Dancewear and leotards designed by ballerinas is nothing new. But Dusty Button isn't your average ballerina. The former Boston Ballet principal has made her own rules in the dance world, keeping an Instagram following of over 200,000 mesmerized with a mix of classical and contemporary clips (pirouette combos to Drake and développés to Hailee Steinfeld are just a sampling of what you'll find). But over the past few months, Button has been breaking up her usual studio clips with teasers for Bravado Dancewear line—created by Button and available now.
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.
From comp kid to soloist: Boston Ballet's Dusty Button. Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet.
Boston Ballet soloist Dusty Button owes much of her success to the fast-paced world of dance competitions. In her early years, she competed in jazz and contemporary, and her first Youth America Grand Prix win landed her a spot at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, which led to a contract with ABT Studio Company.
But less than two months later, Button made an unexpected move for a dancer on the verge of a professional career. She enrolled at The Royal Ballet School. Once there, she found the environment a stark contrast from the competition-focused training that had initially shaped her. “At the school, they would call me 'bull in a china shop' because I could technically do anything they asked, but I didn't do it gracefully," she says. “I learned how to refine my technique. They teach you how to do a single pirouette well before you learn how to do five."
Onstage, Dusty Button defies categorization. The Birmingham Royal Ballet corps member from South Carolina uses her long, swan-like lines with typical English softness but bursts with energy in spiky contemporary work. Once told by a teacher at American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School that she had “too many ingredients” in her soup, Button may be the unlikeliest dancer to find a home in an English company.
Ballet did not start out her favorite genre. Button began dancing at age 7, dividing her time between jazz, tap, hip hop and ballet. Within a few years, she was winning prizes at competitions like Showstoppers and New York City Dance Alliance. “I loved it because it was a way for people from elsewhere to see me dance,” she says.
Although she didn’t focus exclusively on ballet, her interest grew steadily. At Miss Libby’s School of Dance, her home studio, Button followed the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus. A week spent when she was 13 at White Lodge, The Royal Ballet Lower School in London, further cemented her growing love of the art form. Button later returned to The Royal for two summer intensives.
After competing, at 15, in Youth America Grand Prix, Button was offered a slot at ABT’s JKO school. She moved to New York, setting her other dance training aside. Button was soon rewarded by an offer to join ABT’s second company. To everyone’s surprise, the young dancer turned it down. Instead, she enrolled at The Royal Ballet School.
“I felt like I needed to finish my training because of my background,” she says. Button had dreamed of studying there full time since her first White Lodge visit. In fact, the school had previously offered Button a place, but she couldn’t afford to go. By the end of her stay at JKO, she had finally raised the funds needed, with the help of a partial scholarship from RBS and individual sponsors in England.
Button does not regret her choice. “It refined my style,” she explains. “I was told that I needed to have strength and grace, and they were right. I could do things, but not very gracefully.” The former “bull in a china shop,” as one of her teachers called her, thrived on the corrections. This was England, where the number of pirouettes didn’t count so much, as long as they were pretty. Eventually, she blended in so well that she won the prestigious Ninette de Valois grant and was hired upon graduation by David Bintley, director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who had set his ballet Galanteries on the school.
In the two years she has been in Birmingham, Button has had opportunities she didn’t expect. “Dusty’s diverse training is such an asset,” says BRB ballet mistress Marion Tait. It has allowed her to absorb different styles very quickly, from Balanchine to Bintley’s ballets.
She took center stage last fall for a piece by Garry Stewart, The Centre and its Opposite. The Guardian critic raved, “Wheeling her torso and limbs through daringly, dizzyingly off-balance arcs, Button contains all the drama of the title in her own fiercely concentrated body.”
But Button has goals beyond showcasing her ability. She wants to excel in the classics and eventually reach the top of the company. And she dreams of one day branching out to musical theater. “Hopefully my name will ultimately be in many different places,” she laughs. And given the many ingredients she has to draw on, anything seems possible.
At A Glance Name: Dusty Button Age: 20 Company: Royal Birmingham Ballet Training: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, The Royal Ballet School Favorite Ballet Performed: Garry Stewart’s The Centre and its Opposite Dream Roles: Aurora, Odette/Odile