Art of Living Well

New York City Ballet Dancer Tiler Peck Confirms: Even Ballerinas Eat Pasta

Tiler Peck. Photography by Gus Aronson. All images courtesy of Tiler Peck.

The New York Times once described Tiler Peck as “the ballerina who can stop time.” A neck injury in 2019 almost forced the New York City Ballet star to stop dancing altogether, but her superlative athleticism won out, and since then, she has helped will ballet into the mainstream. The dancer and choreographer's pandemic-era series of daily dance classes, hosted on Instagram Live, counted among its devotees (and special guests) Jennifer Garner, Sarah Jessica Parker, Leslie Odom Jr., and Josh Groban. She went on to develop "Turn it Out with Tiler Peck and Friends," a tour that sold out venues across London, New York, and California.

At the top of the bill was Peck’s signature creation, Time Spell, which featured her as principal dancer, choreographer, and director. With illustrious tap solos and sequences of improvisation, the piece coalesces into a bold and celebratory meld of classic and contemporary. Hot on the heels of its nomination for the Olivier Awards and the U.K.'s National Dance Awards, Peck offered CULTURED a peek into the life of a prima ballerina.

As a dancer and choreographer, how do you balance rigorous training with moments of relaxation?

This career is a really tough one on the body physically, so it’s very important to find moments of down time. My idea of relaxation is actually taking care of my body. I like epsom salt baths at night and then lying down on my back and watching a TV show while elevating my legs. This is ideal as it lets me relax while also allowing my body to rest and heal before the rigorous demands of the next day.

You were nominated for an Olivier Award for “Time Spell.” Tell us about the journey behind the production. How did it stretch how you see yourself as a creative?

I am actually still pinching myself at the Olivier Award nomination but it couldn’t be more fitting that it is for Time Spell—a piece I hold so dear to my heart. Time Spell was created with two women who I am lucky to call my friends, Michelle Dorrance and Jillian Meyers, who are also two of the most creative collaborators I can think of. This was actually a work that was created right after the pandemic during one of the first times we were all able to be in a studio with others and unmasked. Those ideas of longing to be a part of a community again, togetherness, and exploration of all styles are the heart of the piece and something I feel very lucky to be a part of.

Two events have been pivotal for you in the past five years: your nearly career-ending neck injury and your daily ballet class during the pandemic. Tell us how those were linked, and what you’ve learned about yourself and self-care through those moments? 

I had just gotten back to performing post-injury in December [2019], and then the pandemic hit in March. I had already had to take nine months off with my neck injury, and I needed to be dancing again. So I did what I always do and pivoted to thinking, How can I keep dancing? which then turned into, Well, if I'm going to be giving myself a daily class, I am sure there are a lot of individuals at home who might also want a class during this time. I had no idea of the impact and reach that the classes would ultimately end up having, but that is how the #turnitoutwithtiler classes were born.

What conversation partners have been crucial in your turn toward choreography?

Damian Woetzel was the first person to give me a commission and therefore the person who pushed me most to trust in myself. Since then I have been surrounded by some of the best choreographers in the world as inspirations, whether it be dancing Balanchine and Robbins works or from getting to be in the room with choreographers like Bill Forysthe, Alexei Ratmansky, Justin Peck, and Christopher Wheeldon. All have without a doubt inspired me just by being in their ballets.
What’s something people still get wrong about ballet or ballerinas?

I think the biggest misconception about ballerinas is that we are stuck up, don’t eat, and are "perfect." We are all human and make mistakes. I am always striving to reach my personal best, but am definitely not perfect. And I love my pasta!

What product do you use every day that instantly improves your mood?

My Valentino perfume.
What is a splurge you reserve for special occasions?

My Louboutins.

What do you do when you need to feel grounded?

Lay down and slow my breathing or talk with my family.
What is something you’d love for someone to buy for you, but would never buy for yourself? 

Diamonds, of course :) 

What’s your favorite smell, and what’s the product that best captures it?

Christmas time and a Christmas tree. 
How often do you get your nails done? Hair cut? Facial? Who do you swear by for these?

I try to get a mani-pedi once a month. My first ballet teacher used to make me come to class with my nails painted in a light pink because she said that would make me hold my hands and fingers differently while dancing. I have continued to carry on that tradition.
What is your favorite luxury that costs less than $20?

York Peppermint Patties.

What is the most luxurious thing in your life that’s free?

A necklace that is made out of stones from a ring owned by my father, who recently passed away.