Cupcakes & Conversation with Kelly Myernick, First Soloist, Houston Ballet

ballet dancer in long white dress bends on pointe
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Cupcakes & Conversation with Kelly Myernick, First Soloist, Houston Ballet

ballet dancer headshot
Kelly Myernick Photograph : Amitava Sarkar

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?

I am motivated by the guilt that my husband Kyle has already been awake and at work for two hours!

Why ballet?

I met a surfer recently who, when I basically asked him, “why surfing?” replied, “It checks all the boxes.” I knew exactly what he meant and I thought it was such a concise way to explain what I love so much about ballet – that opportunity to tap into the creative, athletic, intellectual, musical collaborative, daring, and romantic aspects of ourselves all at once. Despite all of the challenges, I can’t imagine a career as completely fulfilling. It checks all the boxes.

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

I am most looking forward to our new works. We have a new Azure Barton, new Edward Liang, and Stanton Welch is doing a new Rite of Spring. I love being part of a process from beginning to end.

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

In a fanatasy world, I would love to dance Onegin with Marcelo Gomes. He was my partner in my very first pas de deux class (spoiled for life!). We danced together a few  years ago and he is the most spontaneous and phenomenal partner. In my reality, I would continue to dance Christopher Bruce’s Hush with Nicholas Leschke. We have danced this more than any pas de deux and it never loses that something special for us.

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

The longer I dance, the more meaningful it has become to dance for the people I love. Being so far away from my family for so many years, the best theatre has my family in the audience. The Bolshoi was not so bad though…

How do you prepare your pointe shoes?

I step on them to flatten them, bang the tips to quiet them, put water on the box to soften, and bend the shank to hug the arch.

ballet dancer on pointe
Kelly Myernick in Bolero Photograph : Amitava Sarkar

What is your daily routine at the moment?

Every season I resolve to at least get to work by 9:15am. I’ve been trying to get myself to class earlier this season to get myself warmed up and hopefully do some injury prevention. It’s unusual not to have all six hours of rehearsal at Houston Ballet so we work until 6:45pm. Kyle and I have dinner together. I’m trying to read more and watch less tv, but that hasn’t really happened yet. I’m usually asleep by 11:30pm.

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

Far too often, I’m eating other people’s food because I left mine on the counter. Sorry company! I usually have cereal, fruit and coffee for breakfast. I snack on almonds during the day. I’ll eat leftovers or something light for lunch. We end up going out to dinner a lot. I’m always so hungry when I get home that I am too impatient to cook.

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

Six! What is this, thanksgiving?! I don’t know. The cast of Mad Men! In full costume.

What would surprise people about you?

My dad coached the World Cup Soccer Team.

Who inspired you to dance?

My very first teacher, Miss Jayne. She always tried to instill in us what a privilege it is to be a ballerina. 

ballet dancer in long white dress bends on pointe
Kelly Myernick in Giselle Photograph : Amitava Sarkar

What is your best piece of advice?

We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time. That was my Dad’s favourite thing to say and I think he lived a really admirable life. Work hard to be happy.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show?

I eat something light and try not to do too much pacing around. I take a shower so I start fresh and listen to music that gives me energy. I don’t really have any kind of ritual. The only thing I always do is sew my ribbons shut. I learned that lesson the hard way very early on.

How do you deal with the stress of performing?

My husband is usually in the audience for something that is really important to me. He gets pretty nervous which somehow makes me want to be calm. We can’t both be out there freaking out! I also like to focus on the orchestra and how fortunate I feel to have all of those amazing musicians playing with us. What an amazing experience to have in life. That though makes me want to just enjoy the performance more.

Which role has tested you the most & how?

Myrtha in Giselle has been a recurring challenge. Everyone seems to have a different opinion about how she should be played and it’s taken me awhile to hone in on who I think she is. The stamina is huge challenge. I think this role requires so much determination.

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

Something a designer could do much better! There would probably be a long skirt with a loosly corseted top in some kind of pretty, earthy color. I’m sure I’ve worn this costume a few times before.

What do you look for in a dance partner?

Trust, humor, and hard work.

What is your favourite quote?

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening which is translated through you in action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.” –Martha Graham. I always return to this quote when I’m looking for the courage to take risks and be myself. 

ballet dancer as a swan
Kelly Myernick and Artists of Houston Ballet
Photograph : Amitava Sarkar

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

I have this crazy left arm that either over pumps when I walk or looks like it’s carrying a purse! Our ballet mistress always has to remind me about “the purse.”

A phrase I use far too often is…?

“Whachacall.” Means nothing.

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

Ah. There have been so many. I had the opportunity to dance Jiri Kylian’s Soldier’s Mass a few years ago which was a ballet choreographed for a cast of men. I have never been more in touch with the qualities that make me feminine that when I was standing there with all of those guys. Hearing the way women in the audience responded during my little bow was one of my most memorable onstage experiences. Such a girl power moment. Dancing that piece was such an honor.

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

Only one thing comes to mind. It’s more of a sideshow act I can do with the unusually stretchy skin on my knees. Totally unappealing. I will forever regret mentioning it in an interview.

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

Healthy. I’ve had so many injuries the past few years. I’d really like to have a clean sheet.

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

I don’t have much of a strategy actually. I’ve always loved video and I would love to take some classes and work on some projects for the ballet. I have always felt, and maybe it’s naïve, that the next path would sort of reveal itself when I was ready. I’m really hoping that little strawberry-blonde babies are a big part of this path.