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The Distancing Diaries: Tiler Peck Brings Ballet Class To the World On Instagram

March 30, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Tiler Peck

Welcome to The Distancing Diaries, where we chat with members of the theater community about how they’re staying creative and inspired in the time of social separation. While we can’t go to a show (for now), we hope that by sharing stories from the field, you’ll find comfort, solace, and maybe a few new ideas of how to pass the time. 

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Tiler Peck is “roughing it” just like everyone else. When arts organizations in New York City shut down, the New York City Ballet principal dancer flew home to be with her family in California (after a quick stint with a friend upstate New York) with limited items in her suitcase.  

Now, she’s sporting her mom and sister’s workout gear to teach daily ballet classes on Instagram Live — using the kitchen counter as her ballet bar. 

“I have to do this every day so I stay in shape and I feel good and stay healthy, so I thought, ‘There are probably a lot of people whose classes are cancelled or are at home now feeling depressed with nothing they can do,’” Peck says. “I should let whoever wants to join take class with me so that they can have something to do.”

The class initially started as Peck virtually teaching her mom’s advanced dance class (at the high school where her sister is the principal) on Zoom, and she just invited her Instagram following to join in on Live. Then it blew up on Instagram, and Peck now hosts #turnoutwithtiler classes Monday-Saturday at 10AM PST/1PM EST on Instagram Live @tilerpeck.

“People have said this is the thing that they look forward every single day,” Peck says. “I’ve just been just using this time to inspire others and engage with and appreciate the arts.”

Read more about how Peck is weathering the crisis and bringing joy to people through dance.

How has COVID-19 personally affected you?
I’m a principal dancer in the NYCB so when our theater closed down, it closed down what I love to do and also my job. We were supposed to be touring, and all our tours got put on hold. As a dancer, that’s where we work and that’s what I love to do every single day. That was a really scary thing to think: When’s the next time we’re going to be able to go into our theater and perform and do what we love?

You launched Instagram dance classes. What inspired that and what has the response been like?  
As a dancer, you have to be super dedicated, you have to keep up the work. I have to do this every day so I stay in shape and I feel good and stay healthy. I just started it off at a beginning to see if anybody would like it, and then the outpouring response that I got was insane.

Do you do multiple levels?
At first, it was just what I was doing, and then I started seeing the levels because I asked them all to tag #turnitoutwithtiler so that I can see the videos and put some corrections out tomorrow. I saw there was a lot of little kids or beginner adults who have never taken. Now I’ve started doing a beginner and an advanced combination for each exercise that I give. That way people aren’t like what’s going on? I also want to stay in shape myself so I know there are dancers out there who are really needing that advance level. It should be fun and I try to really engage with them and make it light. I just want them to know that this is going to be a serious hour class. It’s not just like let’s just shake. I want them to feel like this is an actual workout that they can look forward to. 

You also have a children’s book, “Katarina Ballerina,” coming out in May. A lot of parents are home with their children right now, how do you hope this book inspires them?
It’s basically about owning your own gifts and being accepting that you’re okay to be different from the other kids and just owning those gifts and dreaming big. Sometimes in dance, somebody can have better technique, but really what draws people to you when they watch someone dance, it’s the thing that you can’t teach, that inner light that shines through. That’s what this character has. I think dance is this universal language that everybody can understand. It brings joys to people and I think that this little girl Katarina has this amazing spunk and uniqueness, a lot of people will be able to relate to. 

What is keeping you inspired during this time?
I’m always constantly looking for ways to keep my mind working and constantly growing, and honestly, I feel like I want to use the platform that I have to give the knowledge that I have and inspire kids in whatever way I can. I’m using this time to teach others and work on my fashion line so people can have leotards that I like to dance in. I try to be creative. I think this is a time when everybody can really be creative. It’s kind of like a forced creativity.

I also want to write a book about overcoming this major injury that I just recovered from. I feel like people can really relate to not being understood by their doctors and feeling lonely when they’re going through an injury. I have a lot of things that I want to do so this is a time where I can do them because my workload at the New York City Ballet isn’t really that difficult now. 

How do you think people can support the arts community and engage with it during this time?
It’s amazing what people are doing by livestreaming some of their work so people can feel engaged and be learning and seeing this incredibly artform. I think it really is hard for the art organizations. They’ve lost a lot of their funding and even someone like me. I’m giving these classes completely for free but I’m also not working right now. And somebody actually asked me, “How can we support you?” At this time I’m just doing it because I really want to do it. It’s a hard situation for everybody. I think just staying together and doing it together is the best way possible.