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Inside A Day In The Life Of A Professional Ballerina

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – When you think of a ballerina, a lot of ideas come to mind about the way they look, eat and live.

But there are some things about their lives that might surprise you.

CBSN New York's Elise Finch sat down with one of the industry's most successful dancers to find out what a typical day is really like.

Isabella Boylston is a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Others may know her as Jennifer Lawrence's dance double in the movie "Red Sparrow."

She's undoubtedly at the top of her profession, but the journey there wasn't always as pretty as she makes it look.

"I started dancing when I was about three years old. I'm originally from Sun Valley, Idaho, which is a tiny little ski town," Boylston told Finch. "No one in my family knew anything about ballet, but my mom just signed me up for some dance classes at the local rec center."

CBSN New York's Elise Finch sat down with one of the industry's most successful dancers to find out what a typical day is really like. (Credit: American Ballet Theater)

As a child, Boylston said she spent most of her time outdoors. But shortly after starting ballet, she was hooked.

"I think it was the musicality of it, the creativity of it, also the challenge. It was definitely the hardest thing out of any activities that I had done," she said. "I just knew I would always dance, had to dance. And then when I found out that I could do that for a career and get paid to do it, that was definitely a bonus."

The intense dance training she needed to become a professional was hard to find in Idaho. So when she was 14, she left home to attend ballet boarding school.

Yes, that's a real thing, and there are apparently dozens of them across the country.

After graduating in 2005, she moved to New York and joined ABT's studio company. By 2007, she was a member of the main company's corps de ballet. She was promoted to soloist in June 2011 and principal dancer in August 2014.

So what's a typical day like for this ballerina and her fellow dancers? Boylston says her days start with a hearty breakfast.

"I usually eat eggs for breakfast, or this morning I ate pasta for breakfast, I had leftovers from last night," she told Finch. "Then, I'll take class – ballet class – at 10:15 a.m. It's usually an hour and a half."

"People are always like, 'Why do you have to take class at this level?' Class is basically a warm-up, a workout, and it's also for me sort of a meditation where you get your mind and your body in tune," she continued. "That just sets me up for the whole day."

"Then after class, I usually rehearse from 12 to 7 and hopefully I have some breaks in there, but not always, unfortunately," she added. "I know, it's brutal."

Boylston admits there are many days when her life as a ballerina is absolutely grueling, but she says it's all worth it the minute she steps on stage.

"Performing… it's such an amazing feeling," she said. "Where you really find your flow and you're totally in the moment, it does feel transcendental."

On most performance days, she says she only rehearses for about an hour to save her body for the show.

Finch caught up with her on one of her days off. So instead of a seven hour rehearsal, she only had a two hour rehearsal for a performance at the American Cancer Society's "Dance Against Cancer" fundraiser that night.

When it comes to her appearance, Boylston looks the way a lot of people expect ballerinas to look. She says she isn't as tall as most people think at only 5 feet 5 inches tall, but the average size for a dancer. Her pointe shoes and long, lean muscles make her seem taller.

At a size zero, she says she's naturally thin, as are most of her colleagues. But she also says the days of waif-like dancers are ending.

"I think ballet is becoming a lot more embracing of different body types, which is really cool," she said.

Starting on May 13, Boylston and her fellow ABT dancers are preparing to do an eight-week run at the Metropolitan Opera House. She says she'll get nervous before every performance, but it helps her to be laser-focused on stage.

When she's done? She typically starts by icing her ankles, because she has sprained them both many times.

"Getting massages is a big one," she said. "I love taking hot baths with Epsom salt and a glass of wine."

Followed by eight to nine hours of sleep, so she can wake up the next day and do it all over again.

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