Isabella Boylston is a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. She is also warm, charming and knows her way around a beauty product. Here, she shares her secret beauty obsession and the best lipstick colors for different ballet characters…
When you’re not performing, do you wear makeup in your everyday life?
I don’t wear much makeup — I’ll sleep as late as I can, then run to class. But I am always a huge fan of lipstick. Even when I don’t have time for other makeup, I’ll use Bobbi Brown’s Rose, a great dusty rose color. We rehearse for up to nine hours a day under florescent lighting, and lipstick makes me feel less corpse-like.
What about days when you do have time for makeup?
On those days, I’ll put on NARS Luminous Foundation, but I apply it more like a concealer — under my eyes to cover the dark circles and around my nose. I want my skin to look like I’m not wearing makeup. Then I put Park Avenue Princess bronzer just under my cheekbones and top it off with blush. I love Kjaer Weis in Blossoming, a light peachy pink. It’s creamy and blends well — plus, it’s natural and comes in reusable packaging.
What about stage makeup?
My stage routine is regular makeup, but times one hundred! Eyebrows are one of the most important areas to define, because they contribute to your expression, so I use MAC eyeshadow in Twinks to make them bolder, then put eyebrow gel over that. I love a bit of definition around the eye, and I’ll use Charlotte Tilbury Color Chameleon pencils to smoke them out — I like the colors Amethyst Aphrodisiac or Bronzed Garnet.
Dancing in Romeo and Juliet
Do you wear different makeup for different ballets?
Face Stockholm’s Evita is a perfect classic stage red. But for the Swan Queen or a more womanly heroine, I’ll use Dior Ultra Rouge in Ultra Crave, which is more of a brownish red. If I’m playing Juliet, or another sweet young character, then I’ll wear one of my pinks.
Since eyebrows are such a big part of your look, how do you groom them?
When I was in high school, I plucked my eyebrows within an inch of their life, so now I don’t let anyone touch them. Makeup artists will say, ‘Can I get rid of this one stray hair?’ and I’m like, ‘NO!’ To groom them, my favorite product is Anastasia Eyebrow Gel, which is incredible. It’s a tiny bit iridescent; it makes your brows look defined but not heavy. And it lasts much longer than anything else I’ve tried.
How do you help your makeup stay put even while you’re sweating?
I use waterproof liquid eyeliner. And I dab the sweat off with tissues whenever I go offstage in between entrances.
What is your morning skincare routine?
I try to keep it natural. In the morning, I wash my face with just water, and I’ll apply Jordan Samuel Hydrate serum. I’m obsessed with moisture, so I’ll apply another layer, usually Kat Burki Vitamin C Intensive Face Cream. I use these products every day and my skin has never looked better. Then I’ll dab on Coola Matte Tinted BB Cream with SPF 30, which is velvety and almost makes my pores disappear.
What’s your nighttime skincare routine?
I use Jordan Samuel’s The After Show cleanser to remove makeup, followed by the serum again. Once a week, I’ll use Goop’s Glycolic Acid Peel Pads, and my skin really does look more even and youthful the next day.
Let’s talk about dancers’ feet. Do you get pedicures?
Honestly, they don’t look great. I used to get pedicures, but I’ve mostly stopped because I’m so embarrassed by how my feet look! Whenever I do, I don’t let the technician remove any callouses because I need them for dancing — the only thing they can touch are my nails.
How do you style and care for your hair?
I like the Giovanni line of shampoo and conditioner, which I buy at Whole Foods. The only other thing I do is get my hair colored darker for stage. A lot of the characters I play are 18th or 19th century heroines, and they didn’t have highlights back then, so I need my hair to look like the right time period. It’s hard to find a dye that isn’t full of chemicals — if anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!
Do you have any tricks to beat jitters leading up to a performance?
I still get really nervous! It’s nothing compared to what I would feel when I first started doing principal roles — back then I would freak out a week in advance, and I couldn’t sleep or eat. But it’s still a ton of pressure! We’re performing for almost 4,000 people at The Met at Lincoln Center, and it feels like running a marathon.
How do you calm your nerves before stage?
I always drink coffee before the show and listen to music, which helps calm me. But honestly I accept the nerves. Tennis player Roger Federer says he still gets nervous, but it’s a good thing, because it means he still cares! And nerves also give you laser focus.
What’s the hardest ballet to dance?
Swan Lake is probably the hardest for me, physically, to get through. Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote are also very, very hard. Often, it seems like whatever ballet I’m currently doing is the hardest! But Swan Lake takes the cake.
What makes Swan Lake so hard?
As the principal dancer, you dance both the white swan and black swan, and they’re different characters so you have to move completely differently in each role. (The white swan is more controlled and slow, whereas the black swan is wild and reckless.) The black swan also has a famous scene where she does 32 fouettes [difficult turns on one foot] and they’re scary because your calves are already spent by the time you get there and sheer willpower is the only thing getting you through. It’s a test of endurance.
How do you take care of your body when you have such long, demanding days?
Sleep is huge, because that’s when your body recovers. You’re more likely to get injured when you’re sleep deprived, so I try to get eight or nine (or even 10!) hours a night. Baths are also helpful. I put oil into the bath — from Jordan Samuel and Leonore Greyl. And I’ll add a ton of Epsom salt, which I buy in bulk. Along with a glass of wine, at night.
How do you wind down before bed?
I always read at night before I go to sleep. My husband wakes up super early, so I’ll get in bed at the same time as him, then read for an hour or two after he falls asleep. That’s my me-time. I post about whatever I’m reading using the hashtag #ballerinabookclub.
What’s an unexpected thing about backstage life?
There’s a stereotype that ballerinas are always backstabbing each other. So, I think people would be surprised by what a family American Ballet Theatre is and how tight our bonds are. We support each other so much, watching from the wings and cheering. Also, dancers are hilarious! You have to have a sense of humor, because things go wrong with nearly every show, and you have to laugh it off.
What kind of things have gone wrong?
I’ve fallen onstage a couple of times, which I actually don’t view as a bad thing, because it means you were really going for it. On the funnier side, I had an episode where my partner and I got completely lost during a 10-minute duet in Jane Eyre and couldn’t remember any of the choreography. We somehow improvised for the entire time and thought we messed up so badly they would just bring in the curtain.
What is your personal beauty philosophy?
They way people look changes when you get to know them, and kindness goes a long way in making someone appear beautiful. Despite going into a really aesthetic art form, I’ve never felt pressure to look a certain way. Yes, being a dancer does put pressure on you, and you can’t get around that, but I believe that kindness, confidence, and being comfortable in your own skin are the things that really matter.
Thank you so much, Isabella!