As a former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and the founder and artistic director of contemporary ballet company BalletNext, Michele Wiles is no stranger to putting in the work—in fact, she quite enjoys it. "I'm very much a process person," Wiles tells us ahead of BalletNext's return after a year-long hiatus in which she and her husband welcomed their first child, a daughter. "I've worked very hard to get back here through the pregnancy and birth. It's been a lot of work, but I love work."
Assembling her crew of dancers and four new works (one co-choreographed by and performed with deaf dancer Bailey Anne Vincent), Wiles has been busy preparing for her 2018 season at New York Live Arts, which begins March 6. From staying on her toes (literally) throughout her pregnancy to her post-baby routine, here's how Wiles balances it all.
How did you alter your routine while pregnant?
At first, I kept doing everything, even though you do feel different. I would use small weights, work with the Thera-band and work on the elliptical for at least a half hour just to keep myself going. I've done workouts like the elliptical off and on my entire career, but it had never been my thing. It was something I could do to keep moving but wouldn't hurt me or the baby. I also took full ballet class in pointe shoes. I was tired, but I kept myself going for those first three months because I always felt better if I broke a sweat.
The second trimester is really bliss. You're kind of showing a little bit, but you still feel really good and you can still do things. I was still able to wear pointe shoes, and I did a couple of residencies and choreographed on my company. I was doing planks throughout, and the company would always joke that my baby would be born with abs because I was still planking at six months pregnant.
How long into your pregnancy were you working out?
I feel really lucky because I didn't get sick and pregnancy just agreed with me during the first two trimesters. I started to lose my balance a little bit, so I stopped wearing pointe shoes at eight months. But I still kept moving. I wasn't doing much past barre, but I kept teaching class, which made me feel good. I would walk from 60th street to the Baryshnikov Arts Center on 37th street every day. Walking was really important for me, even up until just a few days before I went into the hospital. I would get on the elliptical for 20 minutes just to get moving. I think it really helped with back pain and just getting the blood flowing. It wasn't about working out, but just moving.
It didn't feel really different until I hit eight months. Then it's for real. Lifting your legs is weird, and I just remember being like 'Wow, I can't lift my leg.' Having danced my whole life and always being able to do that, the last month was tough because you have all this weight on your pelvis.
How long after giving birth until you were back into a workout routine?
I rested about two weeks after giving birth, before starting any routine. I didn't set any crazy goal of 'I'll be on stage in four months.' I just let myself do it naturally. I wanted to breastfeed for a year and really go through that process.
Floor barre has been really big for me in getting my core back after having the baby. I worked intensely with Marjorie Liebert for a year on floor barre. We used a Thera-band for abs and resistance, which has been extremely helpful in getting my pelvis back. I'm still working on it. I couldn't even do grande plié in the beginning because my abs and pelvis had changed. I worked on grande plié for about a month—it was almost like learning how to dance all over again.
Just now, I feel myself really coming back together. Dance is my passion, and I'm so happy that my daughter can see me and the other dancers—a group of women getting things done. I don't bring her to rehearsal every day, but she's definitely no stranger to the studio.
How did you put this group together for BalletNext?
All of the girls in the show came to me in one way or another. Violetta Komyshan had been taking master classes since she was 16 and at LaGuardia High School, and she came to some shows and hung out with us. She's 20 now and it just organically happened. Egle wrote me because she was looking for a company since her husband is on the New York Knicks, and Juliet contacted me on Instagram. I auditioned Alice, who was from Alvin Ailey, after I'd just had the baby. Emily and Bailey came from contacts from other things, so it's been a really organic process of getting this together. We've been rehearsing with everybody since around January.
How do you balance putting a show together with having a family?
It's very regimented. I wake up, I pump milk for the day and feed my daughter and care for her, then get myself ready. The babysitter will come in and I'll rehearse for four to five hours, then I come back and relieve the babysitter. When I'm back, I give my daughter dinner and a bath, and she's in bed by 8:30pm. She needs the routine, and she does really well with it. I'm not sleeping through the night now because we have the season coming up, but she is which is great. It's a very grounding experience, and I love it.
How has having a child influenced your work?
It's funny because I just feel like I know exactly where things need to be now. I don't go overboard. I just feel very centered. The other thing is, I can't get hung up on any one thing anymore and obsess over it. There's no room for that because I have to take care of my daughter. It puts everything into perspective. The show feels like another birth in itself. I feel like I'm giving birth to a brand new company again. It's exciting, frustrating, stressful—all of those things. I'm learning how to dance again and my baby is learning how to walk. We're sort of side-by-side getting through it.