Abby Jayne DeAngelo is a professional ballet dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet, one of the largest and most renowned ballet companies in the United States. She lives in Seattle with her cat, Milkshake and also runs her own crochet business, @ajayscrochets.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself? How did you get started with dance and what was your path to your current job?
I always loved dancing as a kid and my parents took me to see my first performance when I was three years old. My mom said I was sitting at the edge of my seat the entire time, so she enrolled me in ballet classes. Luckily, I grew up in a small town with a big ballet school, and it became very serious very early. I was only 8 or 9 when I started going to the studios for 30 hours a week. Looking back—it feels crazy—but from an early age, I knew that dance was what I wanted to pursue. It was definitely a different childhood, but I always wanted to be in the studio. Dancing was my life, and I never second-guessed it.
I had a pretty serious injury when I was 16. It was a transitional time, and I was trying to figure out what to do next. Luckily, I was able to recover and attend Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (PNB) summer program. I returned for a second time the following summer and then stayed at PNB as a Professional Division (PD) student. The PD program was difficult, and I wasn’t so sure of my future in Seattle. When I was offered an apprenticeship at the end of my two years as a PD student, it was a shock but also very exciting. I stayed as an apprentice, and, after being promoted, I am now in the corps de ballet at PNB.
How has the pandemic changed the way you practice your art and your relationship with dance?
At the beginning of February, I actually dislocated my hip on stage, so I wasn’t dancing leading up to the start of the pandemic. Right as the country was shutting down, I was finally able to dance again and eager to start working. So at the beginning of the pandemic, I got into the mindset of filling my schedule and working out all day long at home. I wanted to keep up the work that I had put into my recovery. I was also nannying full-time and teaching digital classes. It quickly became exhausting, and I burnt myself out. As an artist, I had to figure out other ways to find inspiration. For me, the time away in the pandemic was an extremely explorative time to discover what brings me joy apart from my identity as a dancer.
At this point, we’re just starting back. It’s been two weeks since we’ve returned to the studios, and it’s surreal. I almost feel like I didn’t have enough time away. I found myself quickly returning to the expectations I had before the shutdown, so now I’m trying to break down those walls again and remind myself to carry what I learned and discovered during the pandemic back into my work. In the end, the pandemic brought me close to dance, and I had to take a step away to get there.
What have been the highlights of your career in dance, and what were some of the more difficult moments?
My peak as a student was when I got to perform George Balanchine’s Serenade alongside Leta Biasucci, who is a principal dancer at PNB. At the time, I didn’t even know I would end up at PNB. It was such a special moment. In my professional career, which has only been a year long, I had a surprise debut as Lead Marzipan in The Nutcracker. It was the third to last show of our 40-show run last winter and there had been some injuries and last-minute changes. I actually performed the same role when I was twelve, but it was a very different experience performing as a 20-year-old professional dancer.
As I mentioned before, I had a major injury when I was 16, but it was the biggest blessing in disguise. I fractured my foot in three places and danced on it for six months. There was a lot of pressure for me to continue to dance and not be injured, so I ignored the pain in my body. Finally, I had to stop because I couldn’t even walk. I was out for nine months and recovered just in time to audition for PNB. Looking back, the difficult moment is more of a highlight because it allowed me to rediscover my love for dance. At the time, I didn’t realize how burnt out I was, and I actually was nearing the point of quitting altogether. I believe things happen for a reason. I needed that break to find clarity and learn that a career in dance was what I truly wanted.
Ballet is such a taxing and consuming profession. What are some things you like to do in your free time to relax and refuel?
I love this question! I am basically 80 years old inside, and I’m a full-blown cat lady. I love my cat, Milkshake. He brings me so much joy and emotional support. I also love crocheting and have a small business called @ajayscrochets. I have never put pressure on it, and it has always been a creative outlet. I love designing new things and making gifts for friends. When I’m not working, I crochet all day with my cat next to me on my couch.
In addition to crochet, I also play the harp, which is pretty unique. I’ve played the harp since I was 12. Last summer, I finally brought my harp to Seattle, and I’ve really enjoyed learning how to play pieces of music that I’m dancing to. I can feel the music more, and it is another way I can connect with my art.
What does being powerful mean to you?
Being powerful means not masking anything to spare others and being fully open and honest about who you are and what you’re going through. Power, at its core, is about honesty and, hopefully, someone out there will be inspired by it.
It’s also difficult to think about power in the dance world. Dance is often viewed as a silent art, and dancers are often silenced. There are so many things in the industry that make you feel crushed and belittled, so being powerful as a dancer means using your platform and standing up for yourself and the injustices that you see. Norms are definitely shifting now, and it’s important to stand up for what you know you deserve while also being kind and humble. Another way I feel powerful is finding pure joy in daily life, and joy can be found in both happiness and sorrow. I think all those things can shine through as being powerful.