Show and Tell: Inside Yuan Yuan Tan’s Dance Bag

Published in the October/November 2011 issue.

Photo by Kyle Froman

Some of the items in San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan’s dance bag show that she’s a serious, analytical artist. She reads a few lines from her book of Chinese philosophy before every performance. “It explains complicated ideas in very few words,” she says. “It calms me and helps me focus.” And she’s always making thoughtful entries in her journal—a “merde” gift from Hamburg Ballet principal Lloyd Riggins, who danced with her in SFB’s The Little Mermaid. “I like to record the little breakthroughs I have,” she says.

But as serious as she is about her dancing, she doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously. The cute little bag with a Paris-themed print, which houses her sewing kit—a designer find? Nope. “It’s a freebie from Cathay Pacific Airways,” she says. “On the way over to France they give you a red one, and on the way back a black one!” The Frederic Malle “Dans Tes Bras” perfume—a gift from a chic friend? Wrong again. “I found it at this tiny, random perfume store near The Frick Collection in New York.” And she’s not toting her stuff in a high-end handbag, either. “It’s just easier to get everything into a backpack,” she says. “I’d rather be practical.”

The Goods

Backpack, tennis ball roller (“It’s just two tennis balls held together with fabric tape—so simple, but great for your lower back and calves), phone with ballerina keychain (“My friend, who made it, says it looks like me!”), iPod, Frederic Malle “Dans Tes Bras” perfume, sewing kit, pointe shoes, Jet Glue, flat shoes, journal, Chinese philosophy book, silver bag with vitamins and supplements, ballet skirt (“It was a gift from my teacher when I was 15 and has become a good luck charm”), legwarmers (“My mom made them—if I ask nicely, she makes me all kinds of pretty things”).