The New York City Ballet principal talks about her new outlook on dancing
Mon Apr 22 2013
Time Out New York: I didn’t realize you had scoliosis. Is it major?
Sara Mearns: It’s not major, but it is in an area that’s inconvenient. It’s curving, but it also torques, so that’s where I run into problems—when the vertebrae are torquing, it pulls on the psoas and the muscles. I have to monitor that and to strengthen my lower abdominals so that nothing drops.
Time Out New York: Better to know now: It will keep you dancing longer.
Sara Mearns: Totally. Hopefully, I’ve got 20 years still.
Time Out New York: Did your outlook change as you started attending other performances?
Sara Mearns: Yeah. For ten years, I was so obsessed with ballet and with this company—and I still am—but I feel I got trapped in my own bubble. I didn’t see anything else outside of it, and I didn’t want to. When that is taken away from you completely, and you have nothing left—there were days where I couldn’t even breathe. Or it was, Why am I here? It changes your outlook, and you’re just like, Okay, I’m going to have to find something to do to inspire me again, because if I don’t, I’m going to spiral downward, and I may not come back again. So I wouldn’t even go with anybody. I would just buy tickets online and go see plays and musicals—things that I wanted to see for a long time. Or I would go to museums and art exhibits by myself. I started going to the Philharmonic every single week. I started to realize that there is more to life than what this is. This is my life, and I couldn’t imagine anything else, but you have to experience everything else outside of it to bring it back in. You become a better dancer, a more knowledgeable and intelligent artist. You have to experience the other art forms and figure out what you like and what you don’t like. I still try to do it now. This month, I have something booked every night before the season starts. I’m kind of addicted to it now. I have to be doing something—I can’t just be sitting at home. That’s so boring.
Time Out New York: What are you doing tonight?
Sara Mearns: I’m going to see Nikolai and the Others.
Time Out New York: That’s great. I have to say that I think your Instagram [saramearns] is the best.
Sara Mearns: [Laughs] I’m kind of obsessed with it.
Time Out New York: Was that part of this rebirth, too? Your embracing of social media?
Sara Mearns: It was. Also when I wasn’t dancing, I started getting letters from a lot of kids and students, and I wanted to respond to them. I realized, I am a ballerina, and people look up to me—people want to see inside my life. I never thought that I would want to be interested in anything like Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, but as soon as I started doing it, I was like, I kind of love doing this. I got a publicist when I was out. I really want to expand my image. I want to be an ambassador for dance: Why can’t a ballerina be the face of something, like athletes are? I’m working on that now. She was like, “If you want to do that, you have to be on social media. You have to put yourself out there.”
Time Out New York: You’re good at it. You’re natural.
Sara Mearns: It seems natural to me, and I enjoy doing it. People are like, “I don’t know if you should be putting so much of your life out there.” But it’s not like I put everything out there. And people respond to it. I wouldn’t put things out there if people weren’t enjoying it. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t follow me; it’s your prerogative.
Time Out New York: When you weren’t dancing because of the injury, knowing that you were going out to see so much made me imagine that you were okay. I felt calm about that. Not that I think about dancers all the time and I don’t look at Twitter and Instagram obsessively, but I knew that you were in a good place.
Sara Mearns: Well, I had a really bad summer—June and July were really bad, and I was in a really dark place, but then I got out of it. I had friends that would say to me, “You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna get through this.” That’s what I just kept saying to myself and for some reason I knew I was going to be okay, and that I was going to come back. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know if I was going to be a different dancer or a different person. That was kind of scary. I didn’t know if I was going to be the dancer I was; I didn’t know if I wanted to be. It was kind of like a no-man’s-land, but I felt okay after a while.
Time Out New York: Does having such praise get to you?
Sara Mearns: No. I’m the person who kind of still, to this day, doesn’t like to take compliments and doesn’t like to take praise. I don’t hang on it, and I still kind of don’t believe it and I guess that keeps me humble about it. I still only see a lot of flaws, and what I have to work on, or what I still haven’t done. Sometimes I feel like I’m climbing a ladder, but that’s what keeps me on the ground and not in the clouds like a lot of people can get. I may get really good reviews, but I don’t go around announcing it, like, “Did you see that review today?” I know it’s there. I am very thankful and grateful that people respond to my dancing. That helps me when I go out there, because I want them to have an experience: I want them to go to that crazy place that I go to as well.
Time Out New York: Why do you want to be an ambassador to dance? How can you do that?
Sara Mearns: Black Swan gave ballet a bad rep. And it was very personal to me, because her [the protagonist’s] character was my life. Especially at that moment as well, because I was rehearsing to do full-length Swan Lake. I found it very offensive, because they were portraying what I do for a living, what I love and am passionate about, and what I have worked for since I was three. And I know it’s just a Hollywood film; I know they just did it for ratings and for the wow factor, but I took it very personally and was very offended. I don’t think I was the only one who thought that. But it sold tickets; we sold out Swan Lake, we had to add an extra performance, and it got ballet out there in people’s faces—maybe not in the best light, but it did. After that I felt, I want people to see the beautiful side of what our life is, and that we’re just as great as those athletes that get praised all the time. I’m a huge fan of tennis—[Maria] Sharapova is all over the place. Her face is on everything. Why can’t ballerinas be like that? I feel we should get equal amount of praise for what we do; it would get more people to come to the ballet. It’s not about me personally, but it would be so cool to be part of something like that. I would love to do modeling, I would love to be in fashion shoots; I want this to be something for dance and for ballet, for Lincoln Center—to get it out there and to make it the cool thing to go and see. Instead of going to see a movie that’s really dumb. I had a conversation with somebody at a luncheon, and we were talking about visual arts versus performing arts and how, at MoMA, you can look at a painting for three seconds and move along. Why is that so much more appealing? It’s the attention factor. [People] have no attention span for sitting in a performance for two, two-and-a-half hours. You have to commit your time for that. Nowadays, people don’t want to do that, and I want to change that because I know that when they come and commit their time, they will enjoy it. That they will want to come back. The way to do that now in our world is to get your face out there somehow on a billboard, on posters, on whatever. Social media. You have to evolve with the time. The Huffington Post thing that I’m doing—the vlog—people watch videos online all the time now. If you don’t get your face out there online, people are not going to see you. That’s what I’m trying to go for.