Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Isabella Boylston-Prima Ballerina
Isabella Boylston flies through the air with the greatest of ease. PHOTO: Gene Schiavone
Friday, July 28, 2017


Isabella Boylston eyed the latest cover of Sun Valley Magazine, which showed a photograph of herself flying across stage, one foot poised to land on stage, the other straight up in the air.

“That’s cool,” she said. “Sometimes I can’t believe that’s me doing that.”

Boylston, who took her first ballet steps as a 3-year-old growing up in Sun Valley, has been wowing the ballet world with her athletic power jumps and expansive range. And she’ll treat the hometown fans to her awesome athleticism on Aug. 22 and 24 when she brings some of the top ballet dancers in the world to Sun Valley.

Isabella Boylston confesses she’s hardly ever without a chocolate chip cookie in her purse. PHOTO: Karen Bossick

“We’ll be featuring the Serena Williams and the Michael Jordans of ballet. Even in New York I haven’t seen a lineup like this,” said Boylston as she began ticking off such dancers as Misty Copeland, Marcelo Gomes, Xander Parish and Lauren Cuthbertson representing such ballet companies as The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, The Marinsky Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet.

Boylston’s athleticism was shaped by her early days growing up as the daughter of outdoor loving parents who met on a Sun Valley ski lift.

Her mother Cornelia towed her by bike trailer from their home in the Meadows Trailer Park to Pioneer Montessori School. And her father Mike, a drummer who played with Muzzy Braun and others, had her on skis as soon as she could walk.

It was her mother who signed her up for ballet classes at Footlight Dance Centre. And, when one of the teachers said she had the perfect look for a ballerina, Boylston doubled down.

Her fate was cast at 14 when she won the regional competition near her home of Boulder, Colo., where her mother had taken a job as head of Schwinn Bicycles’ technology department. She landed on the map of rising ballet stars when she won gold at nationals in New York.

“That was a turning point,” said Boylston.” If not for that, I probably would have gone to college and majored in science, as I had won state during eighth grade for my project on bombardier beetles. But I also loved ballet since day one. This was a wakeup call for my parents—an acknowledgement that I was pretty good at it.”

Boylston transferred to a boarding school for ballerinas in Florida, landing an offer of a position with the American Ballet Theatre when she was a high school junior.

“I was so mad because my parents wouldn’t let me go. But education is so important,” she recounted.

Of all the physical activities she’s taken part in, Boylston says ballet is the hardest.

‘Swan Lake’ is like pedaling uphill as fast as you can for three hours, never stopping. When I come off stage I collapse on the ground trying to get sensation back in my feet because they’re cramping so bad. And you have to do all that while being in character,” she said.

When she’s not pirouetting, Boylston is holding her fine-tuned body in positions that would be impossible for mere mortals--neck long, one leg up at a 90-degree angle, arms straight out--all the while looking as if it’s no effort at all.

“I could put myself up against any athlete,” she said. “I have to eat 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day. One of the big myths is that ballerinas all have eating disorders. That’s not possible. Like any pro athlete, I have to take care of my body and eat right. We’re extremely healthy compared with the general population.”

Her career has meant that she put downhill skiing on hold, even though she misses carving turns.

“I still cross-country ski—just don’t tell my director,” she confided.

But the sacrifices she’s made have been worth it, she says, as ballet has taken her on “a crazy journey.”

“The first year I joined American Ballet Theatre I went to Japan, France, England…and I was 18,” she said. “Now, of course, I’ve being invited to some amazing places, like St. Petersburg, Russia, as a guest artist. Traveling by myself instead of with a company, I’m able to schedule a couple extra days in each place so I get a real cultural immersion in places like China and Argentina.”

Boylston has danced before Argentineans who are wildly enthusiastic audiences and Japanese  who are politely reserved. And she danced with the first ballet company to dance in Oman where hosts asked the men to perform in slacks because they found the tights so offensive.

More recently, she went to Budapest to be the dance double in “Red Sparrow,” which stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons. The film, which revolves around a young Russian dancer recruited against her will to participate in an operation against a CIA officer, is scheduled to be released in November 2017.

“It was so different from ballet. When you’re on stage, you only get one try-- you’re in the moment. With movies, there are lots of do-overs,” she said.

“It’s hard to see myself on film,” she added. “It’s like listening to your voice on tape when it sounds so different. Although, watching myself dance may be even more alarming.”

Boylston hasn’t let success go to her head. She lives in New York with her husband Daniel Shin, a finance manager whom she says is so hilarious he could be a stand-up comedian. Isabella herself evokes the image of a chatty school girl—enthusiastic and still wide-eyed about the world around her.

“Everybody is expecting me to be a prima donna, but I don’t feel like it,” she said. “People think ballet’s full of backstabbing. But my best friends are the girls I dance with. Yes, we compete with each other but we’re supportive of each other, too. We feel like family.”

Boylston’s effusive personality is one reason she was able to attract so many top-notch dancers that she guarantees will please the audience. 

And she even talked them into giving free workshops to aspiring ballet dancers in between performances—payback to the teacher who gave her free instruction to ready her for competition at age 14.

“It’s important to give back. Even if the dancers won’t become professional dancers, I hope they will be inspired.”

Boylston is especially proud of a choreography workshop featuring her friend Gemma Bond, an up-and-coming choreographer who choreographed a performance dealing with the mythology of solar eclipses for Ballet Sun Valley.

“Choreography is not something that you hear a lot about, even when in school. And, while I didn’t pick her because she’s female, as a female director I do feel I have some responsibility to make sure females are represented. She’s a great choreographer regardless of her gender,” she said.

This is Boylston’s first time putting together a show.

I’m just thankful to be where I am doing something I love so much. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”


  • She’s a huge bookworm who loves fantasies and science fiction. Right now she’s reading Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind.” It’s the first in a fantasy trilogy about an orphan boy who becomes a legend.
  • Her favorite TV viewing encompasses fantasy, as well. Namely, “Game of Thrones” and “Vertigo.”
  • She loves all kinds of music but especially country and bluegrass since she cut her teeth on that listening to her father’s bands.
  • Her favorite food is pasta. I could eat it almost every day—I just had Christina’s penne and vegetable pasta.
  • Her vice in life? Cookies.
  • Her real name? Hildur Isabella after her Icelandic great-grandmother
  • Her mission? To empower girls who follow her via social media.


Ballet dancers will offer two different performances on Aug. 22 and 24.

The first, on Aug. 22, will include such numbers as “Toccare,” “Seven Sonatas,” an excerpt from Stravinsky choreographed by George Balanchine and “Don Quixote Pas de Deux.”

The second on Aug. 24, will include the world premiere of Gemma Bond’s homage to the solar eclipse, as well as a few other numbers.

Go to www.balletsunvalley.com for more information.


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