Abi Stafford: A Day in the Life of a Ballerina Collegian


Why would a successful ballerina for the New York City Ballet (NYCB) need a Fordham undergraduate degree? Meet 31-year old, Abi Stafford: a NYCB dancer who recently enrolled at Fordham Westchester to “expand her horizons.”

The Observer: What made you decide to pursue an undergraduate degree at this point in your career? And what made you choose Fordham?

Abi Stafford: A dancer’s career is short compared to other professions. I’ll be done dancing in the next five to ten years. Of course, I can teach ballet, but I don’t want my whole focus on life to be just ballet. I started school when I was 27 to see what else was out there. I chose Fordham because it was very convenient. I live in Westchester, so I attend the Westchester campus. It was the best option for me.

Observer: Do you find yourself comfortable being an older undergrad, yet still pursuing your passion?

A.S: I do feel comfortable as an older undergrad because I actually am at a point in life where I want to learn everything I possibly can. If I had gone to college as a traditional undergrad, I probably would have slacked my way through! There are also many people in similar situations in my classes so I feel like I fit in.

Observer: When did you start dancing and when did you join the NYCB?

A.S: I started dancing when I was six years old. When I was 11, I saw a video of the NYCB and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I’m 31 now. Wow, has it really been that long? It’s been 13 years since I joined the NYCB!

Observer: What and when was your first performance?

A.S: My first performance with the NYCB was “The Nutcracker” in 1999.

Observer: What was your most memorable performance?

A.S: That’s a good question. Probably the first time I danced a leading role in January 2000 and I got to dance because the other girl got sick. Fortunately, I was chosen for the role; that’s pretty memorable for me because I had the chance to dance alone on stage and that’s something I always dreamed of doing.

Observer: Why do you dance? What inspires you?

A.S: I dance because I really love the art form. You can continually make yourself better at dance. There is never perfection with ballet.

Observer: How many hours a week do you practice?

A.S: With the New York City Ballet, we practice Tuesdays to Sundays. We warm up at 10:30 a.m. for an hour, rehearse from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and perform either at 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. We do seven shows a week.

Observer: How do you manage college work and dance practices? Have you figured some type of schedule that helps you balance the two things?

A.S: Yes, I always make sure to bring homework with me to the theater. I live in Westchester, so once I am in the city, I’m here for the day. During my breaks between rehearsals, I almost always do homework so I feel confident that I will get it done, even during busy weeks at the theater. I like to go to the library at the Lincoln Center campus. Happily, I’m a bit of a nerd and I actually like doing schoolwork.

Observer: It’s difficult to break out in today’s competitive dance world. Is there a motto that you live by, for encouragement, in order to keep persevering?

A.S: I definitely believe that hard work will pay off in the end. I would encourage everyone that it’s important to maintain that work and those efforts and somehow through it all, you persevere.

Observer: What’s the next production you’ll be in, if you’re currently working on one now?

A.S: Well, the spring season will be opening on April 30 and we’re currently rehearsing. I’ll be dancing in a ballet called “Who Cares” and a number of others to follow, one of them being “Stars and Stripes.”

Observer: What’s your major? When do you graduate and what do you plan on doing with your undergrad degree?

A.S: I chose history because it’s what I’m most excited about. I could sit in history class all day long. I will most likely graduate in five years because I’m a part-time student. After I get my degree in history, I’d like to go to law school and hopefully become a lawyer.

Observer: How has your college experience shaped your life in comparison to your experience with dance? What has college taught you that dance hasn’t?

A.S: In dance, you don’t need to use your brain. You learn choreography and memorize it. But I was pleased with my ability to learn new things. I like spending my time doing things other than ballet, like doing my studies.

Observer: Overall, is the Fordham experience one you expected?

A.S: Fordham exceeds my expectations. I definitely feel that the amount of knowledge I have gained is more than I imagined and I am only halfway through. I am very proud to say that I go to Fordham.

Observer: Where do you see yourself and your career in 10 years?

A.S: I would like to have finished up my performing career and undergrad and law degrees by then. I’ll be 41, so hopefully a mom and even teaching ballet on the side.

Observer: What would you say to aspiring ballerinas? Is there any advice you would give based upon your own experiences? What would you say to all dancers struggling for perfection, especially those who go about it self-destructively through eating disorders?

A.S: I would advise them to pursue outside interests and hobbies. Meet people outside your workforce because in ballet, you’re always around the same people. A ballet career doesn’t last forever. Find things to do to open up avenues of the future. I know trying to build outside interests can be a little scary and distracting from dance, but it’s very important. For those with eating disorders, don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Seek guidance. Every dancer has insecurities. It’s very easy to feel inadequate but just remember, everyone does. You’re not alone.