Being great: A chat with teen ballet star Juliet Doherty

Here at HelloGiggles, we love celebrating amazing people doing amazing things. So, of course, we’re all aflutter over teen ballet star and amaze inspirational role model, Juliet Doherty!

Juliet began dancing at her great-grandmother’s dance studio when she was only three years old and has since gone on to win two gold medals at the Youth America Grand Prix (only the biggest ballet competition in the world), perform as Clara in the Nutcracker in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular alongside the famed Radio City Rockettes and dance in The Kennedy Center musical Little Dancer. Right now, she’s set to embark on a two-week tour in Poland!

With almost 200,000 followers, this 17-year-old is also a star on Instagram, where you’re just as likely to see her warming up in a pair of alien socks or reading Mindy Kaling’s memoir as you are to swoon over her dreamy dance photos. And in 2012, when she was only 15, she gave a Tedx talk entitled Be Great!, in which she dropped some serious wisdom about self-esteem, like, “It’s time for you to stop judging and evaluating yourself. That’s not your job. Everyone else in the world can and will continue judging and evaluating you. It’s just what people do…But you are the only one who can authorize yourself being great. You are the only one who own your own greatness. That’s your job.” Whether it’s dance, art, science, singing or something else you’re passionate about, Juliet says, “Be yourself and be great. We all get so busy playing this excellence game that we forget that.” She ended with encouraging teens to “go and remember who you are, because who you are is great.”

We love Juliet’s positive message, her fierce commitment to doing what she loves and the way she feels more like a bestie instead of a celeb, so we chatted with her about ballet, pop culture, cringe-worthy moments (because hey, we all have ’em) and what it’s like balancing life as a rising star in the dance world with being a regular teen:

HG: You come from a dancing family. You studied at your great-grandmother’s ballet school, with your mom as your coach. What’s it like working so closely with family?

JD: Coming from a dancing family I have had immense support in pursuing my dream. I must admit, it wasn’t always easy having my mum as my coach. When I was little, it was really difficult for me to hear her coaching or to view her as my teacher. In class, I only saw her as my mum and I resisted her teaching. It finally came to a point where I had a realization that she was trying to give me the tools I needed to succeed and it didn’t benefit anyone to continue rebelling. A switch just flipped; we began to work really well together and I feel very fortunate to have a teacher who knows me so well.

I moved away from home at 15 to pursue my career in dance. Since then, my family has remained very much involved in my life and training. My mum and I collaborate in the studio and my grandma helps sew my pointe shoes! I would not have had the same opportunities without my family. On the good days and the bad, I always look to my mum and dad for guidance and encouragement.

HG: What is your favorite or most memorable performance?

JD: That’s a tough choice, I have many favorite/memorable performances! One of my most memorable on-stage moments was at the Youth America Grand Prix International Finals. After competing, I was awarded the gold medal and was asked to perform in their 15th anniversary gala. I opened the show and danced a solo at Lincoln Center! The professional dancers who I shared the stage with that night are all people that I look up to and who inspire me.

HG: What do you like best about ballet?

JD: There is something about the simple practice of class that I love. Each day, I do my pliés and tendus and it is like a meditation. It centers me for the day, helps me focus, and sets my intention. I am addicted to the feeling of hard work and the pay-off is being able to do what I love every single day of my life.

HG: In 2012, you gave a Tedx talk called Be Great! Tell us a little about that.

JD: I was asked to give a TED talk in fall of 2012. Initially, I was super intimidated because I’d been watching TED talks for years, but never did I imagine that I’d give one! I wanted to share a message that would really make a difference in the lives of young athletes and performers, but also one that resonated someone who doesn’t have any connection to the dance world.

I am a strong believer that what already exists inside of us is enough to take us as far as we want to go. All we have to do is acknowledge that we are born with an innate greatness and let that be present in every task that we take on. Whatever you do, whatever you interest, this message is for you! I authorize myself to be great because it makes me feel empowered and gives me a context to think and train from. Since a young age my parents taught me the importance of visualization and self-authorization. My dad helped me write my talk while I was away from home at a 4-week ballet summer intensive, and when I returned home I performed on the TEDxABQ stage!

HG: In your Twitter bio, you call yourself a “plant powered ballerina.” Does that mean you’re a vegetarian?

JD: I am vegan. I eat entirely plant-based and live a lifestyle free of any animal products. I chose to adopt a vegan lifestyle when I resolved it would best support my life, health, and growth. To me health is about respect. Respecting life, appreciating what you have, and using your body and your brain for something purposeful. Wellness is living in a way that nurtures and honors your own life and all of life. Real health for human beings is exercising your kindness and compassion daily.

HG: In your experience, what is the biggest myth or misconception about ballerinas?

JD: That ballerinas don’t eat very much! I probably consume more food than anyone I know!

HG: Most embarrassing moment onstage?

JD: I’ve had a few embarrassing moments! One funny thing that happened was in a very dark and emotional piece. In the middle of the dance, a large piece of hanging fabric is pulled from the ceiling and dropped over my entire body. The guy who went to pull the fabric down pulled a little too hard and ended up punching me in the face, nearly knocking me over! It was really hard not to break character because it was so funny!

HG: What’s your dream dance role?

JD: “Juliet” in Romeo & Juliet!

HG: Of course it is! You attend Master Ballet Academy in Arizona. What’s that like?

JD: I moved to Phoenix, AZ in February to train under the direction of Slawomir and Irena Wozniak. I usually dance at the school about 8-10 hours a day. We train in many styles with an emphasis on classical ballet. I keep up with my academics by doing independent study and meeting with a tutor once a week. My favorite subject is math.

In addition to my classes, I am currently working with choreographers from around the country and creating new work to be performed soon. I’ll be touring Poland for two weeks with the Phoenix Ballet Company the end of May!

HG: Do you have a favorite Internet meme?

Grumpy Cat all the way!

HG: Do you have any nicknames?

JD: Almost everyone I know calls me Juju! I think my little sister started it, and it just caught on.

HG: Do you have a favorite TV show or movie?

JD: I never get tired of the movie Funny Face. Pretty much anything with Audrey Hepburn is a favorite!

HG: Oh me, too. I love Audrey! Who are your role models/people who inspire you?

JD: Just to name a few are Sylvie Guillem, Rich Roll, and Evgenia Obraztsova. However, my grandma is my biggest role model. She is the most kind and caring woman who approaches every situation with grace. I aspire to be just like her!

HG: I’d love to hear about any pets you have…is that your super sweet dog on Instagram?

JD: Yes! I have two dogs, Ruby and Sunny. They are best friends, go on adventures around the neighborhood and get into so much trouble together.

HG: How do you like to spend your free time when you’re not dancing?

JD: Whenever I get a day off I love to browse the local farmers markets, go hiking with my dogs, visit local events with my friends, or curl up with a good book and just chill out!

Enjoy Poland, Juliet, and thanks for being such an inspiration!

(Images via Juliet Doherty and the Ballerina Project.)