More than ever, this 16th century dance form — Italian Renaissance in origin and brought to the French court by Catherine de Medici — is a fitness regime that’s both high art and extreme workout. So, no better than to ask ballerina Kat Wildish, a dancer’s dancer, about her travels and staying fit.
Singled out by Balanchine and Baryshnikov, Kat is a professional ballerina who’s performed with the world’s top companies including New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. After a 40-year career on stage — signature role the Sugar Plum fairy, since you asked — her star power is luminously ashine in New York City.
These days, she travels worldwide to teach and choreograph. She inspires devoted students with ballet lore, humor, and tough love. A typical Kat maxim: If you practice crap, it’s going to look like crap. In summer, Kat holds dance workshops all over the globe—Tuscany, Reunion Island, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, Brazil, or elsewhere.
Your favorite ballet memory?
You could say I knew I “made it” when I danced in New York City Ballet, directed by Balanchine, and later American Ballet Theatre (ABT), then directed by Baryshnikov. But what was, perhaps the most warming memory, was reuniting with a childhood ballet teacher later in life, at a conference where I was speaking. When I was a child, she told me that I had “unfortunate feet”, inferring that I wouldn’t be able to dance ballet well. At the conference, she was giving a presentation. I walked into the room just as she put a performance picture on the projector of me, and proceeded to tell the whole room how beautiful this ballerina’s feet were. This “full circle” moment reminded me how much her “unfortunate feet” comment had instilled determination in me to work hard throughout my career.
What is your favorite city?
Venice, Italy. There is a timeless charm, especially in the evening after the daytime tourists leave. It’s full of talented artisans who make items like Burano lace or embroidered house linens. And there’s wonderful hospitality. We stay at a family owned B&B and the owners give us the most beautiful suite that just feels like home. We got to know them very well several years ago, when we had to stay in Venice for 10 extra days because airborne volcano ash from Asia grounded all of the flights in and out of Venice.
Ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson from The Royal Ballet recently said, “This world is for really tough women.” Do you agree?
I don’t know that I’d say it’s for tough women, but more for resilient women. You get pounded on, but you always come back. Every person can benefit from a balance of toughness and gentle, kind qualities.
Sleep! More sleep. Eat. And more sleep! I tend to get jet lag no matter what I do, but only when going from east to west. I use Apolla compression socks. And Zarēly makes compression tights for dancers that also work on the plane. I make sure to bring crunchy food: crunchy cucumbers, crunchy vegetables or seeds and nuts mixed with raisins — I make my own trail mix. I always have my ball with me. It’s a no-brand, spiky ball about 4-5”. I poke the ball with a pen and push some of the air out so I can put it between my knees or under my hips.
I use a big dance bag that’s like a large purse. I have hair combs, wide toothcombs for a French twist. I always have a Flexistretcher band for my legs and hips that I stretch with, a Hauea yellow band for my feet or arms, a nice (usually Italian) collapsible grocery type bag, and a pair of Russian Pointe canvas ballet shoes. I like them because they work on any floor surface and you can throw them into the laundry and pull them out and they’ll dry in a few minutes. I get them at On Stage in New York.
What do you always travel with?
My Herbalife travel packets, my husband, a small bouncy ball to stretch my feet, a 4” Yoga Studio spiky massage ball, and a pair of Grishjo 2007 or Capezio Contemporara special order pointe shoes. I got married in my pointe shoes at Belvedere Castle in Central Park. For evening, I’ll bring a pair of Jimmy Choo classic black pumps.
Favorite U.S. city?
It’s a tie between New York, which has been my home since I was 18, and Florida beach towns like Fort Lauderdale. I grew up in Tampa and I’ll always love the Florida sun and sea.
Favorite restaurant and meal?
Anywhere Italian, with good Bolognese and fresh peas! I like Brasserie 8 ½ in New York, with orange lighting that looks good for pictures. I’ll order the Duck Three Ways, or my husband and I will share the Seafood Tower.
Do you cross-train?
I enjoy cross-training in many different ways. For years I did Pilates. Right now, I’ve been working in dedicated stretch/strengthening classes as well as a zero-gravity type flexibility and a body awareness practice called Shen Tao. When I travel, I always try and get a Gyrotonic class in. I also enjoy yoga, especially Ashtanga. I try and do the Five Tibetan Rites every day.
There is a beautiful hotel in Grosseto, Italy, called Fattoria La Principina. It is owned by the Bianchi family. Their son, Leonardo, is the most wonderful host. Very personable and attentive, like family. I am treated like royalty. The hotel itself is very quiet, has beautiful rooms with great high ceilings, and can accommodate hundreds of dancers for summer intensives. It is far enough from Rome and Milan, but so very close to the sea.