How Tiler Peck Learned to Trust Her Gut—And Recover From a Career-Threatening Neck Injury

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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In Advice to My Younger SELF, we speak to influential people about the things they wish they knew when they were younger.

Ballerina Tiler Peck is best known for her work with the New York City Ballet (NYCB), where she has been a principal dancer since 2009. She’s also performed on Broadway and at the Kennedy Center Honors, appeared in TV shows and movies, and choreographed for various dance companies and festivals. This month, Peck made her choreographic debut on her home turf with “Concerto for Two Pianos,” which premiered at the NYCB on February 1. (It received a rave review from The New York Times.)

When she dials into our Zoom call from the back of an Uber, Peck says she’s just finished a table read for a TV show—the details of which she can’t share just yet—and is en route to a seminar for the Toulmin Fellowship, which she was awarded this year. “It’s a busy day off,” she says, smiling.

All of this is no small feat for anyone—but especially for Peck, who, just a few years ago, was facing an excruciating injury that could have ended her career. In 2019, she woke up one morning with debilitating neck pain. Though she was able to quickly resume dancing, one month later she was diagnosed with a herniated disc. Doctors said that her career might be over. “As dancers, we’re used to being told what to do and where to go,” Peck says. “I like that. But with this injury everything was unknown…I don’t feel like I really started healing until I gave into that.” Miraculously, Peck was back on stage seven months later—and now, she’s more motivated than ever.

Here, alongside personal photos, Peck reflects on her 20-plus year career—from her first days in the School of American Ballet to grieving the recent death of her father and making her NYCB choreography debut.

Courtesy of Tiler Peck

The advice I’d give to myself when I was accepted to the School of American Ballet

I started at the School of American Ballet (SAB) when I was 11. It’s serious. Nobody talks in the back of the class. At the time, the teachers seemed scary. I remember I wanted to talk, introduce myself, and make new friends. When I waved to someone, the other student shrugged me off. I didn’t know that this was how it worked there—it’s very, very strict. I was a fish out of water because I was this jazz dancer coming in with ballerinas who had studied only ballet all their lives.

In jazz, you do lots of pirouettes—they teach you lots of turns. At SAB, they’re very specific and they want two clean turns and then come down. I remember in my first class, I raised my hand and asked the teacher, “How many pirouettes would you like?” I was really just trying to get the number of the turns, because in jazz, they’ll say, “Okay, we want five pirouettes.” I was used to being able to do that kind of thing. I felt the eyes of all of the ballerinas on me, like, “Who does this girl think she is?” It was really sincere what I was asking, but I remember thinking, “Oh, my gosh, now these girls think that I just think I can turn really well,” that kind of thing.


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