NYCB Principal Teresa Reichlen Writes a Letter to Her Teenage Self

July 15, 2019

When you think of a Balanchine ballerina, the dancer you imagine probably looks a lot like Teresa Reichlen. The New York City Ballet principal brings long-legged extensions and queenly poise to her extensive repertory of Balanchine “goddess” roles. She’s also a captivating force to be reckoned with in works by Jerome Robbins, Justin Peck, and Christopher Wheeldon. Born in northern Virginia, Reichlen began training at age 10 at the Russell School of Ballet. Asked to stay for the winter term following her first summer at the School of American Ballet, Reichlen became a New York City Ballet apprentice a year later. She received her corps contract a year after that. You can see her perform the principal role in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 during the company’s annual Saratoga Performing Arts Center residency this week. —Helen Rolfe

At age 16, about to perform Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes” in the School of American Ballet Workshop (courtesy Reichlen)

Dear Tess,

Embrace what makes you different. In a few years you will see the merits of standing out from the crowd. What you excel at is so unique. Even though you may be an outsider where you are right now, don’t worry—there are others who have the same passions as you and you will soon find them.

Keep up with school. Even though it can feel like a distraction from ballet at times, in the future it will be what grounds you and inspires your artistry.

You don’t have to give into peer pressure to be cool; you have so much talent and it is OK if you want to put all of your energies into that. When you get older and know you didn’t squander opportunities for frivolities, that will be a thing of pride.

Choose integrity and hard work over flattery. It will be a constant source of frustration for you, but you will gain respect (and the most devoted, caring friends and support system) because of it.

If something doesn’t feel right or fair to you, speak up about it. Just because a few are doing it doesn’t make it OK. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting someone directly, find a friend to confide in. Tell someone, anyone. You are probably not the only one who feels how you do.

You are a late bloomer, so please be patient. Don’t get frustrated with yourself. Put in the hard work and your dreams will come true!

As the title character in Balanchine’s “Firebird” (Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet)