A Day in the Life: Tiler Peck Is Living Your Childhood Dream as a Ballerina—And Letting Us Tag Along

Despite our most fervent dance school fantasies, we can't all make the leap onto the big stage, so New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck lets E! News walk a mile in her pointe shoes.

By Sarah Grossbart Jul 15, 2021 4:00 PMTags
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Some people have jobs so cool we'd actually enjoy attending their marathon Zoom meetings. Even the ones that could totally have been an email. 

Not to say we don't cherish our all-important responsibility of bringing you every last piece of need-to-know information about the casts of Bridgerton and The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, but we don't have our own glam squad or a Rolodex filled with famous names, now do we? 

But the impossibly cool people we'll be profiling in E! News' latest series totally do. Plus access to things like private drivers, designer garb and the type of professional titles we'd drop with wild abandon at parties, dinner dates or while chatting with the barista at Starbucks. Welcome to A Day in the Life...

Professional ballerina Tiler Peck is well aware she's living out a childhood fantasy. Her own, of course, the New York City Ballet principal dancer knowing she wanted to be a part of the esteemed company the moment she watched them perform The Nutcracker during a trip to the city when she was 11: "I said, 'Daddy, I want to do that. I want to dance on that stage someday.'"

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But also the dreams of countless others who slipped on that leotard or new pair of pointe shoes thinking, "Maaaaaybe..."

Having encountered many tiny dancers during her 17 years as an apprentice, then corps member, soloist and finally principal, the Bakersfield, Calif., native tells E! News with authority, "Whenever you ask a little girl, 'What do you want to be maybe when you grow up?' Ballerina is definitely, like, in the top three."

Even people like Jennifer Garner, Kelly Ripa and Sarah Jessica Parker, who also have jobs some people might consider kinda cool, still harbor those childhood dreams, joining Peck for #TurnItOutWithTiler, her IG Live dance classes that became appointment viewing during the pandemic. 

Getty Images/E! Illustration

"They are serious dance fans," she raves of her guests, a list that also includes actress, dancer, choreographer and studio owner Debbie AllenLeslie Odom Jr. and Candace Cameron Bure. "Like, Jen reached out to me on Instagram. And now we've gotten to grow kind of close since I've been in California for so much of the pandemic."

But as fun as creating content with her "fav backyard dance buddy" has been, Tiler is thrilled to be taking center stage again. "I've realized that that was the one piece that was missing during the pandemic," she says. "I put on a few shows that were virtual. But nothing is like that audience live performance, because when you're taping something you can do it over. I remember the first show back, I got a little nervous and I was like, 'Oh, it's kind of nice to feel nervous again.'"

As she kicks off five days of outdoor performances with Alonzo King LINES Ballet for The Music Center's Dance at Dusk series, Tiler walks us through her day step-by-step. 

9 a.m. (PST) Tiler is decidedly not a morning person, but 12-year-old maltipoo Cali keeps her on her toes. "I'll take her out, feed her and then I always take a shower to start my day because it helps warm my body up before I dance," reveals Tiler. "It's my little dancer secret."

Then it's time to channel her inner Jody Sawyer—not all that difficult considering she actually attended the real-life School of American Ballet Center Stage seems to be based on—and edit her upcoming #MondayMovieMoves, a performance of the beloved 2000 film's final dance. "It's the one I've been looking forward to recreating the most," she admits. "it was a movie I grew up on."

And though there was one step that was cut-off in the film in favor of a reaction shot, "I'm very good friends with the choreographer," she admits. After a quick call to Susan Stroman, who created the infamous dance, she was able to bring the canned heat. 

10 a.m. Time to hit the barre. A dancer's life is nothing but regimented, so Tiler fills the space she'd normally be taking class in NYC with #TurnItOutWithTiler. "I like getting to connect with people that are doing the dance class," she explains. "I always say dance is this universal language. It just brings people together." Plus, she notes, the practice is a good way to glissade into her day: "I need to do class to warm up." 

Next, she's booked a meeting to go over edits for September's Katarina Ballerina & the Victory Dance, the follow-up to last year's children's book Katarina Ballerina

1 p.m. At Tiler's two-hour rehearsal with partner Roman Mejia and the dancers of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, there's a lot to cover to make sure everything will be on point when she's en pointe. With Roman having flown in the night before, "it's the first time we were back together in two weeks," notes Tiler. So, they "have to go through the choreography, get familiar with each other again."

There's also spacing to adjust, new music to get used to ("The last time I performed this, it was live music"), she says, "and it's outdoors, so I have to get used to the lighting and everything like that."

3:30 p.m. Sometimes you just gotta put your feet up. And for Tiler it's crucial that she puts her feet up, taking her customary 30-minute nap with her legs up on top of the couch. "I nap in that position, which is kinda awkward," she admits, "but it's a dual purpose situation where I get to rest my body and my eyes."

After an hour-and-a-half of chill time—which includes a pre-nap peanut butter and jelly on an English muffin—she hits the showers again: "It's a nice way to kind of warm up the muscles before you even warm them up."

5:30 p.m. Who needs a glam squad? With actual decades of experience, Tiler is able to expertly apply layers of pancake foundation, pan stick and two sets of lashes "in probably, like, 20 minutes," she estimates. Her go-to French twist takes another 15. 

In between applications, she'll have a few bits of a chocolate chip Clif Bar to fuel her performance. "I don't like to have too much food before I dance," she explains of holding off on dinner, "because I don't like to be lifted and feel it, like, moving."

6:30 p.m. The way Tiler sees it, choreography is meant to be seen, not heard. "One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing a ballerina, like, run around on the stage," she notes. "I feel like she should be silent, so that it doesn't take the magic away."

So she always makes sure to do a bang-up job of breaking in new shoes, spending 15 minutes thwacking the parts of the toe box that hit the stage when she lands against a wall or floor. "It's something I'm kind of known for," she says, joking that when the stage hands hear her going to works, "everybody goes, 'Oh, that's Tiler!'" 

6:45 p.m. With her shoes ready, it's time for Tiler to follow suit. She places the slippers in her go-to spot ("It's like they're gold!" she jokes) then finds a barre to work through her 25-minute warm-up. 

Once her costume is on, she dedicates another 15 minutes to her shoes, this time sewing the ribbons together—she uses dental floss because it has a stronger hold than thread—so they won't pop out on stage. "That's last thing you want to do because it's so distracting," she explains. "One girl in the company doesn't and I am stressed for her. Because I wouldn't be able to relax. I would just always be like, 'Are my ribbons popping out? Are my ribbons popping out?'"

The whole two-hour prep makes her realize, "I must love this a lot," she jokes, "because getting ready to even go on stage is a long process." Well, for her, anyway. "The guys have it so much easier," Tiler notes. "They just slip on ballet slippers." 

7:30 p.m. Tiler has a carefully choreographed pre-show routine. "I do kind of like a prayer to myself: 'Please keep me healthy and safe, first and foremost, and let me have fun,'" she reveals. "That's my mantra every night." Then she turns to Roman with some soothing words. "I think I say this both for myself and to calm him down and that's just, 'Let's just treat this as another rehearsal.'" 

Then it's showtime! "There's that rush that you get," Tiler raves of her love of performing. "That adrenaline." Being able to feel those familiar butterflies is a thrill more than a year after the dance world went dark. 

"I always say, 'You learn everything to forget it,' meaning it's that moment where you have to trust that everything you've been working for during the day is going to be there," Tiler explains. "What people really want to see is somebody that's in the moment, lost in the music and, honestly, if something goes a little wrong, what happens in the outcome of trying to fix it is sometimes so much more interesting than the original. So I just try be really present. And sometimes afterwards you can be like, 'I don't even remember what just happened.'"

9 p.m. Thankfully her proud parents do, Georgia and Stephen Peck making the nearly two-hour trip south from Bakersfield along with her grandmother, her sister Myka and her husband of just five days. Well-versed in Tiler's performance traditions, her dad made a reservation at trendy Italian spot Bestia in downtown Los Angeles, just a few miles from The Music Center. 

"I like pasta the night before a performance," she says of her favorite food. "There's something about pasta that makes me feel really ready for the show the next day. My family, they always laugh at me like, 'Okay, you've got a show the next day, that means pasta.'"  

11 p.m. Carb craving sated ("I'm always super hungry!" she says of her post-performance state), she focuses on her other nighttime ritual: A healing epsom salt bath. "I always like to light some candles," she describes (Jo Malone is a favorite!), "and just get in the bath and that's how I wind down."

The healing soak and a dose of turmeric are her two musts. "If I don't do that, I feel a lot different the next day," she explains. Plus, the practice helps her chill out a bit. Riding high from the performance, it's a struggle to hit the sheets by midnight for her requisite nine hours of sleep. 

Though, one could argue her entire existence is one sweet dream. "Literally I've always wanted to dance," she says, admitting that she has pinch-me moments "all of the time." Particularly when she takes the stage each year in the New York City Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker. "When I play the sugar plum fairy—the part that actually made me want to be a ballerina—I'm like, 'Wait, how is this happening? Is this for real?'" she shares. "Sometimes I still can't believe it." 

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