Lindsi Dec steps out from the “Rubies” corps, lowering her arms slowly, a flash in her eyes. And then she bursts into action, her 5' 9" worth of angular beauty unfurling into head-high extensions. Darting and slinking through Balanchine’s hip-jutting steps, the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist is having the time of her life. And so is the audience.
Dec’s connection to this solo goes back a long way. She saw it for the first time as a teenager attending a Miami City Ballet performance at the Kennedy Center and promptly decided that ballet was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. It’s no surprise that Dec responded immediately to the role. The steps fit her long, leggy body and playful personality. If there’s one part that captures Dec’s energy, optimism and humor, says PNB artistic director Peter Boal, it’s the solo girl in “Rubies” from Balanchine’s Jewels.
When Boal came to PNB in 2005, he saw Dec as someone who could excel in tall-girl roles. Now 29, this neoclassical dancer has created a much richer onstage identity. The same enthusiasm that Boal loves in her “Rubies” performances has helped Dec prove she is also a modern dancer, a contemporary dancer, a lyrical dancer and—something that surprised even Dec herself when it happened this past June—a Romantic classical ballerina.
Dec started out learning everything from pompom to ballet at the Linda Natoli Studio of Dance in Clinton, Maryland. No one in her family danced—not her mother, her father, her older brother or her many aunts. But her mother signed her up for classes when Dec was 3. Why? “My mom told me, ‘Well, you were very introverted.’ ” Dec laughs. “What?! You can’t even stop me from talking!”
Dec’s family moved around Maryland and Virginia quite a bit, but dance class and competitions continued in spite of long commutes to one dance studio or another. In eighth grade, Dec dropped sports to focus on ballet. She then attended Houston Ballet’s summer intensive and got a glimpse of what a professional career would require. Her progress stopped short, however, when her high school refused to waive its after-school athletic requirements.
It cost her a year of ballet study before she found her way back to the studio. When she returned, she felt she’d fallen behind the other students. “I still feel that way,” she confesses. However, she pushed herself to catch up, and in the process developed a work ethic that has led to one breakthrough after another.
Dec was 15 when seeing “Rubies” cemented her desire for a professional career. She enrolled in The Washington School of Ballet, a longtime dream of hers. When she suddenly sprouted to 5' 9" in her junior year, she worried whether ballet was still an option. A friend recommended that she study at Pacific Northwest Ballet, which was known for hiring tall dancers.
Dec followed through, and was accepted to their summer program. Despite certain technical weaknesses like modest turnout, Dec was offered a spot in PNB’s professional division when she graduated from high school. She had also won a scholarship to New York University, but decided to defer and see how her efforts in the professional division went. In 2001, PNB hired her as an apprentice; the next year she made it into the corps. PNB’s then co-artistic director Francia Russell recommended Dec spend time in front of a mirror looking for lines that would compensate for her lack of turnout. Dec still follows that advice to this day—it’s one of the secrets of her success.
Dec stayed in the corps for seven years. In 2007, Boal told her, “To gain ground in this company, you need to excel at more lyrical movement. That softer, more adagio side would open doors for you.” Dec took Boal’s challenge. She actually had already been working on pas de deux after hours with another PNB dancer, Karel Cruz, a 6' 4" Cuban with bravura technique. It paid off. In 2008, PNB ballet master Paul Gibson cast the pair in a pas de deux in his Sense of Doubt—an adagio section. Gibson had long admired Dec’s ability to transform herself for a role, but he felt this time she went somewhere new emotionally. Boal agreed, noting that Dec and Cruz made the dancers’ interaction itself be a presence onstage. “He’s a perfect partner for her,” Boal thought.
Perfect partners onstage—and off. Dec and Cruz got married in 2009, the same year she was promoted to soloist. That fall, their luminous pas de deux in Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort electrified Seattle audiences. Yet the couple did not rely on their personal chemistry to create a dramatic performance. They watched a Nederlands Dans Theater video of the piece every night during rehearsals, says Dec, trying to figure out how to achieve a “liquid movement quality.” They nailed it.
Dec has blossomed with married life. “I couldn’t think of anything better for us,” she says. “We’re so supportive of each other.” While they enjoy salsa dancing, neither has consuming hobbies. They like hanging out with each other, with their pound kitties—Miso and Luna—and with their friends. It’s easy to see why. Even interviewing Dec is fun. She sees the humor in life and laughs readily.
Her positive personality follows her into the studio. “When you know you’re rehearsing Lindsi,” says Gibson, “you know it’s going to be a great rehearsal.” Choreographer and fellow PNB dancer Kiyon Gaines, who counts her as a close friend as well as a muse, agrees, noting that he feeds off her energy and eagerness. Gaines also praises Dec’s professionalism and her support of other company members. “She is a source of encouragement,” he says. “Everyone in the company has benefited from Lindsi’s kindness.”
Since her Petite Mort breakthrough, Dec has been cast often and widely. For the company’s new restaging of Giselle last June, acknowledging Dec’s evolution as a dancer, Boal cast her as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Dec thought at the time. None of her many fans would have doubted her dramatic abilities, but Giselle’s floating movement and soft arms presented a big change from Dec’s other repertoire.
Then in March, Dec tore a muscle in her right leg. She faced nine weeks of recovery, with Giselle looming at the other end. Dec’s injury altered her approach to her extracurricular workouts. For the past five years, she had been cross-training, doing abs, cardio on the elliptical and weights with good results. Post-injury, however, Pilates, yoga and not pushing became the new rule. Boal noticed that Dec came back to the studio with a different posture and a greater fluidity to her port de bras. In fact, he interrupted a run-through of Giselle to tell her how great her arms looked. “After I got injured, something clicked in my head about placement,” says Dec. In Giselle, she showed a new lift to her carriage, a quietness. Contrary to even her own expectations, this powerhouse had succeeded in transforming herself once again.
Happily, Dec’s natural spice and sparkle survived the transformation. “You worry when someone starts to analyze little pieces that they’ll become too restricted and lose their expression,” says Boal. “What’s so great about Lindsi is that freedom. And she hasn’t lost it.”
Rosie Gaynor is a Seattle dance writer.