There are do-it-all dancers, and then there's Tiler Peck. The New York City Ballet principal is also known for designing dancewear with Body Wrappers, curating (and dancing in) the BalletNOW series at The Music Center in Los Angeles, and teaching daily Instagram LIVE classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. She can now add another accomplishment to that list: she just co-wrote a children's book.
Peck's book came about through another side project: starring in the Degas-inspired musical, Marie. Originally titled Little Dancer when it premiered at The Kennedy Center in 2014, the show introduced Peck to her co-star and now co-author, Broadway and television actor Kyle Harris. When they reprised their roles last spring in Seattle, they decided it was the perfect time to create their own characters on paper. The resulting children's book, Katarina Ballerina (Simon & Schuster, $16.99), for kids ages 8–12, is officially out May 5. But it's set to become a series, following the duo's own little dancer as she navigates her ballet training along with her trusted dog Lulu (who looks an awful lot like Peck's own dog, Cali).
Ahead, Peck shares how she and Harris teamed up to create Katarina Ballerina, and the book's lesson that Peck unexpectedly found herself in need of following her injury last year.
How did the idea for the book come about?
When Kyle and I were doing Little Dancer in DC, we started writing a little rhyming picture book called "Katarina Ballerina"—it was kind of inspired by my character in the show, and what Kyle saw when he was watching me dance. And we thought, "This is actually pretty good. Let's try to make a picture book."
We went to Simon & Schuster, and they were super-interested, but they thought it could possibly be a children's chapter book. We were like, "Uhh, okay, that's going to be a little more work than we thought." But we took a stab at it. Writing was one of my favorite subjects in school, and Kyle is a great writer— I think he learned a lot from the screenwriters on his television show, Stitchers.
I am very proud of the book and excited for people to read it. Even though it's coming out at a really difficult time, I think it's going to bring smiles and hope in this time of uncertainty.
What was the collaboration process like?
Kyle is based in New York City, too, but we did most of our writing and drafting when we were in Seattle recently for Marie. We had a little rhyme that we based the book off of, but we never made a picture of Katarina. It wasn't until the illustrator, Sumiti Collina, sent us the drawings that Katarina really came to life. Sumiti is based in Italy, so we actually never met face-to-face. We'd make tweaks and send drafts to each other. I had to make sure all of the ballet positions looked right. I was really adamant that something like passé, for example, was technically correct. At one point, they had her in ballet shoes, and we really wanted Katarina in Converse because we wanted her to be different. I love that she has a little tutu with Converse.
Katarina's dog Lulu looks a lot like your dog, Cali. Was that intentional?
The doggy, Lulu, definitely resembles her. I was really set on Katarina having a dog because Cali is such a big part of my life—she comes with me every day to ballet. I even sent photos of her to Sumiti.
Are any parts of the book based on your own experiences?
We put a little bit of both of us in Katarina. She's a little pigeon-toed, like Kyle. There's a lot in the story about not comparing yourself to the image that you think is perfect. Because really, nobody is perfect.
Even I have to tell myself the lesson that I hope people get from the book, which is owning your own gifts. There are so many dancers that I could look at and say, "Oh, she has more extension than me, or better feet." But I feel like I have something else. And Katarina might not have as much turnout as the other girls, but she has that thing that you can't teach—that light from within that makes people want to watch a dancer. Once you find out how to use the gifts that you were given to the best of your ability, you can the best version of yourself.
How have you gotten past moments of self-doubt in your career?
I suffered a major neck injury recently, and it was a really hard time for me. I was told I was never going to dance again, and that if I were to get hit onstage, the impact could affect me ability to walk, let alone dance.
I felt a lot of self-doubt after that and needed people around me to help build me up again—my family, my physical therapist, who was with me every single day, keeping me positive. It's hard to get through something like that alone—you need a support system. That was a message Kyle and I really wanted put in the book, too.
Can you tell us what Katerina's next adventure will bring?
We actually just got an email, saying, "Guys, Katarina 2 is due." It's going to center around a character named Ricky. I'm not going to give the story away, but he is someone that Katarina meets through ballet. We want it to be like a pen-pal pact, where Katarina meets people from around the world at an international dance camp, and we dive into these other characters' stories.