Ballet Stars

The Road Less Traveled: Boston Ballet's Dusty Button Plays By Her Own Rules

Dusty Button photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's February/March 2015 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

On a rainy October morning, Boston Ballet's Dusty Button sails through a pas de cinq rehearsal for Swan Lake. The variation is long and thankless, full of uncomfortable jump sequences and tricky transitions from pirouettes, yet Button, newly minted as a principal dancer, glides through it sunnily in a trial pair of Bloch pointe shoes. Unusually, she is not winded and is able to joke with assistant artistic director Russell Kaiser as he gives her notes.

“I think I just did a four-step soutenu," she laughs good-naturedly, hands on her hips. “Well, you are always overachieving, Dusty," teases Kaiser, giving voice to what could be the understatement of Button's last few years with the company.

Two catchphrases screen-printed onto the coverups of Button's dancewear line, Ribbon&Rosin, say it all: “Work until your idols become your rivals" and “Remember why you started." At 25, she appears to be following her own advice. After dancing at Birmingham Royal Ballet, Button was hired into Boston's corps in 2012, where she was promoted to soloist and then principal within two years. But her path to the top has been anything but traditional, and shows a keen entrepreneurial instinct that leverages growing up as a competition kid. In addition to designing her clothing line, she is a budding choreographer who teaches at dance conventions on the weekends. Her Instagram feed, at last count boasting 46,400 followers, and her brand-new website, worldofdusty.com, make it clear that she has a vision for branding herself that is more like a young Hollywood starlet than a ballet dancer. From the competition circuit to The Royal Ballet School, Button has grown from a precocious, talented student into a strategic artist and businesswoman.


Dusty Button and Bradley Schlagheck. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.


Button, an only child, was raised in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She spent most of her childhood winning national titles at competitions such as Showstopper and New York City Dance Alliance. But in addition to jazz, hip hop and tap, she was also schooled in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus. RAD prepared her for a year-round invitation to The Royal Ballet School's Upper School in London at 15, but the prohibitive cost kept her in the U.S. Instead, after being scouted at Youth America Grand Prix, she was offered a scholarship to American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and moved with her mother to New York City.

After a year and a half, she was invited to fill in for an injured member of ABT's Studio Company and was soon asked to officially join them. But in a surprising move, she turned the offer down in order to enroll at The Royal Ballet School, this time on a mix of scholarship and sponsorships. Button wanted more training due to a late start in pre-professional ballet.

Towards the end of her year at RBS, she auditioned for Boston Ballet. “I saw this dynamic girl who had a jazz background," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “I liked her but didn't have anything to offer her." After her year-end RBS assessments, which were open to company directors, the 18-year-old received a contract with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

During her three years at BRB, Button excelled, earning lead roles in both story ballets, such as David Bintley's Cinderella, and contemporary repertoire. But she felt frustrated by the seniority-based hierarchy. On a quest for new challenges and a home where she could progress more quickly, she took what many dancers might deem a huge risk: She left at the end of the season without first signing another contract, and returned to the U.S. ABT heard she was back in town and offered her some freelance work. Yet she zeroed in on Boston Ballet. Having not received a contract years before, she saw the company as a challenge and auditioned again.


Dusty Button in Miko Nissinen's "Swan Lake." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

“When she came back, her strength was elongated, and she was more developed as both a dancer and a human being," says Nissinen. After finishing up with her commitments at ABT, she joined Boston mid-season.

Ballet master Larissa Ponomarenko helped Button find her footing after joining the company. “When I think of Dusty, I see a vibrant human being who is eager to succeed with anything she touches," says Ponomarenko. “She always gives a hundred percent of herself." Button seems to have easily blended into BB's diverse repertoire, performing both her dream role of Gamzatti in La Bayadère and leads in Alexander Ekman's Cacti and José Martinez's Resonance. “There's no limitation to what she can do," says Nissinen.

Having reached her professional dream of becoming a principal, says Button, “my goals are now related not only to my career but the lifestyle surrounding it. I want to build a life I never need a vacation from." With this in mind, it seems fitting that she and her husband, both self-described Anglophiles, would make a home in a New England penthouse condo that dons more than a few Union Jacks among Ducati motorcycles and a Ferrari.

Button seems to bring a contemporary dancer?'s mindset to everything she does. She often looks for inspiration outside the studio, such as watching motorcycle racing with her husband. “?As dancers, we are constantly surrounded by people who think the same thoughts, and it?'s easy to become routine,?" she says. “?What was the last new thing I learned? What can I do more of today than yesterday??" Button?'s ambition to be different drives her, she admits, “?to see my path clearly as the one opposite of the most traveled.?"


Dusty Button in Balanchine's "Rubies." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

While this type of independent thinking has helped shape her into a dynamic and versatile dancer, it's also caused controversy. When she first joined the company, she preferred to do her own contemporary warm-up and run through her choreography before performances in lieu of company class. When Nissinen asked her to be in class more, Button felt she needed to understand his reasoning and asked if her choice was affecting her technique. She applies a similar interrogatory process to coaching. “You have to take what they are saying, but you can't just be a carbon copy,"she says, seemingly unaware of the raw talent that has allowed her to show such personality in the face of authority.

Nissinen'?s explanation that her new rank came with new role model responsibilities made sense to her and helped her reframe her approach to the daily practice. ?"When she first came, she wasn?'t always in class,"? Nissinen explains. ?"But we are serious about class here. We play team basketball. Once she understood the philosophy, she embraced it wholeheartedly.?" Now, she dances full-out from the first plié, adding a level of difficulty to every barre combination?: an extra fouetté turn during rond de jambe en? l'air, or dancing adagio on demi-pointe. Stripping down to just a leotard and tights in the center, she repeats her grand allégro combinations with the men, flying just as high.

At Boston Ballet's BB@home black-box event last year, Button showcased her choreography, its vocabulary an exciting mix of her contemporary and ballet heritage. She hopes to eventually create full-length works for ballet and contemporary companies around the globe. As she propels herself forward at warp speed, Button continues to show a nascent ability to reinvent herself. With new footholds in choreography and business, in addition to a principal featured role in Lady of the Camellias this spring, Button is redefining what it means to be a ballerina in the new millennium—and her enterprising spirit is proof that there is reward in such bold self-creation.

Show Comments ()
Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh getting early practice as a leading man. Photo courtesy Connor Walsh

It's that time of year again—recital season! And not so long ago, some of your favorite ballet dancers were having their own recital experiences: dancing, discovering, bowing, laughing, receiving after-show flowers, making memories, and, of course, having their pictures taken! For this week's #TBT, we gathered recital photos—and the stories behind them—from five of our favorite dancers.

Gillian Murphy, American Ballet Theatre

Murphy gets ready for her role as "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Photo courtesy Gillian Murphy.

"This photo was taken by my mom when I was 11, waiting in the dressing room (the band room of West Florence High School in South Carolina) before I went onstage as 'Mary' for a recital piece featuring 3-year-olds as little lambs.I had so much fun being the teacher's assistant in the baby ballet class each week, particularly because my little sister Tessa [pictured below] was one of the 3-year-olds. I remember feeling quite grown up at the time because I was dancing in the older kids' recital piece later in the program, but in this moment I was just looking forward to leading my little lambs onstage in their number."
Keep reading... Show less
popular
Thinkstock.

From the latest launches to forever favorites, these stretch-canvas flats will (comfortably) keep you on your toes:


Bloch Inc. Infinity


Bloch combined the top features from two of their best-selling shoes to create this arch-enhancing slipper. An elastic top line (instead of draw- string) allows the shoe to mold to your foot, and a ridge-less outsole helps with balances and turns by giving the toes more room to spread out.


Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

This is Pointe's April/May 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Jacob Bryant, Courtesy Random Acts

"When you turn up at someone's door saying, 'I would like to make the first dance in Antarctica,' they often call you crazy."

So says Kiwi choreographer and former ballet dancer Corey Baker. Luckily, his persistence paid off. On Sunday, April 22 (that's Earth Day, everybody), Baker, who now directs the U.K.–based Corey Baker Dance, is releasing his short film "Antarctica: The First Dance." Commissioned by Random Acts for Channel 4 and The Space (UK), the four-minute film stars Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Madeleine Graham—who performed in unimaginably frigid conditions to promote Baker's very important message. "I wanted to highlight Antarctica's epic landscape and vast beauty, but at the same time show that it is under threat," he says. "Climate change impact is real and immediate. By showing up-close the beauty of this incredible place, people can feel closer to something that may otherwise seem abstract and unconnected."

Keep reading... Show less
Because who doesn't want their feet to look as gorgeous as Sara's? (Photo by Christopher Lane)

Ah, the quest for the perfect, foot-flattering, technique-enhancing pointe shoe: It can feel like a never-ending saga. Still on the hunt for that ideal pair? Then you won't want to miss The School at Steps' annual Pointe Shoe Workshop and Fair, happening this Sunday, April 22nd, at 6:30 pm in NYC.

As always, the event—which is sponsored by Pointe—will feature an impressive panel of experts. This year's lineup includes orthopedist Dr. Andrew Price, professional fitter Mary Carpenter, master teacher Linda Gelinas, Pointe style editor Marissa DeSantis, and New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns (eee!).

Keep reading at dancespirit.com.

Ballet Stars
Photo Courtesy Elliott Arkin.

You can find Tiler Peck just about anywhere these days—onstage at New York City Ballet, in commercials, on "The Ellen Degeneres Show." And let's not forget starring in 2014's Little Dancer, a musical that followed the creation of Edgar Degas' famous sculpture, "Little Dancer Aged 14." Peck played Marie van Goethem, the young Paris Opéra Ballet School student who modeled for Degas. Now, she's reprising the role—er, her likeness is—for a good cause. Visual artist Elliott Arkin has created a series of limited edition sculptures of Peck as the Little Dancer. Proceeds will go to Dance Against Cancer, the annual benefit concert for the American Cancer Society produced by NYCB principal Daniel Ulbricht and Manhattan Youth Ballet programming director Erin Fogarty (both of whom lost a parent to the disease). Peck will also be part of the event's star-studded cast; all of the dancers donate their time, and most perform in memory of a loved one.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Careers
Michelle Thompson Ulerich. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood, Courtesy Avant Chamber Ballet.

Founded in 2012, Dallas-based Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has made a name for itself by presenting works by Christopher Wheeldon, George Balanchine and other major choreographers. Yet its Women's Choreography Project, now in its fourth year, makes ACB a company to watch in Texas and beyond. The Project's capstone is the annual choreography contest; the winner receives a stipend and the chance to set a new work on ACB's outstanding 18-member troupe. Nurturing the careers of women dancemakers is a central part of the company's mission. "As an independent choreographer, I found it almost impossible to get a professional commission," says ACB founder and artistic director Katie Cooper. "One of the reasons I started ACB was to make my own opportunities for creating new works."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!