Wine may not be the only thing that improves with age. New York City Ballet’s Maria Kowroski says dancing can too.
On Wednesday, she’ll perform in Balanchine’s “Agon,” and on Thursday will give the opening remarks for the company’s gala. Nice work for a 41-year-old, especially one who two years ago returned from maternity leave.
“When you’re a young dancer, you think 35 is old, that that’s when your career will end,” says Kowroski, currently NYCB’s longest-running principal dancer. “I had so many injuries early on that I thought, ‘If I could make it to 35, great.’ I didn’t know what my body would do after I had a baby.”
Over brunch near Central Park, before her weekly physical therapy session, Kowroski looks like the prima ballerina she is: Lean and long-legged, dark blond hair feathering her shoulders, it’s easy to see why she’d been chosen to perform the motion capture for a leaping Barbie doll in a series of animated kids’ films.
“Dancing came naturally to me,” she says. Now living in Harlem, she grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she followed her older sister into ballet, mostly because “I loved wearing her dance clothes.” At 10, she saw the Joffrey Ballet perform, and suddenly knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
In 1992, she came to New York to study at NYCB’s School of American Ballet. Three years later, she was in its corps de ballet, and in 1999 was made a principal dancer.
Even so, her path had plenty of detours: a stream of injuries and a succession of Mr. Wrongs. “I dated the same man over and over,” she jokes of the dancers, banker and model she was with until she met Martin Harvey, the Royal Ballet dancer-turned-actor. They married six years ago and welcomed son Dylan in 2015. He was such a delightful baby, she found it hard to leave him and push back into her toe shoes.
“But you work your whole life to be a ballerina,” Kowroski says, “so it’s a blessing to come back.”
These days, she finds herself working harder than she ever did to stay fit. Along with her NYCB rehearsals, she takes 90-minute ballet classes six days a week at Steps on Broadway and alternates twice-weekly private lessons in Gyrotonics and pilates.
“Being older, I spend a lot more money to remain onstage,” she says, but it seems to have paid off.
“She’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen her, and dancing with a freedom that’s beautiful to see,” says Amar Ramasar, who’s been her frequent dance partner for the past nine years.
Nevertheless, she says, it’s hard being the oldest one at the barre.
“Some of the dancers coming out are sooo much younger than me, and I feel a massive amount of respect from them,” Kowroski says. “I know I’m not competing with them, but you do feel that people think that younger is better — that you’re more vibrant, more willing to take risks. The funny thing is, I feel like that still, in my body and soul.”
She says she’s grateful for all the ballets she’s been given, some of which, like Justin Peck’s “Everywhere We Go,” she’ll dance this season.
Kowroski will be 42 in June, and isn’t ready to say when she might retire. For now, she says, she enjoys teaching at the School of American Ballet and watching young talents emerge.
“I want them to do well,” she says. “Being a classical ballerina is hard. I’d be happy to have another baby and be a mom!”
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