Tiler Peck and her dog, Cali, lead class on Instagram LIVE

Courtesy Tiler Peck

Tiler Peck's Top 10 Tips for Training at Home

On March 15, New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck announced to her 172,000-plus Instagram followers that she'd be teaching a live class from her family's home in Bakersfield, California, where she's currently waiting out COVID-19. Little did she know that she'd receive such a viral response. Since then, Peck has offered daily Instagram LIVE classes Monday through Friday at 10 am PST/1 pm EST, plus an occasional Saturday class and Sunday stretch/Pilates combo. "The reaction was just so overwhelming," she says. "These classes are keeping me sane, and giving me something to look forward to."


Now, well over two weeks since most in the U.S. have gone into self-isolation to prevent the spread of the virus, Peck's classes are just one of many online dance offerings. But they continue to garner high attendance, with dancers tuning in from all corners of the world. Peck encourages students to share their progress with the hashtag #turnitoutwithtiler, and in just the past few days has received videos from Ireland, Australia and Brazil, with followers ranging from young kids to pros to people picking up ballet again after a 15-year break. "It's so motivating to do this together, even though we have to be at home," says Peck.

But we all know that taking class at home comes with its own set of challenges: How to find a barre? What to wear? When is pointework safe? We caught up with Peck by phone to hear all of her best tips for training at home.

1. Location

Have you found yourself wandering around your home, wishing a barre would miraculously appear? While Peck's been teaching class from her kitchen counter, she says that finding the right barre substitute has everything to do with your height. "The most important thing is that you don't have your shoulder up, or can't do things because you're in a weird position," she says. "Some people might have lower kitchen counter tops, so a chair might work better."

2. Floor

The last thing anybody wants right now is to hurt themselves while dancing on a slippery floor, and unfortunately not everyone has access to a portable square of marley. Peck says to be mindful of the type of shoes that you're wearing. "I use leather shoes, so the tile floor is fine for me," she says. "I just tell my dad not to wash the floor until after I teach class, because it gets too slippery." If you're wearing canvas shoes, Peck recommends doing barre, or practicing turns, on carpet instead.

Peck stands with one arm in fifth position and demonstrates elongating the back of her neck with the other.

Tiler Peck demonstrates on Instagram LIVE

Courtesy Peck

3. Pointework

Pointework is a whole other can of worms. Peck limits her class to include just 15 minutes of pointe to stave off injuries. "Try a carpet for pointe, unless you're holding onto a barre," she says. "Relevés are good, both two legged and one legged. And échappés, and bourrés." Be very careful about attempting pirouettes on pointe on a slick floor. "They might be better to try on carpet."

4. Jumping

We've all been told countless times about the risks of jumping on hard floors. But Peck has come up with two solutions. "When I need to work on my jumps I go in the backyard," she says. If going outside isn't an option right now, Peck has an inside fix as well. "Put a yoga mat down on the hardwood floor, so there's a little cushion," she says. "When I was coming back from my neck injury and jumping was the hardest for me, I always jumped on a yoga mat, even in my pointe shoes."

5. Clothing

While it can be temping to roll straight out of bed and hop onto Instagram, Peck believes that creating distinction in your day is crucial. "I definitely think you should put your hair up, and get out of your pajamas," she says. "It doesn't have to be a leotard, but tight clothing that makes you feel that this time is different than just watching TV is important. You want to be able to really see when your knee is straight, and baggy pants don't really do that justice."

Image through an iPhone video of Peck standing on pointe at her kitchen counter, with her dog Cali by her feet.

Tiler Peck and Cali teaching class

Courtesy Peck

6. Music

In hard times, it's important to find fun where we can. Peck regularly likes teaching to classical music, to keep her classes focused, but she does mix it up a few times a week to bring a little joy to her students. "One day a week I add in pop music, because I feel like we need some light during such a crazy time," she says. If you're looking to give yourself class at home, Peck's suggestion is to find classical instrumental versions of pop songs, which she finds easily on Spotify. "I think that's a good balance," she adds.

 7. Navigating People

Ideally, we'd all have an interrupted hour to take class each day. But part of this new world order is learning to navigate shared spaces with family and roommates. Peck's suggestion is to come up with a schedule. "My parents know that from 10 to 11 I get the living room," she says. "My class is at a set time each day to make that easier for people." Nevertheless, Peck has learned to be patient when interruptions happen. "Sometimes my dad will come in to wash his hands while I'm teaching, and I just joke about how he's practicing good hygiene."

8. Corrections

Peck has found that the trickiest part of live classes is that she can't see her students, and so can't correct them in real-time. As a solution, she gives as many preventative corrections as possible while teaching, and urges students to listen closely. "I'm constantly talking about things I know people are probably doing wrong, saying knees over toes in pliés and stuff, so that when they hear me they'll fix it." She also responds to dancers who share videos using the hashtag #turnitoutwithtiler. "They're really surprised that I write so many corrections to them, but I feel like I'm getting to pass on this knowledge to so many more people that I would have in a physical studio."

9. Nutrition

With our routines interrupted, it can be hard to figure out healthy eating patterns throughout the day. "I'm so close to the kitchen!," jokes Peck. She's found that eating snacks about every three hours works for her, rather than big meals. "The best thing my physical therapist ever told me is that half an hour after you work out you need protein," she says. "I tend to make a chocolate shake, or have some chocolate milk."

10. Wellness

While daily class helps keep our bodies healthy, thinking of wellness holistically is more important than ever. Peck is focused on getting enough sleep, and keeping her immunity up with a Vitamin regimen recommended by NYCB physical therapist Marika Molnar. "My entire family is taking Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, Selenium, Zinc and Magnesium every day," she says.

Peck also suggests mitigating social media use. Last week the Peck family went old-school, and sat down for a game of Monopoly. "As much as this time is hard and difficult, I'm getting time with my parents and sister and grandma that I feel like I'm going to cherish forever," she says. "That's what's helping to keep my mind healthy."

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Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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