since I felt comfortable on stage with my foot, so that’s my goal. It makes it a lot less competitive because I just need to focus on me. My goal is just to dance to the ability that I know that I know I can dance at.
I would tell a younger self to just be patient. Learn how to say no, take care of your workload. I feel like I danced so much from age 10 to 23 that injury was bound to happen. I literally didn't have a day off for two years.
The first time I was injured it was depressing. I was just promoted to Principal, then broke my foot. I was out for a really long time and didn’t know what to do. I had never gone through anything like that, and had my career taken from me for a little while.
But this time I tried to be productive as possible with it, which any dancer should do. Any time off you have to take advantage of it. When you’re working you get so consumed with work, it’s hard not to—it’s one of the most consuming jobs in the world.
Unfortunately it’s part of the career of a ballet dancer to get injured. I hope it doesn’t happen to everybody but at one point or another it’s an athletic art. Injuries happen, so it’s somewhat forced at points.
As amazing as my job is, there’s so much more to life than what happens at the David H. Koch theater. I’m opening my eyes to that fact right now.
I’m not used to having time to do nothing. When you’re dancing, everything else is in disarray, so you’re focused on one thing and everything else is scattered. Now, everything else is becoming more controlled.
I take perfectionism to the extreme. In a certain sense, to get into a major ballet company like this you have to organize all your focus into one thing and make it perfect. Now I’m organizing my focus into getting better, getting back on stage—healing. It’s frustrating, especially if you’re a perfectionist.
I have to constantly be toning my body. I lift weights everyday, go to Pilates, gyrotonics. I swim, bike, ride around the park. When I go to the gym I focus on light weights, high repetitions for muscular stamina, rather than bulk.
I look up to my parents. What they’ve done and accomplished with their lives is pretty amazing. The best compliment I’ve ever received is that I make them proud.
Because of what I’ve accomplished at such a young age, people have an assumption of me and my personality… but I’m pretty sensitive and responsible.
The hardest part about my job is when I feel like I’ve done something pretty well and I get a bad review. Or you come off stage and feel like you’ve done well, but your boss is there asking you what went wrong.
I try to be constructive about it, and I try to be positive. Mostly I try to be happy for what I’ve produced and be my own critic. It’s hard to do; there’s a lot of self-analyzing you have to do with your work in ballet. Everyone has an opinion and they're not always good.
The most rewarding part is being on stage, because it allows you to be someone else for a few hours. The curtain comes up and you have an out of body experience. It's pretty cool.
I think about a life after dance a lot, especially now that I'm injured for a second time. I've studied dance for so many years, so why should I put it to waste? I would like to be an Artistic Director of a ballet company someday.
I constantly have music and choreography joining on in my head, but I'm a perfectionist, so I don't want to choreograph. I would not want to be stressed with deadlines or not produce something that is as good as I would like it to be.
I'm so grateful for my ability to perform something that I love. I never thought I would be in New York City Ballet and own my own apartment in NYC.
I'm not looking to break any records or anything right now. I just want to get back on stage and maintain my role as a Principal dancer.
Interview By Cory Stieg