Letter to My Teenage Self: Sterling Hyltin

September 16, 2015

Whether she’s leading the pack in George Balanchine’s athletic Symphony in Three Movements or floating across the stage as the Sylph in August Bournonville’s La Sylphide, New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin is the definition of classical. Hyltin grew up training at the Etgen-Atkinson School of Ballet in Dallas, TX. Once she arrived at the School of American Ballet at age 14, it was a pretty quick rise to the top: She became a NYCB apprentice two years later and in 2007, after appearing as Juliet in the premiere of Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet, Hyltin was appointed principal. Catch her in NYCB’s Spring season at Lincoln Center. —Jenny Dalzell

Dear Sterling,

First and foremost, remember that you love to dance. You’re in your spring season of mastering a craft that should forever give you joy. Frustrations with technique or feelings of inadequacy are normal—but make sure your emotions are constructive. Never forget your natural talents. The dancer next to you may be a good turner, but you’re a good jumper! Nourish yourself by looking in the mirror and smiling at yourself at least once in every ballet class.

Peter Martins will later tell you, “The perfection is the imperfection.” The imperfection is the quirk of your own personality shining through your dancing. What’s perfect technique if there’s no soul behind it? Don’t get so caught up in comparing yourself to other people that it becomes a distraction. Instead, compare today’s self with yesterday’s self. You’ll improve much quicker that way. Dancing is what makes you you. And you wouldn’t be yourself anymore if you tried to dance like someone else.

At age 8 (courtesy Hyltin)

Take risks. George Balanchine said, “What are you waiting for? What are you saving for? Now is all there is.” Don’t get intimidated by a step that looks too difficult. Attempt it—and without expectations. You’ll probably surprise yourself. And if you don’t succeed right away, it’s OK to let out a little giggle about it. Laughter doesn’t mean you aren’t taking it seriously. Try to figure out why the step didn’t go well and delight in the challenge of that process. Enjoyment is the most important part!

Always yours,