Sara Mearns, Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet

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'I’m from Columbia, South Carolina. I started dancing when I was three. I actually do remember walking into the studio. My teacher would draw chalk spots and flowers on the ground where you had to be. I loved being there and I accelerated fast. Ballet grows, obviously, into something else. Eventually, I started going to New York in the summers from when I was 12 to 16 to SAB—the School of American Ballet. That's when you really have to decide if you want to make ballet your career. Directors start looking at you as a professional while you're still a pre-teen. When I was 16 I stayed for the winter term, did that two years in a row, and then I got my apprenticeship for New York City Ballet. An apprenticeship is like being an intern but it’s like your trial period. You get paid per performance and they teach you a lot of ballets but you don’t perform all of them. You perform maybe six or seven ballets in a season. They try you out to see if you can take on the challenge, if you can take on the schedule, and if you fit in the company. It’s a hard year—but it was my life and I did sacrifice a lot at an early age to make it my career. You become an adult very, very fast.

ON MEETING PEOPLE

At this point in my career, I try to have a separate life from theater and dance since I see those people 24 hours a day. It’s good to have a group of people outside of dance who I can go and see and enjoy my time with. It’s especially important to date somebody or be in a relationship with someone who is not at the theater, but is still in the dance world. My boyfriend is a choreographer. He did On The Town. Yesterday I saw two of his shows—I try to see his stuff when I’m not doing my stuff. You look at your schedules and say, 'Do you have this night off?' and we’re like OK, great, let’s not schedule anything else. We make it work. We both travel a lot so we just have to look at the year and say, 'OK, you’re going to be here, I'm going to be here. I’ll come here and see you.' It’s kind of nice that way as it makes the time together a lot more special.

RELAXATION

I wish I had more time to really wind down. We get done with the show at night and then we go back to work at 9:30 or 10AM, and that’s 6 days a week. My day off is always a Monday so I'll schedule a massage and PT that day. If I’ve had a long day of rehearsing and I don’t want to do another barre and I don’t want to warm myself up before a show, I put my makeup on, do my hair, turn on the shower in my dressing room very hot and stand in the shower with full make up and hair on. Just hot water pouring all over my body. Then I’ll get out, dry myself, put my tights on, put my leg warmers on, put my costume on, and just go on stage and go through the steps. And that’s it! It’s not relaxing but it is what you have to do to get your body ready. A lot of us lay down on the floor and put our legs up to take the swelling out of your legs. You lay on heating pads. It’s a glamorous slash wear-and-tear reality. I have a basket on the floor of all physical therapy stuff...like muscle rollers and muscle rolling balls and heat patches and heating pads. You go through and see what you need that day to keep you going.

Most girls in the company do go and get pedicures and manicures, which I just find counterproductive because my feet are going to look so bad anyway, so what’s the point? Also, when I get a pedicure, they always want to take all of the calluses and dead stuff off my feet, but that actually gives me blisters when I put my shoe back on. I don’t want people touching my feet!

EVERYDAY VS. STAGE MAKEUP

When I’m not wearing stage makeup, I’d rather not wear makeup at all. I’ll maybe put mascara on and some bronzer. But that’s it! I really like Laura Mercier—it’s very light. I always use the Laura Mercier Mosaic Shimmer Bloc for bronzer and eyeshadow. If I am going to go out and need eyeliner, she has the Laura Mercier Tightline Cake Eyeliner, and I'll use it to line under my eyes. Sometimes I'll use her African Violet Luste Eye Color for an event. I have a thing about shimmer, I really like. My mascara is L’Oreal Voluminous Millions Lashes—that's my only crossover product. I also have L’Oréal Color Riche in Raspberry and Blazing Lava, which I'll use with the Laura Mercier Lip Glacé. Even if I’m going to a special event, I probably wouldn’t put more time into it. I feel like the more makeup you put on then the worse you look in everyday life. Your own skin color looks better than any other thing you’d put on your face—why are you screwing it up? I don’t even know if I have the concealer stick in my makeup bag here.

But everything is different when I'm performing. The makeup we have to put on for stage is called pancake. It’s literally called pancake. You have to wet a sponge as it’s actually a dry substance but when you put water on it, it becomes like a cream. It’s so thick that sweat won’t take it off. Then, you have to put powder all over it. On top of that you put on your blush and everything else. And you do it yourself most of the time, so it gets to be routine. But sitting's not great for your body—if I am doing a really hard role that night or I had a really long day then the last thing I need or should do is to sit and do my makeup for 30 minutes. I try to do it as fast as I can so I don’t have to be sitting there anymore. One time I did my hair and makeup in 35 minutes.

We use MAC Blush and Lipstick because they're thick and they stay put. Actually, we call the blush 'contour' because it's more important that they can see your cheekbones—I usually combine pink and brown tones for that. Make Up For Ever has a really good red lipstick. I don't tend to like orangey-reds, and this one's deeper. MAC does some good purple tones for lips. Then I also use purple tones on my eyes. But always powder—once you put cream eyeshadow on you can’t do anything with it. It just sits there. I use my fingers to apply everything except for the contouring.

It's a lot of layers but you’ll only have it on for three hours at most. It does dry your face out, but what’s the most drying is how many times you have to wash your face to get it off. You have to find the right makeup wipes. I use the light blue Neutrogena ones and Cetaphil to wash my face after that—the normal to oily skin one. I have no idea what my skin type is. I honestly don’t put anything on my face ever. I don’t use any products. I mean, sometimes I do in the winter if I see dry spots on my face. My boyfriend is a huge fan of Kiehl's and CeraVe.

AFTER THE SHOW

If it’s a hard show, it takes me a while to get out of the dressing room after. Sometimes I don’t take off my makeup and hair but I’ll just lay on the floor with my feet up for 10 or 20 minutes. I’ve always thought I should have a bottle of wine in my dressing room or something for after the show. When I get back home, I'll order food—I love sushi. Sometimes I get pasta. I love a kale salad. You get home, you’re eating at 11:30, and then you pass out. It’s really not that glamorous. Getting to go to the events and obviously what we do is glamorous. And we get to do stuff like photoshoots and interviews. But the everyday life is not. It’s very disciplined and you have to do whatever your body needs. I’m so not what you thought!”

—as told to ITG

Sara Mearns photographed by Tom Newton. For more Top Shelf After Dark, click here.