Every issue, GRAZIA USA highlights Game Changers, who inspire, educate, and celebrate individuality, beauty, and style. Meet Tiler Peck, the principal dancer of the New York City Ballet who’s performing in The Nutcracker, starring in The Hip Hop Nutcracker on Disney+ and has her sights set on directing a ballet company next.
My mom always said that whenever I could walk, I was just always dancing. She owned a dance studio, and she would put me in my age-appropriate class and, somehow, I would always get into the big kids’ room trying to do what they were doing. I have videos of a solo when I’m 4 years old and I could remember a three-minute dance. At 6, I could keep up with 18-year-old dancers. Since I started dancing at age 2 or 3 it’s always been a part of my life. My mom wanted me to be surrounded by more talented dancers that would really push me, so my grandmother would drive me three hours, four or five days a week, from ages 6 to 11 to the best studio for jazz, which was my favorite dance at that time. I was always trying to get out of ballet class, but my mom was a ballet teacher, so she always said, “In order for you to be great at any form of dance, you have to have technique and that comes from ballet.” When you’re younger, it takes the most discipline, plus it’s classical music versus dancing to songs you know, so it’s just not as fun. I’m so grateful that she really made me stick with it because I would never have the career that I do at the New York City Ballet had I not had that really great technical foundation.
When I was 11, I got a part in The Music Man on Broadway and moved to New York City for a year. My father took me to see The Nutcracker in the New York City Ballet, and I said, “Daddy, I’m going to dance on that stage someday.” There was something so magical about it. Ballet wasn’t the easiest for me. I felt like I was a much stronger in jazz and hip hop, but I said, “I’m going to work hard and I really want to try to become a ballerina.” And that’s what I did. I worked my butt off. I got into the [New York City Ballet] when I was 15 years old, which is young, and within four years, I was a principal dancer at the company.
Basically, I do all of the forms of dance that I did when I was younger, I just wear pointe shoes now. And that’s what’s great about New York City Ballet — it’s not super classical. I think if I was in a super classical company, I don’t know if I would have the same outlook, but it’s just the perfect fit for me.
Being in the company for 18 years, I know more than anyone that the mental aspect is so connected to the physical. I think that if you have a healthy mindset it makes for a healthier physique. I think my longevity, honestly, comes from balance, and I think that from a young age my mom set me up in a very balanced way. I wasn’t home schooled and even if I was in a car going three hours there and three hours back, she really tried to make me feel as normal as possible.
Another reason for my longevity is that I’m also just really responsible. My nights are not spent partying. My nights are spent taping my body so that I can work as the top athlete that I have to be the next day.
The older I’m getting, the smarter I must be with what I need to do to get through the day. Normally I’d have six hours a day of rehearsal, and I could do every single rehearsal full out and now it’s like, “Okay, which ones am I going to pick to really do full out?”
Now, I’m dancing in The Nutcracker and starring in The Hip Hop Nutcracker on Disney+. Next, I’m going on tour with a show I created earlier this year. I danced in it, and I directed it and I’m really excited to be producing it again in various places where I bring 10 dancers with me. I’ve also been choreographing for the Boston Ballet and the Vail Dance Festival. Plus, I have a partnership with the clothing line Stateside with something exciting coming soon.
In the future, I would like to direct a company. I would like to hope that I’d be an inspiring director. Some kids set out and they’re like, “I want to be a ballerina.” That just wasn’t me. I found it when I was 11, which is still young, but now I couldn’t think of [life] any other way.
— As told to Colleen Kratofil
Read GRAZIA USA’s Winter issue featuring cover star Lizzy Caplan: