Dancer Isabella Boylston Falls Asleep to a Leonardo da Vinci Audiobook
We spend a third of our lives asleep—that means our bedroom is the most lived-in space in our homes. It’s the room where we start and end our days, and that’s why the rituals that happen there are extra important. In The Wind Down, we’ll be exploring the nighttime routines of people we admire and taking their advice to make the moments just before bed feel our best.
Though the performance season may be cancelled, American Ballet Theater principal dancer Isabella Boylston has made a point of keeping up with her training—and she’s invited her Instagram followers to join her. As she’s sheltered in place in her Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, apartment with her husband, Daniel Shin, the New Yorker is finding new ways to stay connected and calm.
That might mean heading to a park where she can safely practice her jumps (New York apartment floors aren’t exactly ideal, especially when you have downstairs neighbors) or hosting #thecindiesballetclass on IG Live (with donations to various COVID-19 relief charities encouraged for each one. But she’s also taking a moment to pause. “This is the first time in my life I’ve had a break from the rigor of my training, ever since I went to boarding school for ballet when I was 15,” she says.
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So she’s taking it all in stride, going to bed a little later than usual and honing her strategies for fighting anxiety and staying disciplined—and her nighttime routine has proved very helpful for both of those tasks. Here she shares her bedtime rituals.
Soak it up: I love taking baths loaded up with Epsom salts—I add a Jordan Samuels body oil that smells like oranges too. I light a candle, pour myself a glass of wine, and just sit there until I’ve turned into a total prune-like swamp creature. Sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast or read the news on my phone, which isn’t always soothing, but I can’t help it.
Skin saviors: After my bath, I apply all my various face moisturizers. I love Kat Burki and the Vintner’s Daughter serum, which smells so good. I have a bunch of different products that I alternate. I’ll use a Goop Exfoliating Peel Pad once a week or so. I also apply body moisturizer—I have one from Aesop that smells like vanilla and tangerine.
Tune in: I like to listen to The Moth, especially when I have jet lag or I’m on tour and feeling lonely. It features really beautiful stories that are either moving or funny and relatable. Sometimes I listen to The Daily, but it can be stressful. My all-time favorite podcast is Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
Nighttime treat: I’m not a big snacker before bed. But pasta is my favorite food, so if I make it for dinner, I’ll always have a second serving two hours later.
Required reading: I run #BallerinaBookClub on Instagram, which is a very eclectic, curated mix of books—basically just whatever I want to read. I do interviews with authors and Instagram lives. I’m currently reading the second book in a sci-fi series by N.K. Jemisin. It’s called The Obelisk Gate and it won the Hugo Award.
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Aroma therapy: Amber is my favorite scent, but I’m allergic to it, which really sucks. But it’s fine if I just expose myself to it from a candle. I love Diptyque, but any random one from Whole Foods will do.
Best bed: For bedding, I really like Garnet Hill’s cotton sheets. I sleep on my side and I have really knobbly knees, so if I don’t sleep with a pillow in between them, it’s really uncomfortable. Behind my head, I use just one pillow—meanwhile my husband somehow manages to stack five pillows around his entire body. Luckily, we have a king-size bed, which I think is the ultimate luxury, especially for a couple.
Perfect PJs: I have a really lovely pair of silk pajamas from Intimissimi that the brand sent me after I did a campaign with Calzedonia, its sister company. I also really love Suzie Kondi’s tracksuits. I prefer to sleep in the nude, but I’m a big fan of wearing pajamas around the house.
Counting sheep: I’m usually on touring and performing all over the world, so I take melatonin with me everywhere I go. In New York, I’m a pretty good sleeper. I’m not religious at all, but if my anxiety levels are high, I’ll pray—not to anyone in particular, more to the universe. I pray about things that I’m struggling with or I ask for help for other people in my life. That really helps calm me.
Essential extras: On my nightstand, I have my journal, a stack of seven books I’m either in the middle of or planning to read, and a vase of fresh eucalyptus. I also have a silk eye mask with cat ears and a tiara that my friend Tomoko [Ueda-Dunbar], who’s the head of wardrobe at ABT, made for me. I grew up never really having curtains, so I don’t mind light when I sleep, but my husband usually has to wake up earlier than I do, so if I’m still reading when he goes to bed, I’ll hand the mask to him. It’s a funny visual.
Bedtime stories: Typically, right before I sleep, I put in my earbuds and listen to an audiobook—right now, it’s a biography on Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. It’s really fascinating—I love learning about the Renaissance. I tend toward nonfiction for my audiobooks—if there’s an occasional boring passage, it helps put me to sleep.
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