Shuttling between 25 weekly classes at four institutions in two different boroughs of New York City, Ashley Tuttle gets much of her daily exercise just from the commute. “You live in the city, you have to walk a lot,” says the former American Ballet Theatre principal, who also starred in Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out on Broadway.
Tuttle is beloved for her open adult classes at Mark Morris Dance Center, where she encourages even novices to let loose and really dance the phrases rather than just drilling technical exercises. Since 2016, though, she’s spent the majority of her teaching hours as faculty at Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech, where she trains pre-professional students from fourth grade through high school. She also leads college classes four times a week at Barnard, and teaches a company class at ABT when the troupe is in town.
Since launching her teaching career a decade ago, Tuttle is frank that her own wellness has not been a priority, and that’s something she wants to work on. She talked to DT about her fitness, eating and sleep habits, how she’s always striving to take better care of herself, and shared recent advice from Mark Morris.
How do you warm up before a day of teaching?
I might have time to touch my toes. Some classes at Barnard start at 8:40 in the morning, so I leave my house at 7. I’d really like to do more; I just haven’t found the time. I don’t do anything except that when I demonstrate, I try to not always stand on the left leg and use the right. I do have problems with a hip bothering me for the past six months. I know not to demonstrate too much if something like that is bothering me. I think I’m pretty lucky as a dancer. People younger than me had to stop dancing because of injuries. I haven’t dealt with that.
Do you work out?
I try to go on the stationary bike or elliptical three or four times a week. I tried to do yoga, but I get frustrated in yoga, which is the opposite of what is supposed to happen. I also just took my second ballet class today in two years.
What are your eating habits like? Do you cook for yourself in the evening?
It’s so bad. I am a hamburger-french-fry kind of girl. I’m lucky—I guess I’ve worked enough to burn off the calories. Sometimes for dinner I’ll cook pasta with broccoli or chicken, maybe with garlic and pepper.
Pretty bland—I don’t like cheese or tomatoes. I’m not a big sweets person, not chocolate or cookies. I like soda, but recently made myself stop drinking it.
How do you get the sleep you need to keep such a full schedule?
I’m able to unwind and crash pretty quickly. Especially if I have to get up around 6, I try to get to sleep around 11 or 11:30. I find I get quite tired, though. Catch-up days are nice.
The thing about teaching: It’s a wonderful thing to do and I love it, but it is a very outward thing. You’re giving a lot. I still haven’t found the balance of things that come back to me. Some of my adult beginners are such great students. They work so hard and they practice and they ask questions. That gives you something back. Seeing students improve is wonderful. You have to find ways to replenish yourself.
You have one day off a week. Do you spend your Sundays recuperating?
One of the things that’s difficult about my work schedule is I don’t have much social time, so on Sundays I try to find time to hang out with people I haven’t spent time with in a while. I might go to a performance. I also like to read books and hang out with my dog, Tallulah. And I like to sleep. Napping is always good.
You mentioned you recently took a ballet class for the first time in a while. Is that something you want to do more often?
It’s a challenge I always have. My schedule gets so tight that I have no time to go to class. Or if there is time I’m so tired. When I get back into class, it’s hard. My body’s not in shape. There’s a little bit of ego where it’s like, “I used to be able to do this and now I can’t.” That being said, this is the language I speak best. This is who I am. I’m trying to find how I can keep dance in my life in a way that gives me energy and makes me feel good, without being hypercritical of myself.
I was riding the stationary bikes at Mark Morris recently, and I ran into Mark in the stairwell. He said, “Oh, you’re schvitzing!” because I was sweating. I said, “I’m trying to get back in shape, and it’s so hard as you get older.” And he said, “Maybe you’ve gotta change what your idea of being in shape is.”