Zibby Owens: Welcome to Inside and Out, the body edition of the July Book Blast. This is Thursday’s Body Blast. Let’s call it that, the Body Blast. I’m calling it that because one author is a ballerina, one is a yoga teacher, and one investigates DNA. That’s why. I hope you’ll enjoy these varied takes on the human body.

Tiler Peck is the coauthor of Katarina Ballerina. She is an international ballerina herself and has been a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet since 2009. She has been seen on Broadway in On the Town and The Music Man and originated the role of Marie in the Kennedy Center’s production of Little Dancer alongside Kyle Harris, who’s the coauthor. Ms. Peck performed for President Obama at the 2012 and 2014 Kennedy Center Honors. Ms. Peck has guested on Dancing with the Stars twice and appeared on Julie Andrews’s Netflix series, Julie’s Greenroom. She’s the recipient of the 2013 Princess Grace Statue Award and was named one of Forbes‘ 30 Under 30 in Hollywood/Entertainment. Most recently, she was the first woman to curate three performances titled Ballet Now at the Los Angeles Music Center and is the subject of a documentary directed by Steven Cantor and produced by Elisabeth Moss for Hulu. She lives in New York City with her dog, Cali.

Welcome, Tiler. Thanks so much for coming on my show.

Tiler Peck: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: This is such a treat, oh, my gosh. You’re a world-famous ballerina. It’s amazing. The best part, though, are your Instagram classes. I want to hear about your book, Katarina Ballerina, but your Instagram during quarantine and starting classes and Josh Groban popping by, tell me about all of that.

Tiler: It’s really become something so incredible. I started it out just because I need to continue staying in shape to stay in New York City Ballet shape. I need to do class every single day. When the quarantine hit and I thought, okay, I need to give myself class, I thought, I bet there are so many people stuck at home going crazy with nothing to do. So many of their normal classes are probably canceled. I’d never done an Instagram Live. I thought, I think this is how you do it. I’ll just push the button. I’ll see it how goes. Maybe there will be like five people dancing with me. Then I didn’t know what the numbers meant, honestly. I didn’t know what it meant. Then when somebody said, “There was 1,500 people dancing with you today,” I thought, how incredible. Then I started getting messages from all around the world, people in Iran, South Africa, Australia, the UK, everybody. That is so special to me. We’re really going through this tough time with COVID and then now the riots and everything. If I can keep people connected in dance and bringing together different forms and different guests to help spread their joy — Josh Groban was one of my favorite guests who popped on because he was just so fun, so funny. Who knew? I had no idea. Such a great sense of humor. How special for people in their homes to get to dance to Josh Groban singing. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m just trying to bring joy to people’s lives. It’s been really, really incredible for me too.

Zibby: That’s so awesome. Are you going to keep it going? Do you have a plan, or just see how it goes?

Tiler: I know. Everybody keeps asking me that. Obviously, I won’t be able to do it at the time when I normally do it because I’ll be giving — hopefully, when we get back to New York City Ballet, I’ll be in my own class. I am going to have figure out some sort of way to keep it going because I would feel so bad like I was leaving all of these people behind. I know they count on it. I don’t know. I definitely won’t give it up. It’ll be in a different form. Turn Out with Tiler will be in some other form.

Zibby: It’s so neat. It’s really great you provide that service. I hadn’t done Instagram Live either until the quarantine. I was like, um, what do I press? It’s great. It’s such a nice way to be able to unite people around things they’re interested in. I do book stuff in a much smaller scale than you. Still, it’s so nice to be able to connect this way and bring stories like yours.

Tiler: Actually, Kyle and I, who’s my coauthor for Katarina Ballerina, we’ve done an Instagram Live. We started a Saturday Stories where we start at the beginning of the book. We’ve only done two so far. We’re just reading it through and letting anybody who wants to ask us questions pop in. We do a little Q&A. It’s been really fun to get to know the readers because we didn’t get to have our book signing tour that we were planning on. This is a way for us to still get to hear from our readers.

Zibby: Tell me about Katarina Ballerina, which I read. I read half of it out loud to my daughter who’s almost seven. What inspired you to write the book? How did you team up with Kyle Harris? Tell me the whole story.

Tiler: Kyle Harris and I met when we were doing a new Broadway musical. We were doing it in DC in 2014, actually. It was called Little Dancer. He plays my opposite. He plays my boyfriend in the show. We became really great friends. We’re completely different. He knows nothing about dance. He actually grew up playing soccer and then moved into musical theater. He’s a really great actor and has a great voice. We were in this musical together. He was in awe of the ballet world because that’s what the musical was. It was called Little Dancer. Now it’s called Marie. It’s about Edgar Degas’ sculpture, the Little Dancer. I play her. Here he was surrounded in this world of ballet which he knew nothing about. He wrote a little poem. The poem was Katarina Ballerina. It was just a little one-page poem. He showed it to me. I was like, “Kyle, this is really good. I think you actually have something here.”

It wasn’t until a few years later, 2017 I believe, when I said, “You know what Kyle? Let’s really try and make something happen with that poem. I don’t know what it is, but let’s just get in a room and see what we can do.” We thought, okay, we’ll make a children’s picture book. When we went to Simon & Schuster, we thought, here’s the poem. We think this could be a really cute children’s picture book. They said, “We love it, but we want you to make a chapter book because we think that this has more of a story and a message than just a picture book. Would you want to go back and start trying to write a chapter book?” We were like, that seems very daunting, but we’ll try. We went back. We started writing together. I always really enjoyed writing. Kyle’s really great. The two of us together, it was just such a great partnership. It made for a really fun and interesting story because we were able to incorporate ourselves a little bit in her. He has this crazy curly hair. He’s the one who’s a little pigeon-toed. We thought, why don’t we put those characteristics into Katerina? She isn’t the perfect dancer. She doesn’t have what you think the perfect ballerina looks like, whatever that may be. She wanted slicked-back hair and perfect turnout.

We wanted Katerina not to have those things, but to have that thing that you can’t teach, which is that light that makes people want to watch you dance. That is the most important thing, I think, in a dancer. You can work on technique, but it’s really hard to teach somebody to have that joy. That has to come from within. That’s really the message. It’s owning your own unique gifts. What she thinks are what’s going to hold her back is really what ends up making her stand out. It’s not comparing yourself to the next student. If I were to compare myself to anybody in the New York City Ballet, I’d probably be like, I think maybe I shouldn’t dance. Somebody always has something better than you. You may have something better than them. It’s just, everybody’s different. I really think that’s an important message for kids, but also just anybody to be reminded of that.

Zibby: It’s so true. Sometimes the things you wish weren’t there are the things that make you who you are. That’s where all the great stuff comes from at the end of it. It’s much harder to feel that way especially at Katerina’s age and when you’re struggling to fit in or you just want to look like everybody else in the dance class or all the rest. It’s a very important message at any age.

Tiler: I know it was good to remind myself. With social media, you can go down that rabbit hole of looking at — for me, sometimes I’ll just want to watch ballet videos. Sometimes when I watch those beautiful Russian dancers who have extension, I think, oh, my goodness, why do I even dance? I have what Katerina has where I just love to dance. I think that’s what people, I hope, see when they watch me dance. I just try to focus on that. I might not be able to get my leg above my head or whatever, but I can dance. It was good for me to remind myself.

Zibby: It’s so true. Watching someone do what they love, it’s almost this contagious effect. You feel their joy. You feel you’re participating in it in some way. Also, as an audience member, hardly anybody can tell the difference. Probably, you as a professional dancer can tell the difference between you and some Russian dancer, but nobody else would be able to tell the fraction of an inch of difference that you were worried about.

Tiler: As ballerinas, perfectionism doesn’t really exist, but we are as close to it as possible. I feel like I’m my hardest critic. If one little finger is out of place, I’m like, gosh, that could’ve been better. It’s true. We have to always remind ourselves.

Zibby: This is sort of off topic, but just wondering. There’s so much a stereotype of dancers, that it comes with, sometimes, body image issues because you’re using your body all the time. You hear about a lot of people have maladaptive eating habits and all the rest. They’re so worried about their bodies and everything. How do you have such — well, I’m assuming. I shouldn’t assume. What is your relationship with your body like? How do you try to maintain the positive despite the environment that can be negative?

Tiler: I think that attributes to a few things. One was the way I was brought up. I have a really supportive family. If had some sort of eating thing, I know my mom would pull me out of dance right away. It was always just, you have to fuel your body to be strong. I never really ever had to think about that because that was just what was engrained in me. I think a lot of us are lucky. My mom was a dancer. My father was a college football coach. I did have the athletic genes, I feel like. People are really interested when they see how much I actually do eat. They’re like, “Wait, you’re going to eat that?” I’m like, “Yeah, are you?” at dinners with the dessert and stuff. That’s just how I’ve always been. My favorite food is pasta, actually. Before every single performance, the night before I always have pasta. I think it’s a mental thing. At the same time, I don’t think you would really think a ballerina loves pasta or salad dressing or eats dessert. That’s always been me. I can’t speak for all ballerinas, but I’ve always felt like I had a really good head on my shoulders. I think that that comes from my parents who just brought me up that way.

Zibby: Gosh, the pressure on the parents to make sure to raise their kids like you.

Tiler: It’s because you see so many injuries in dance. I’ve actually had some, but very little for the amount I’ve danced and the demand that is put on my body. I really think that that comes from correct diet and taking care of yourself. You have to be really disciplined, not only in class, but with recovery and fueling the body. I think that if you’re not constantly making sure that you have snacks with you throughout the day or that you’re hydrating, that’s when injuries, I think, happen more often than others.

Zibby: Interesting. You are a ballerina still with the New York City Ballet. You have performed on Broadway, also in Kennedy Center. You’ve written this book. You’re still so young. What do you want to do with the rest — what’s your big plan? Do you have a big plan of what’s coming next for you? I feel like the sky is the limit, is basically what I’m trying to say with what you could do with your talent and magnetism and all the rest. I’m just wondering, do you have a pie-in-the-sky dream of what’s to come for the rest of your life or even just the next couple years?

Tiler: What I’ve really loved during these classes is that people have gotten to really get to know me. I think that ballerinas can sometimes be put on this, I always like to say this untouchable pedestal where they’re looked to be as, oh, they’re perfect and their life is just perfect. That’s just not me. I really feel like with these classes people have gotten — they’ve really seen me as how I am, in my parent’s kitchen doing class. I mess up. I say, you guys, sorry, I’m totally not perfect, so just bear with me. I’m sorry I messed up that step. I taught you one thing and then I did the other. That’s what I really think is important for ballet to be more accessible to people. I don’t know if there’s a talk show that would happen like how I’ve been bringing in guests. Maybe that could become something. I’ve always wanted to direct a company later on down the road. Maybe that will be a dream of mine that could come true. I don’t really know. I’m just having fun at the moment.

Zibby: I don’t know why I ask these questions that make people feel uncomfortable sometimes. I don’t really need a real answer. I just think it’s fun to dream. I like to hear what other people’s dreams are in part as well. No pressure to actually go do any of that. I think you should write a memoir. Have you thought about that?

Tiler: I have thought about writing another book about my injury because it was really a very traumatic one where I was told that I would never dance again.

Zibby: What happened?

Tiler: I had a herniated disk, a very severe one in my neck. It was so severe that it was pushing on my spinal cord. I was told, “You’ll never dance again. You have to get surgery right away.” Long story short, I just feel like there’s a lot of people that go through what I went through, which was maybe not feeling like the doctors understood. They didn’t understand my profession. They’d always say, “You’re a gymnast,” or yes, a professional athlete, but they would relate me to a football player. Ballet, you have to use your neck. You have to use your . Where they were saying, “We can just fix it and we’ll fuse something together,” I was like, “No, I’ll never be able to move my neck the same way ever again. I need to do that.” It made me grow really strong as a person. I just feel like there’s so many things that I would love to share with people so that they know. It’s a really lonely road when you’re injured. You feel like nobody understands, nobody’s listening.

I would just love to share what I learned because maybe that could help other people. I think the most important lesson was that nobody knows your body better than you. You can use all of the medical knowledge because obviously they know more about the medical field, but they’re not inside your body. I think that there’s a point where you really have to listen to that voice inside. My voice kept saying, I understand this is really serious, but I don’t want to get surgery until that’s the last thing that I have to do. I just need to sit and wait and give myself the opportunity to heal. Then if it doesn’t, then I’ll get the surgery. I felt the pressure. I just want people to know, don’t do anything out of pressure or fear. Do it when you’re ready. I didn’t get it, and I came back. I just did full-length Swan Lake.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. So your body just healed on its own? Were you doing physical therapy, or it just healed?

Tiler: I definitely was doing physical therapy. I did a lot of energy healing, which sounds a little crazy, but it really helped me. I did all these natural things, and I came back dancing.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Energy things like Reiki?

Tiler: I don’t really know. He’s just an energy healer. It was forty-five minutes of talking and then forty-five minutes of energy bodywork. We’d do something different every time, but I saw him once a week. I still do because I believe in it so much.

Zibby: I just love hearing stories like that. It is so inspiring. It is so important. It’s just amazing how quick other people can be to say — it’s like they want to do the surgery sometimes. I don’t mean to disparage any surgeons, but that’s what they do. If you go to a surgeon and you show them a problem, then they give you the surgical solution.

Tiler: Yeah, that’s how they know how to fix it. I’m sure they would fix it just fine. I just didn’t want to do that until I was ready. It was hard because I kept hearing one thing, but I kept thinking I have to just stick with what I believe. I did. I’m so glad I did.

Zibby: How long did the recovery process take you?

Tiler: I was out from March or April, I can’t remember, until my first show back was the weekend after Thanksgiving. I was out until November. It was a lot of months of absolutely nothing. I couldn’t move my head. It was really crazy, but I stuck with it.

Zibby: How did you deal with that emotionally?

Tiler: It was so hard. I’m used to dancing every day of my life. When that’s taken away, oh, my gosh, you have to focus on all the other stuff that you love, but you don’t feel like you’re complete. It was really hard, but I feel like I grew up a lot. Weirdly, I think it was this blessing in a disguise kind of thing.

Zibby: That’s a nice attitude about it. I’m sorry you had to go through that, but at least you got the lessons out that can inform the rest of what’s to come. Sorry, go ahead. What were you going to say?

Tiler: I was just going to say it let me have time to focus on Katerina. We were really able to work on that. With my leotard line, I was able to focus on that. A lot of things I don’t normally have time for, I was able to use that time to keep my brain creative and working while I couldn’t be physical.

Zibby: What are the plans — I know it’s volume one, Katerina. Your first book is titled volume one. Do you have a number in mind for how many? Have you written the next installment yet? What’s the thinking behind that?

Tiler: We’re working on book two cover right now. They have the outline. We’ve just seen the initial book two cover. I’m not allowed to say who the character is, but Katerina will be — you’ll start meeting some of her friends. It’s kind of the same story about how dance is this universal language that ties a lot of people together from around the world. Simon & Schuster signed us for two, but we gave them an outline of ten books. We’re hoping to have Katerina continue on.

Zibby: Good for you. That’s awesome. I love it. Really great. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Tiler: I would say just try it. I, like you, also agree that you kind of have to put the dreams out, put them out into the universe to even know if they can happen. For so long, I never would’ve dreamt of being an author, but I know I have a lot of things to share. I think the first step is just getting past being scared to even try. That was why it took us from 2014 to ’17 to be like, okay, let’s just go. They could say no, or they could say yes. They loved the idea. I would say if you want to do it, you should really just try for it.

Zibby: If you ever find yourself with tons more time with nothing to do, which it sounds like that’s not the type of person that you are by nature so you’re probably not going to, but I have a thirteen-year-old daughter and I feel like you would be great at writing a book for that age group also. Just to put my two cents in here, the injury memoir is super important. I think that’s important to get out there. I also think just the way you inhabit your body and using it for strength and good and art and joy is a message for that I feel like teen girls could really, really benefit from and that there’s not enough of that. In your spare time, maybe just whip up one of those manuscripts too.

Tiler: Okay. It’s funny. The ballet is off now. We don’t know when we will back, which is very sad, but I’ve actually been really busy because these classes keep me so busy preparing. We joke that this house has become — my mom is the production assistant. My dad is craft services. with a funny title. I’m also the booker. I just reach out to people. I say, “I’ve been doing these free classes. Would you want to pop on?” Everybody has said yes. I really didn’t expect for so many people to be so excited by it. I think everybody wants to help bring joy right now and stay connected. This is one little way to do that.

Zibby: It’s great. Keep doing what you’re doing. Just add these to the list if you’re looking for new ideas. Thanks, Tiler. Thanks so much for talking to me and sharing your story. It’s really inspiring and awesome.

Tiler: Thank you. It was nice meeting you.

Zibby: You too. Take care. Buh-bye.

Tiler: Bye.

Zibby: Thanks for listening to Body Blast Thursday, one of the last days of my July Book Blast. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from a ballerina or a DNA specialist or a yoga aficionado.