Interview Over Morning Coffee with Ian Hussey, departing Principal Dancer at Pennsylvania Ballet

Since he met ballet at age of 8 when his parents brought him to the Academy of Music to see the Nutcracker by Pennsylvania Ballet, Ian Hussey lived a life as a dancer, going through strenuous lessons years and years, stepping up the ladders one by one to become Principal Dancer of Pennsylvania Ballet, and danced hundreds of ballet pieces and roles. In Friday morning, three performances left before he retires from Pennsylvania Ballet, Ian sat down at Elixir Coffee in aroma of freshly grinded coffee and lively noise of people chatting to talk where he was at emotionally, and his dream life as a dancer.

chutesandladders-paballet-ianhussey-hrPhindie: How are you feeling?

Ian: I am feeling great. I mean, right now I am little tired. Yesterday was the opening night And an opening day is always a long day. We had a dress rehearsal in the afternoon, so we got there at 11am, and I danced DGV (one of the ballet pieces of the playbill) twice yesterday. I actually have a great story to remember. They wanted me to run our duet from the last piece, Glass Pieces, me and Lilly (Lillian DiPiazza) so we had a chance to rehearse it with the light. But when we got about 30 seconds to a minute into the duet, she ended up elbowing me into my nose and I ended up with a bloody nose LOL. I am totally fine now, I just got knocked on my nose and a little blood but I ran out of stage because I didn’t want my wardrobe supervisor who I love dearly having to tap blood out of the light blue costume. So we did not get to finish it. That would be a funny little memory to remember.

Phindie:Do you feel like you are in dream or very much in reality?

Ian: I would say, I feel very happy and excited. I feel that my whole career was a bit of a dream, so to say. I grew up watching Pennsylvania Ballet, I knew all dancers and had programs. So, I remember, when I first got into the company, my picture was there and how exciting the feeling was. I remember the first time my name was in capital letters (The names of dancers who dance principal roles would be put in capital letters).

Phindie: Do you remember which ballet that was?

Ian: I think it was As it’s going by Matthew Neenan. I was very excited to dance the title role. I would look into the programs years and years, dreaming of being one of those dancers one day. So, now even though I have been a seasoned vet at this point, have been dancing a very long time and have been a little bit of principal for a little while, it still is a bit surreal for me. At the same time, as I move into this transition, there is also some aspect that does not feel real to me. The reality may hit me a little later. I am just really enjoying this special moment. I have love and support from friends and families. This part of my life will be over. I am still going to be me, but It’s going to be different. And that’s ok.

Photograph by Vikki Sloviter

Photograph by Vikki Sloviter

Phindie: Will you keep dancing?

Ian: I think I will keep dancing in some capacity. I can not say yes or no. I won’t be joining another ballet company, but I am open for dance projects. If there is contemporary, modern or broadway kind of project that makes sense to me as a dancer, I am totally open to it. But If that’s it for me, I am totally fine, too. I am not moving to New York to be a dancer. Because I already had my career. I think opportunity present itself.

Phindie:Are there anything that you would like to do that you could not do while you were a dancer?

Ian: Yes. Many things. Like traveling. We do have our summer off but a lot of us would be teaching or guesting during summer. it’s hard to go for a long traveling. My in-laws have a long trip every November, and they would ask me to join, but it is middle of the Nutcracker season. Once season starts, I might be able to do a weekend trip to Boston or something similar, but that’s about it.

Phindie: So where would you like to go?

Ian: I have actually already planned a trip two weeks after my retiring. I am going to Paris, then flying to Madrid, and make a nice little roop of south of Spain. I will be there almost one month. I am very excited. I can not wait to have tapas and wine without worrying about what I look like in a unitard.

Phindie: Out of all ballet that you dances, which ballet do you like the best?

Ian: That’s a very challenging question. One thing I loved being a ballet dancer of Pennsylvania Ballet is that our repertoire has so much diversity and variety in style. We have everything from Swan Lake and Giselle, to contemporary and George Balanchine, Broadway style, etc. I would say the highlight of my career was the first time I danced Romeo and Juliet. That was my first leading male role in a story ballet. It is incredible ballet. Prokofiev score is unmatched. I danced with a ballerina I admired years and years. I got promoted to soloist after the show. It was the wonderful moment of my career. Additionally, I love danced Fancy Free by Jerome Robbins Fancy. That was so much fun. And The Concert, also by Jerome Robins. I got to dance ‘the husband’ with mustache and cigar smoking, which was one of my favorite. I LOVE acting. Acting is one of my favorite thing about my job and I am so lucky that I was given roles of all spectrum. I’ve done a sweet lover, an evil vilaine, a brute hasband, I’ve lived so many lives.

Phindie:You are moving to New York after retirement. What will you miss the most about philly?

Ian: Oh my gosh, I can not even begin to describe what Philadelphia means to me. Everyone who knows about me, they know that I am just a philly boy through and through. I am passionate about my love for Philly, and I love giving people recommendation and itenary of what they should do in Philly. I also love less glamorous aspect of Philly.and people in Philly. They are sometimes weird and rude and very neat people. I live in Bella Vista area, and there are all kinds of interesting people there. There is a wacky episode that you may not be able to post online, but I would like to tell you anyway. I went to one of my favorite stores in Italian Market the other day. It was close to their closing time and the shopkeeper was cleaning up. I ordered 2 lbs of fettuccine and she said, “F*$^%&! S*&#,” and I thought, “Aww I will miss you so much, Philly.” I’m really going to miss every aspect of this city. All sport teams. Philly, Flyers, Eagles. And living in Philadelphia. It feels like a big city but with the charm of small village. Everything is close and I will really miss living here. I know I’m sounding like I am not ready to move out of Philly. But I have lived in Philly whole my life, and New York is where my life is taking me to next. I am ready.

Phindie: Can I have a message to your fans?

Ian: Thank you so much for all your love and support throughout years. It’s been seriously a privilege and honor of lifetime to be able to dance in front of philadelphia audience, Being philadelphian myself, I have so much love and respect to this city and being able to have my entire career in the city I grew up in, the city I call my home it’s been an honor.

Phindie: Message for a kid who want to be a dancer?

Ian: Work hard, find a really really good training facility. Ballet is a very very hard art form to teach. If a dancer is serious about being a professional dancer, she/he has to find a very good training facility, a school. Sometime it may mean leaving home at a younger age, which really sucks, but that’s what i did and if I hadn’t done that,I would have never became a professional dancer. Furthermore, keep going, keep pushing, things that I learned from dancing, the discipline, work ethics, the demand to excellence, those are something that I would always be able to translate into other aspects of my life. Any dancers would dream of becoming a leading dancers, but at the end of the day, dancing can offer so much more than achieving the dream.

Phindie:Any message to people who are important to you?

Ian: I would say, most importantly, thank you to my mom and dad. My parents sacrificed so much for my dream. I would not have anything without their love and guidance. As painful as it would have been for her, she knew that I needed to change the schools at my pivotal moment of my life, even though it meant my moving out of my house at age 15. My mom is very close to her boys and it must have been very hard for her. I decided i did not want to go because I was afraid to make that change, but she pushed me out of door saying that I needed to go. And if I did not make the change I would have never been a professional dancer. I am very grateful and lucky to have this career and life.

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About the author

Eri Yoneda

Eri Yoneda writes about dance and classical music for Phindie.