Lauren Fadeley: Pennsylvania Prodigy

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.

Early Success

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.”

Fun Facts!

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.

Latest Posts

Trans dancer, choreographer, and activist Sean Dorsey in his work Boys in Trouble (Keegan Marling, courtesy Sean Dorsey Dance)

8 Phenomenal Trans and GNC Dancers to Follow

Whether through color-specific costumes, classes separated by sex, or the "traditional" view of the roles boys and girls should play in ballet, most dance students are taught that their gender determines their role in the studio beginning in elementary school. And, especially for those struggling with their own gender identity, that can cause harm and confusion. "From a very young age, I did not see myself reflected anywhere in the modern dance field," says trans dancer, choreographer, and activist Sean Dorsey. "There was a really intense message I received, which was that my body and identity don't have a place here."

Despite significant societal progress in regards to gender representation, the dance world has trailed behind, and many transgender and gender nonconforming teenagers still feel lost within the world of dance. Prominent trans and GNC professional dancers are few and far between. "Being a Black trans woman means I have to work extra, extra, extra hard, because I have to set the tone for the people who come after me," says Brielle "Tatianna" Rheames, a distinguished voguer.

But the rise of social platforms has given Rheames, Dorsey, and other trans and GNC dancers a path to visibility—and that visibility helps create community and change lives. "Social media plays an extremely big part," Rheames says. "You can't just hide us anymore." Here are eight incredible trans and GNC dancers to add to your own Instagram feed.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search