Cupcakes & Conversation with Julie Diana, Principal Dancer, Pennsylvania Ballet

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Cupcakes & Conversation with Julie Diana, Principal Dancer, Pennsylvania Ballet

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Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Julie Diana. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?

A cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee with French Vanilla Coffeemate.

Why ballet ?

I initially wanted to be an Olympic gymnast, but I was scared of everything but the floor routine (and my tumbling wasn’t terrific). So my coach suggested I take ballet. I think I fell in love with its discipline and beauty.

What are you looking forward to dancing during 2012 & what are the big challenges likely to be for you ?

I’m coming back from having my second child, so returning to my “old self” will be the biggest challenge! But I’ll be dancing Giselle with my husband, Zachary Hench, and I’m already excited about it.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?

I’d love to do Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux with my husband. It’s the only ballet remaining on my bucket list.

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?

I saw a UB40 concert in Hawaii, in an amphitheater at the base of a volcano. That would my ideal venue!

ballet dancer on stage
Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Julie Diana in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: Paul Kolnik.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?

I crush the box and drip Crazy Glue in the tips. Then I rip out the fabric insole and 3/4 the inner shank. I also take a box cutter and remove a small section from the outer shank (about 1/4 inch wide) where I want the shoe to break.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?

We’re all usually up @ 6am. We have breakfast and play, everyone gets dressed…then our nanny comes to the house by 9am, we drop Riley off at nursery school and rush to company class. I rehearse, or not, depending on the rep, and spend the rest of my free hours playing with the children, running errands…typical mom stuff. And then there are Philadelphia Phillies’ games on the radio/tv and my writing for various dance publications. I try to squeeze it all in!

What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?

Trail mix, tons of fruit, a cereal bar, maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?

Robin Williams, Lynn Seymour, President Obama, John Lennon, and 2 wildcards.

What would surprise people about you ?

I love to bake 🙂

Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancers Julie Diana and Zachary Hench in La Sylphide. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.
Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancers Julie Diana and Zachary Hench in La Sylphide. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

Who inspired you to dance ?

My mom gave me every opportunity: She drove me into NYC every day for classes, had garage sales to pay for my pointe shoes (I wish she didn’t sell that ice cream cone cookie jar!) and let me move to San Francisco – by myself at 16 – to join SFB.

What is your best piece of advice ?

Live in the moment and appreciate what you have.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?

I like to have a small turkey sandwich (or something like that), take a nap, and then start with hair/make-up. At SFB, I would take a warm bath and do some yoga before my barre. At PA Ballet, I usually take warm-up class and then spend some time onstage before curtain.

How do you deal with the stress of performing ?

It’s harder the older I get! But I try to be conscious of my breathing and remember that the show will come and go…I might as well enjoy it.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?

There are so many! But Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake was very difficult, both technically and emotionally. I don’t feel like I ever reached the place I needed to be; I got too tired during the performances and couldn’t lose myself in the character.

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?

I’m a fan of longer skirts (romantic tutus and Juliet-type dresses), so it would probably be of that length with a free, open neckline.

What do you look for in a dance partner ?

Consistency, sensitivity, humor and familiarity.

What is your favourite quote ?

The situation does not call for freaking out.” -Grover from Sesame Street

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?

Anything that takes little effort.

A phrase I use far too often is … ?

“Where are my …(car keys, sunglasses, etc)?”

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?

When my husband proposed to me onstage after we danced Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet.

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?

My ability to multi-task while driving. Not safe, but very time efficient.

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?

Feeling solid and confident so I can lose myself in whatever it is I’m dancing.

What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?

I have a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania and I hope to use it, somehow! I already write for various dance publications, so my goal is to walk further down that path. Or do something totally different.