Ballet Stars

Why ABT Principal Hee Seo Loves the Art of Giving Back

Hee Seo in La Bayadere. Courtesy ABT.

What are you proudest of in your career?

That I learned how to work in the studio. I always loved being onstage, but now I love the process of getting there. I used to want to be perfect in a role from day 1. Now I work to where I want to be.

Is there a role you haven't danced yet that you're excited to do?

I can't wait to learn Manon—I am dancing it with American Ballet Theatre this season. Usually ballet characters are straightforward—shy peasant girl or flirt—but Manon is complicated.


Seo in Giselle

Courtesy ABT

What is one of your best memories onstage?

When I danced Giselle recently with Ballet Nacional de Cuba. It was difficult—it was hard to communicate with people, the theater floor was different, the bathroom didn't have a door. But their knowledge of and enthusiasm for the ballet made it fascinating. It made my appreciation for old-world, traditional ballet even greater.

You work with Youth America Grand Prix to help Korean dance students. Why did you get involved with that?

I grew up with dance scholarships, so giving back was something I always wanted to do. I talked to Larissa Saveliev, and the idea popped up that I start YAGP in Korea. To do something like that there, you have to create a nonprofit foundation, so I started the Hee Seo Foundation four years ago. We give grants to 10 dance students and work with YAGP to help them go to company-affiliated schools.

What else does your foundation do?

It helps organize free master classes, which I give for students all over Korea who are not pre-professional, who don't have a chance to get master classes elsewhere. I'm so proud of that and absolutely love doing it. We've taught almost 1,000 students.


What's the least glamorous part of being a ballerina?

We're bag ladies. We have a lot of stuff we carry everywhere we go. You should see me at the airport: I'm lugging my costumes, my makeup case—anything but glamorous.

What do you miss most about Korea?

My family. They come once or twice a year to New York, but as I get older, I miss them more.

How do you treat yourself?

It depends how much indulgence I think I deserve. After an ABT season at the Met, I'll get a head-to-toe spa treatment. If it was an especially good rehearsal, I will get an expensive manicure.

What do you like to cook?

I prefer one-pot recipes. I cook jambalaya, beef bourguignon. I can't say I'm a great chef, but I like shopping for the ingredients, preparing, a candlelit dinner. I just don't like doing the dishes.

The Conversation
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Via Burst

I'm a ballet dancer of 13 years, but I only got serious about it a few years ago, and very recently realized that I might want to pursue ballet professionally. I've contemplated auditioning for several prestigious pre-professional programs. But now I'm a junior in high school, so I'm worried it's too late. Should I still go for it, or am I better off staying at my current studio and going to college? —Lexi

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Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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