Principal dancer, New York City Ballet
Fearful is not the word you’d expect a Principal dancer in a world-class ballet company to use to describe herself. Yet Lauren Lovette explains, “I’m just a little bit self-conscious.” This is a woman who performs for over 2,500 people every night for a living. “I try not to be afraid when I dance, and I try to just go for it—but I’m a fearful person by nature.”
From her immaculate arches to the way she emotes on stage, Lauren was born to be a ballerina. She’s performed lead roles in dozens of ballets, like Romeo and Juliet and Les Sylphides to name a few, yet struggled with stage fright for years. “I’m one huge contradiction,” she says. Here, she tells NYC Dance Project the secret to striking the right balance on and off-stage:
I’m a thinker, but I’m also a feeler—a very intense feeler. I’d say I like honesty, and I like realism. I like acting roles, but I can’t put anything on, I have to actually be living it. That makes me feel like I’m actually going through it.
My biggest dream was to dance Juliet. I saw Carolina Ballet do it when I was 12, and I was in the way back of the theater just crying. From that point on I always wanted to dance that part. I always danced for the roles that I wanted to dance, not for the promotions.
It’s weird to dance with all these dancers who I look up to. I have little kids who seem to look up to me, and I don’t know why! It happens really fast and feels like a blink. I stop and pinch myself all the time.
I don’t feel nervous anymore. I feel like the day Peter promoted me to soloist was the day I found what I needed. It was someone telling me, I am validating you as you are for who you are as an artist—and that’s enough. It gave me a lot of confidence because it made me feel like I could be myself, and I don’t have to look like anybody else. I can just be Lauren, and that’s enough.
Anything I do now just seems so especially big… but I love it.
I used to have terrible stage fright as an apprentice, but I went to therapy for it. I started performing kind of late, so I loved class and rehearsal but the stage felt like this big moment of testing. It felt like, “This is everything. If this goes badly, it’s over.” I would build things up in my mind.
It took me a while to realize that these people are in the audience because they paid money to have a good time and they want to feel something.
I started to think of New York City Ballet as my team, and reminded myself that I’m a part of it. It became not about me anymore, and it became about doing a good job for the company. I started dancing more freely and stopped making mistakes—and that helped me so much.
I get really invested in the show emotionally, because for me that’s the only time I feel like I’ve actually done something worth something. Emotion is imperative for me, so I’m always going to put something out there. I don’t know what it’s going to be always, because it has to be a real feeling—so that’s a gamble.
I’ve never expected to do the majority of the rep I’ve done, and I like it that way. I purposefully don’t look at the season, I just look at my schedule for the day and that’s it. I live in the moment because I have to. For me, that’s the most exciting way to live.
I think about life after dance all the time, and it’s a very simple life. I’d like to have a house on a lake, with a garden and my dog. I love the city and it was always my dream to live here, but maybe the intensity of my job and moving away when I was so young changed things.
This career demands so much confidence because you have to put yourself out there night after night. It’s draining for someone like me.
When I was younger, I used to spend a lot of time feeling like everybody was judging me all the time, but nobody was. If I had known that earlier and just gone for it, and danced, and been myself, I wouldn’t have been so trapped mentally. I was in my own head.
Let go of all that, and dance for yourself. Stop thinking about everybody else and take that energy and put it back into yourself. I do that more now and dancing is infinitely more fun than it used to be.
I like artistic hobbies. I take sketching classes, but I’m not very good. I really wanted to draw, but this isn’t really a talent of mine, just something I enjoy. I find it relaxing. I love pulling things off the street and turning it into something else. I know that sounds weird, but it’s free. I crochet and knit, and pretend that I paint. I’m crafty, I like crafts.
We need to grow our audience. People should know what we do. Dancers are athletes and artists, and they don’t get a lot of hype or recognition for that. There’s a lot of dance in pictures because people want it to be edgy, new, or something nobody’s done before.
Dancers have a way of speaking with their bodies. I hope that brings people into the theater instead of keeping them away.
Great dancers are real people.
Interview by Cory Stieg
Hair and makeup by Gisele Karounis
Dresses by Leanne Marshall. Tutu by DQ Designs, by Diane Schaubach.