Andrew Hayes Daly (26) is bringing Rock n Roll to the Ballet World. Born in New York City, he’s fresh air for the ballet scene combined with the very much traditional mentality of “work today twice as hard as you did yesterday”. And it pays off. But the life of a young ballet dancer is probably very different than what you had expected.
Andrew is young and energic and extremely determinated. It doesn’t matter if you’re a dancer or not, he is going to leave you inspired:
“I started taking ballet classes after school when I was about 5. I liked dancing but I didn’t fall in love with it until several years later when I went to a summer program at The School of American Ballet.”
Scott Thyberg was one of my first teachers and mentors growing up. He came up to me one day at barre and said, “You need to go to SAB.”
“I’d never even heard of the school before then. Scott gave me the to-do list for men in ballet: get your splits, stretch your feet, keep your back flexible, and clean up your footwork. He really pushed me. After working so closely with him, I was able to attend the SAB summer course on full scholarship.”
It was during this experience that I first appreciated ballet for all that it is.
“I was afforded the opportunity to witness the full spectrum of talent and ability in the ballet world, and to pinpoint where I fit in amongst others. This gave me perspective which ultimately built confidence. After that summer, I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer. I went back to Connecticut to spend the year training even harder than before.”
My dedication paid off when I got an offer to attend yet another world class ballet school in New York City, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onasiss School at American Ballet Theatre.
We were a golf and hockey family; both of which turned out to be great for developing strength and coordination in my legs.
“As the youngest of three boys, I loved that I was the only one who danced ballet. It gave me something to call my own, apart from school, family, or friends from the neighborhood.”
Like most dancers, I gained a sense of self and a heightened maturity level at a very young age.
“I enjoyed the growth I was able to experience through ballet.”
I wish my hometown had cared more about the performing arts when I was young.
“I once tried to get my Middle School take a field trip to watch me dance in The Nutcracker. It was a full production in a big theatre with beautiful sets and costumes but no one cared; they all brushed it off as if it were some ridiculous idea.”
To be honest, I’m grateful for that apathetic response. It pushed me even harder. It made me realize the importance of being in an environment that supports the arts. I was proud to be a dancer and I needed to be around people who understood that.
Training with Franco Devita was life changing. I call him the “god of ballet technique.”
“I still give myself his barre when I’m warming up before a performance. He has combined the best aspects from every ballet syllabus into one. The way he puts a class together is impressively beautiful and inspiring. I had just turned 15 when I first met Franco. I was one of the first 15 students to be offered a spot in the newly established Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. I spent two years with Franco there before joining Pennsylvania Ballet.”
My professional career would not have been possible without him. I still hear his voice in my head when I’m dancing. One of my most memorable moments with Franco was when I did six pirouettes for the first time. Upon seeing my overjoyed reaction, he uttered a phrase that has stayed with me to this day: “that wasn’t luck that was technique.”
When I’m in company class and I see a fellow dancer struggling with a step or turn, I share one of his anecdotes and sure enough, it happens for them. He was truly born to teach. Franco, along with Raymond Lukens, created the ABT Curriculum and Syllabus that many schools around the world are adapting to. I highly recommend buying the book.
I feel free when I’m performing. If it’s a character role, I really play off the audience and create a dialogue for myself within the choreography. It’s a wild sensation that starts in the rehearsal studio.
“There’s this huge debate in the ballet world about rehearsal vs. performance. I disagree with the people who argue that what you do in the studio is what you’ll do on stage. Ballet is a performance art; it’s the human body moving in space.”
You can’t guarantee a perfect performance, but you can go out there with the best intentions and be successful. I always take the rehearsal process very personally, and carry it internally. I want my soul to absorb the choreography and music. I create this cocoon made of learning and exploring myself in space with the music. I feel like rehearsal is one of the reasons I love ballet.
” It affords you the privacy to really feel everything because there’s no audience, and it’s not a performance. I become extremely focused in rehearsal, and I look down a lot in the studio just out of comfort, not lack of confidence. I have terrible eyesight, my left eye is always late to the party, and I have problems with depth perception and vision because of it. Not many people know that.”
The rehearsal process is so personal for me because it’s the only time I have for myself with the role before I give it all away to the audience on stage. It’s why I feel so free on stage. All the hard work has been done; all the explorations in movement have been addressed.
“The last decision I get to make before my performance is to leave the wings and enter the stage. Being on stage is where I discover the new frontiers of my dancing and performance style. I’ve been really lucky to be in a company who learned to trust my system.”
Initially, my performance ability was doubted based on how I rehearsed. But as they saw more and more of my process, they knew they could trust me to deliver. I’m very grateful to them for that. I never look down when I’m on stage, I’ve hatched into a butterfly.
There is one time I would say I was terrified on stage. We were performing Roland Petite’s Carmen and I was given the role of Lead Bandit. The ballet opened in a bar, with the girls in high teased buns and fake cigarettes with smoke filling the stage. During a stage rehearsal of the Tavern scene men’s dance, I was asked to move very far downstage, almost at the orchestra pit where the curtain usually came down. I’ve never danced that far downstage before.
“The step involved dropping down to the knee on the left, then switching to the right, standing up to turn around, and finishing with double tour. The phrase repeated six times. Later that night during the show, as the music lead up to that dance,
I told myself, “Ok, you are going to run downstage, but don’t go too far because what if you fall into the Orchestra Pit?”
.As I ran into my spot, I immediately realized that I was way too far downstage. I tried to back up but it was impossible because I had already started the sequence. During the fifth set, I looked down at the conductor; I’ve never seen her look worried before, until that moment.
I landed my fifth double tour off balance and it pushed me even more forward. If I had continued dancing, I would have fell into the pit. While you should never change the choreography, I just knew that I wanted to live another day.
“I decided it would be ok, as the Lead Bandit, to skip the final phrase. I threw my arms in the air as a “Come on everyone!” to lead us into the next formation instead of finishing the step. I would say it was a good save.”
Did I mention I was in a bright orange wig? It makes me laugh now.My daily schedule begins with an hour and a half class at 9:30 and ends at 6. In there is an hour for lunch. The rehearsal schedule between 11-6 depends on the program. Some weeks are very light while others are busy.
“My intense training regiment actually happens over the summer when I take class and go to the gym 6 days a week. Without an unpredictable rehearsal schedule to worry about, I have time to focus on building muscle and addressing any injuries I may have with my trainer. I look at the summer as bears look at hibernation. All the hard work I put in over the summer will last me through the season until the following summer. It’s how I maintain and improve my technique and stamina. I love Pilates and using a BOSU ball for strengthening my core and balance.”
How was entering Pennsylvania Ballet?
Socially, it wasn’t easy. But nothing ever is when you’re new.
“I joined Pennsylvania Ballet at 18 years old as an apprentice. My first day of work began just one week after I auditioned in the fall; the company had already been working for a month.”
They only had 8 working days left before their production of Dracula was set to open. I had four days to learn a full corps dance, and 2 men’s dances, all of which I was placed in the front row.
“This dance was called “Stick Dance.” It included five foot rounded rails that we would throw across to another person, dance with, and do double tours with them over our heads, like little helicopters.”
Luckily, I had a friend in the company who was willing to teach me the dance, using a Swiffer, in his apartment that night. The next day, I saw that I had a private rehearsal with our former ballet mistress, Tamara Hadley.
“When I stepped into the private rehearsal with my ballet mistress, she brought this massive binder with her, placed it on the piano, and opened up to the page where the men’s dance choreography began.”
I politely told her that I already had an idea of the steps and if we could just put the music on, I could show her what I knew. She looked at me with this stare that either meant: “how dare you” or “thank god”.
“I showed her what I knew and she was very pleased. It was that moment that showed my artistic staff that I was a hard and dedicated worker who was focused and ready for anything. It is one of my favorite memories with Tammy. She always looked after me and made me feel safe.”
My parents’ schedule prevented them from seeing a lot of the performances early on in my career. Tammy would always ask if they were in the audience if I was performing a big role. When I told her no, she would say “I’ll be your stage mommy out there.” She’ll always have a place in my heart.
Who is your favorite person to perform with?
“That’s a tough question. I’ve partnered with a lot of people and have shared really great ballets with others.”
My favorite people to work with have to be Evelyn Kocak and Daniel Cooper. Evelyn and I have partnered together in a lot of ballets and have been principal understudies for a handful of other roles.
“The amount of information she gives me to help execute a tricky step or a difficult partnering maneuver is incredibly helpful. I’ve always loved the rehearsal process with her. Daniel Cooper and I have danced many Forsythe ballets across from one another as well as a few additional duets together. It’s always a lovely and professional atmosphere with Daniel. It feels like we are both reaching for the same goal without the competitive edge most people lead with. Evelyn and Daniel are great people inside and outside of the studios and I’ve always felt we’ve artistically complemented each other throughout the years.”
In addition, I enjoy performing with children. When I perform Grandfather in The Nutcracker, I always try to make the experience fun and enjoyable for the kids. It could be their first time on stage in their very first ballet.When I dance Candy Cane, in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, I get to dance with the older group of girls. Some have even played my grandchildren years before. I always give a pep talk to all of them before we start our dance to come together and give everyone an energy boost. It’s my tradition that a lot of them look forward to. I make sure it’s as memorable and magical for them as possible.
I’ll usually throw on a Spotify Top 40 mix when I’m at the gym but mostly, I hum. I hum while I’m reading or when I’m drawing. I hum a lot. Something about it keeps me calm and in the moment.
“I guess it’s also an easy ab workout. Besides that, my best friends Annie Sullivan and Veronica Kohl used to have a band with two other musicians called “Oh! My Blackbird.” I would listen to their music a lot. Annie’s new project, Miracle Worker, will be releasing a self titled album later this year. She’s a true poet with a great sound.”
All dancers have to sacrifice their physical bodies to the art form. Anyone who wants to excel in any professional field has to give up certain things.I don’t think there’s been one sacrifice that’s bigger than the other.I missed my brother’s wedding because of a rehearsal but as I get older, I try to not sacrifice too much of my personal life. I’ve learned to stay true to myself and if I’m faced with making an uncomfortable decision, I take a step back and ask why I’m being put in the position.
“A career in ballet is short and I would never do something beyond working hard to get cast in a ballet. If someone were to hold something over my head that I would have to do in order to get cast, I would say no. The ballet world is evolving for the better, and I’m not scared to use my voice to continue the evolution.”
I wish I had taken part-time college classes when I started my career.
“I thought that with my busy rehearsal schedule, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to do it, but I most definitely did. We should always be prepared for the next step, especially in such an uncertain career.”
I also wish that I had 20/20 vision, didn’t need to wear contacts, and that I could fly round-trip to Europe for $20, but I guess those are all just dreams and false realities.
I think being a choreographer would be a lot of fun but I also recognize the stress that comes with that responsibility. I have a journal that’s jammed pack with ideas: bizarre inventions that still don’t exsist, goals, hundreds of to do lists, and yes, a handful of ballets.
“I have things to say through dance, but I don’t see myself doing that anytime soon. I have the whole ballet written down with blank spaces between them so when it’s set, I have places for the dancers to explore the dialogue for themselves so it becomes an honest performance. I have a drawing of what I want to stage to look like. I also have the music organized and timed for editing and cutting. One day I’ll put it on stage, when it feels right. I also have an active wear/dancewear line that I’ve started working on which is exciting. I always keep a journal, it’s my Idea Bible.”
I admire dancers who make tough decisions in order for them to be happy. The ballet world can be so gruesome. You have to jump when you get an opportunity that could keep you feeling positive and motivated.
“Recently, a few dancers left the company due to widespread low morale. Instead of suffering through it, they found a new home to be themselves and have a sense of freedom. It’s how any normal person would react, but in the ballet world, dancers tend to forget the “business” side.”
I admire people who care about their happiness and make the decisions to put themselves before the job. Auditioning and leaving a company can be a tough decision because it may burn bridges. But as dancers, we should be allowed to explore different options, different companies, countries, and styles.
“Some directors take things too personally and others are excited for their dancers to explore other realms of the world. We give and give and give and they take and take and take. I love hearing strong success stories. The courage of others to explore change is inspiring and it’s impacting the dance world for the better.”
My goal is to inspire the next generation of artists who have something to say and to want to express themselves through art. I want to know the next generations of artists are more interested in collaborating than competing; that art isn’t life or death, the human condition is. I want to inspire others to have a voice and communicate that idea through art. And I also dream of a time when the Arts won’t need to rely on the money of individuals, but will be fully funded by the government, and recognized as a vital and essential part of peoples lives.
Favorite City: Rome, Italy /Dish: Pizza and Sushi / Band & Song: Marlene Dietrich, Falling In Love Again / Movie: Hard to pick just one! Drop Dead Gorgeous, Cry Baby, First Wives Club, The Hunger /Dogs or cats? DOGS! /Beach or Mountain? Both / City or Countryside? Both
If someone rejects you, questions your ability, or tells you that you can’t achieve your dream…prove them wrong. Not only will you be a happier person, but the determination and hard work will only make you a better dancer. The easiest part of ballet is quitting. The hardest part is believing in yourself.
KEEP UP WITH ANDREW:
Rachel Neville / Vikki Sloviter / Gerardo Vizmanos / Alexander Izialiev / Dean Barucija