Draped in yellow chiffon and crowned with pin curls and daisies, Lauren Fadeley lies on the floor center stage and basks in the warmth of an imaginary sun. As she begins her solo as the Summer Fairy in Pennsylvania Ballet’s Cinderella, her movement quality is at once supple and strong, mesmerizing and articulate. Her hyper-extended legs and arched feet stretch out from beneath the hem of her dress while her upper body seems to melt into each new phrase of music. Her smile lights up the stage, radiating confidence, joy and a sense of humor.
Two weeks later, Lauren still beams with happiness as she sprawls out on the floor of an empty PAB studio. She gathers her impossibly long legs together, tucks them up under her chin, and begins to talk about her unconventional career path—how she left her corps position at New York City Ballet to go to college full-time, only to find herself wanting to dance again. At just 24 years old, Lauren has already achieved something that most people never even consider a possibility: a professional ballet career both before and after college.
Many little girls dream of becoming a ballerina; for Lauren, it was no different. Growing up, she danced around the house in Orlando, FL, choreographing pieces and teaching them to her younger brother. “My mom used to listen to Tina Turner when she was pregnant with me and insists that that’s why I came out dancing,” she says with a laugh. Lauren saw her first Nutcracker at age 2 and became obsessed with ballet’s magical and imaginative atmosphere, declaring, “I want to do that!” And she did, getting her early training at the Orlando Ballet School and the School of Performing Arts in Florida.
Lauren was invited to join New York City Ballet when she was just 16, having studied at The School of American Ballet for only one year. “Overall, NYCB was an amazing and positive experience that I will always have on my resumé,” she says. “But it wasn’t the right place at the right time. It was too big, too much, especially at that age.” She was overwhelmed when she walked into her first class and experienced the tremendous size of the company. Not knowing where to stand and afraid of stepping on anyone’s toes, Lauren immediately felt lost and unprepared. “When you’re young or inexperienced and don’t have the tools to give yourself corrections or to push yourself, and no one else is giving that to you,” she sighs, “you just fall apart.”
Lauren broke her foot during her second year at NYCB. “I have a remnant of it right there,” she says as she points to the top of her right foot. “But I love it! It makes my arch look better.” She was out for three months but, surprising even herself, she really enjoyed her time off and had no desire to get back into classes and rehearsals. “I’ve always loved to dance,” she confesses, “so the second I didn’t have that feeling anymore, I knew that something was wrong. Also I was coming up on a pivotal time, graduating from high school and turning 18. I thought, ‘What do normal people do when they’re done with high school?’”
A Gutsy Move
“Normal” people, Lauren decided, go to college. Lauren’s parents gave her excellent advice when she battled with the decision to keep dancing or to go to school. They said, “You can do either one of them or both. You have options.” Although she applied to schools in her home state of Florida as a backup plan, she was thrilled to be accepted to her first choice: Indiana University, with its prestigious dance program. “Once I auditioned for IU,” Lauren explains, “there was no question that that’s where I wanted to be.” She embraced IU’s relaxed and nurturing atmosphere, a contrast to the intensity she felt at NYCB.
Most people in the dance world didn’t understand her decision to leave NYCB and go to college. Lauren even admits to being scared and anxious about making such a huge transition, but she insists that she and the company were not a good fit. “After my first year in college,” she says, “I knew going to school was the best thing I had done.”
Four years away from the pressure and scrutiny of professional ballet enabled Lauren to get back to basics. At IU, she focused on strengthening her dance training while pursuing a major in ballet performance and a minor in kinesiology. She studied with teachers like Violette Verdy and danced lead roles in a variety of Balanchine ballets. “The performance opportunities were so fulfilling,” Lauren says. “They made me want to dance professionally again.” But the real turning point came during Lauren’s senior year, when she danced the principal role in Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante. Encouraged by all the positive feedback, she realized that she was not ready to give up dancing. “I’m older and wiser now,” she says, “and I’ve found the love of dance again.”
A New Beginning
Roy Kaiser, artistic director of PAB, commends Lauren for her decision to go to school. “I think that the unconventional path is sometimes a good thing,” he says. “The route that Lauren chose is a great advantage to her as a dancer because it gave her a different perspective when she reentered the field as a professional. Lauren is a wonderful and well-rounded dancer, but, more importantly, she knows how to move and always looks like she would rather be doing nothing else!”
Lauren’s carefree quality has also attracted the attention of such choreographers as Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who made a piece titled Requiem for a Rose for PAB this season and selected Lauren for one of the principal parts. “Some people are born with a sunshine around their aura, and Lauren is one of them,” Ochoa says. “She is a generous artist who gives to the audience without expecting a reward, and that is what makes it wonderful to watch her dance.”
A New Confidence
In addition to Ochoa’s ballet, Lauren has danced several featured roles since she joined the company. She plans to keep working hard and to be pushed by healthy competition. But her goals aren’t limited to ballet. Lauren wants to return to school at some point to pursue a degree in physical therapy. “I’m getting used to it now,” she says, “but it’s weird not having homework to do. I really did enjoy it!”
Lauren thinks that the discipline and organizational skills she developed in ballet have helped her with her studies. Her schooling, in turn, proved to be a nice outlet that encouraged her to stay level-headed. “I would definitely recommend this route to others,” she says. “You can get more training and exposure. Just stay positive and determined! It pays off in the long run.”
And it turns out her parents really did know best. Lauren took their advice about having options and feels more empowered than ever. “No matter what happens tomorrow,” she says, “I know I can do something else. If I wake up and decide I don’t want to dance anymore because I’m not happy with it, I have the assets to do something different.”
Her Pet: Lauren has a cat named Lily, a Maltese-tabby mix with an extra toe. “She walks turned out in first position all the time. It’s great!”
Favorite Food: dark chocolate—but no more than 70 percent cocoa.
Favorite TV Show: “Project Runway”
Most Embarrassing Moment: Falling center stage, wearing a fat monster suit in New York City Ballet’s Firebird. “I ran, fell, and slid. But I couldn’t get back up! I was stuck in the middle of the stage, just lying there.”
Her College GPA: 3.8—she graduated magna cum laude.