Do you miss classical tutus?
Not yet. But this morning Sleeping Beauty was on. Dancing Aurora took me to a different level at Pacific Northwest Ballet. That part of my life is done, but it was positive.
Where do you consider home?
I’m still finding myself. I don’t want it to be comfortable here—that was the whole reason I left Seattle.
What qualities do you admire most in other dancers?
Tenacity. In Monte-Carlo, I look up to Bernice Coppieters. She still strives to make each step count. She holds the bar very high for the company.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes?
It’s changed since Seattle. I have to dye my own shoes, and then I glue the insides, very lightly. We do a lot of demi-pointe work, and the shoes need to be softer for me to roll through them easily.
What talent do you have that few people know about?
I love origami. I know a lot of different styles, and I am pretty obsessive about that!
What was your worst onstage nightmare?
My Sanguinic première in The Four Temperaments. I overstepped in a turn and fell flailing. I was so shaken that I forgot what I was doing and just stood there.
What do you enjoy most about your dance career?
More and more, I enjoy working in the studio. It is a relaxed place, a time to think and process things.
Do you miss classical tutus?
The first time I was called to learn Mozartiana, I didn't think I would actually get to do it. It's a coveted ballerina role in the company, and I was still early in my career. But I got to dance it once or twice, and then not again for many years. The ballet isn't in our repertoire that often, so each time we've performed it I've been at a different level as a person and as an artist.
Mozartiana's music, an orchestral suite of the same name, was written by Tchaikovsky as a tribute to Mozart and is based on four of the great composer's piano works.
Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
I have a terrible fear of falling when doing turns on pointe. I sometimes cry in class when we have to do new turns that I'm not used to. I can only do bad singles on a good day, while some of my classmates are doing doubles and triples. How can I get over this fear? —Gaby
Ballet at home: Since she's not preparing for any immediate performances, Steele takes ballet barre three to four times a week. "I'm working in more of a maintenance mode," she says, prioritizing her ankles and the intrinsic muscles in her feet. "If you don't work those muscles, they disappear really quickly. I've been focusing on a baseline level of ballet muscle memory."
What she's always working on: Strengthening her glute-hamstring connection (the "under-butt" area), which provides stability for actions like repetitive relevés and power for jumps. Bridges are her go-to move for conditioning those muscles. "Those 'basic food group'–type exercises are some of the best ones," she says.
Sarah Steele working out outdoors near the Washington Monument
Courtesy The Washington Ballet