Sara Mearns

The New York City Ballet principal talks about her new outlook on dancing

Time Out New York: You don’t mark steps very often, do you?
Sara Mearns:
No. Which got me in trouble. But it’s not so much marking as it is knowing how much to rehearse and how much you don’t need to rehearse. Marking’s not really going to get you anywhere. It doesn’t help me at all. I’m just more selective with how much time I need for something—we’ll do that tomorrow, or we’ll do that next week. If you don’t do the footwork, how do you know you’re going to be able to do it onstage? I’m not going to mark footwork. It’s pointless. It’s not going to get better that way. Okay, maybe I don’t need to do my arabesque that high today. But I’m not going to mark something that’s not already good.

Time Out New York: Does going to see so many other shows at night keep you more focused during the day? And because of that you don’t end up over rehearsing?
Sara Mearns:
Yeah. It’s just being smarter about how to work. I can keep my mind there and then switch.

Time Out New York: I don’t know you that well, but I think of you as a cut-and-dried person.
Sara Mearns:
[Laughs] Yes.

Time Out New York: On Twitter, you are also really into affirmations and positive quotes. I find that interesting. Why do they give you so much?
Sara Mearns:
I do love inspirational sayings. I don’t feel like I’m able to voice anything like that. And I am still a growing artist. I’m still a growing person, so I need those things to stay positive, to figure out a situation. Life is already complicated, and you need things to uncomplicate it as much as possible so you don’t get so wrapped up in a situation or a problem. It keeps me lighthearted and smiling and knowing that it’s going to be okay. It helps me deal with things that I may not be able to figure out or keep dwelling on. I like quotes about artists or art forms or movement or music. They’re just things to think about. 

Time Out New York: When you got this new outlook on life, what was it like before? What did you shift from?
Sara Mearns:
I wasn’t in the moment before. I don’t think I appreciated what I had. Maybe I did, but looking back now I feel like I didn’t; I didn’t put enough value in what I have and the people I have in my life. I wasn’t as grateful. You have to have something taken away from you to appreciate everything. You have to hit bottom before you can go back up again, and you don’t really realize what a whirlwind you’re in or how much you’re spinning out of control until it crashes. I felt like I was just spinning out of control. My career was going so fast, and I was doing so much and my personal life was going out of whack, and there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with it mentally—and I don’t really think I was. The universe crashed. Thank goodness. 

Time Out New York: Aren’t injuries somewhat emotional?
Sara Mearns:
Totally. Especially with your back—that’s where you hold all of your tension. I didn’t realize how much tension I had in my body until I let it all go. And that was four months into the injury. It was nuts. Now I’m much more clearheaded most of the time, and I don’t dwell on things; not everything is so dramatic and complicated. I don’t take everything so seriously, and I’m really trying to work on not judging people so much. It’s really hard! Sometimes in the world that we’re in, there’s a lot of…it can just get very tense between ballerinas and other people. I try to just say, “You know what? It’s not about me.” And I try not to judge whatever’s going on. I do my own thing and that’s it. I think I was worrying too much about what everybody else was doing or thinking or not doing and now it’s just like, You know what? Do your own thing.

Time Out New York: Have you considered going to college?
Sara Mearns:
Yes, I have. And my mom has really considered it for me. I need to. You’re right. I do. [Sighs] But right now, I don’t know if I have the mental space for it. I want to learn another subject or find something else that I’m interested in because I’m going to have to find something when I’m done. Who knows what I’m going to be doing? I do want to go back to school. I just feel like I need to get to that place in my life where I feel a little more calmed down. There’s a lot going on right now. I don’t want to have too much going on. I want to be able to really focus on it.

Time Out New York: But you don’t stress out too much about the future, do you?
Sara Mearns:
I used to. A lot, a lot.

Time Out New York: Were you like a 40-year-old 13-year-old?
Sara Mearns:
Yeah. I don’t know why. Now, I’m kind of like, It’ll fall into place. But it’s funny you bring that up, because now that all these people are getting engaged and married—I think I’m one of two people out of the principal dancers that are not engaged or married. So when those things happen…I start thinking, Am I behind here?

Time Out New York: Come on, you’re not even 30.
Sara Mearns:
I know! But still, it makes you think. Everyone around you is starting to get engaged and all of your friends are settled down, but it’s true. I’ve got so much time. I was roommates with Tiler Peck in Copenhagen, and then she left and got engaged. I was like, Oh my God. What is happening? I like planning my year; I like having that and knowing where I’m going to be going. But I don’t stress about the future anymore.
New York City Ballet is at the David H. Koch Theater (at Lincoln Center) Apr 30–June 9.

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