A Day with Ethan Stiefel

As dean of dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the ABT star has a schedule that takes as much stamina as performing.
Published in the August/September 2009 issue.

Stiefel begins his day in Warren Conover’s men’s class. “I always want to lead by example,” he says. “In class, I try to always do the step exactly as given and use full épaulement.” Ahead lies a packed schedule: teaching, coaching, meetings, rehearsals and a host of administrative details. Stiefel’s tweaked the school’s curriculum since he arrived, adding acting, mime and music instruction. Realizing his vision, he says, is “full-time.”

Teaching “Gentlemen 2,” Stiefel observes student Joshua Sains-Corn. “Men need far more flexibility and higher extensions than in the past. I’ve added drills for agility and cardio, which sometimes means going outside and running hills.” He often shares tips, like how to effortlessly promenade the ballerina while walking backwards in a pas de deux, as in Act II of Swan Lake.

Stiefel stays fueled by grabbing a banana and water a couple of times a day. His desk is filled with mementos, a photo of on- and offstage partner Gillian Murphy (a UNCSA grad) and windup toys he’s collected over the years. “I never want students to feel coming to my office is like going to the principal’s.”

After a Swan Lake, Act II, run-through, Stiefel goes over corrections with the swans. Reviewing costumes with wardrobe head Carolyn Fay, Stiefel shares thoughts on the Swan Queen’s costume. “The old-fashioned style headpieces looked to him like earmuffs—his word,” she says. “He wanted them very narrow, so they didn’t detract from the shape of the dancers’ faces.”

Stiefel partners student Samantha Miller to demonstrate Don Quixote, Act III, in pas de deux class. His advice to Kitris: “You must have attitude—figure out what your sizzle’s going to be and keep it alive.”