Lesley Rausch carefully encircles each toe with masking tape. The big toenail, with its tendency to purple and crack, warrants special ministrations. SecondSkin, a medical-grade adhesive, is applied—but even that won’t be enough to shield the appendage from the coming onslaught. Rausch sticks a breathable foam round on top as a final line of defense, and then wriggles a foam makeup wedge between her big toe and the rest as a provision against bunions. Finally, she extracts a few pre-torn, neatly folded sheets of paper towels from her bag, and wraps them around the entire intricate configuration. She’s ready to go en pointe.
This is the day in the life of a Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer.
Rausch rises with—or before—the sun. A scalding hot shower loosens her muscles for morning stretches and mobility exercises. Coffee and a quick breakfast fuel what’ll be a busy next few hours.
Rausch, who’s been dancing for 38 years, walks to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s rehearsal studios at Seattle Center. She teaches a 45-minute mat pilates class to company dancers. The cross-training strengthens cores and improves spinal mobility.
Still rehabbing a knee injury from last season, Rausch slips in a few minutes with PNB’s “genius” in-house physical therapist, Boyd Bender, just to “get everything in the right place” before she completes the elaborate ritual of prepping her feet for pointe shoes. This is her 21st season with PNB—she’s the company’s most senior dancer—and the body keeps score.
Class ostensibly starts at 9:15, but things don’t really get moving until 9:20. The company- wide practice session, which starts with barre exercises and ends with floor work, is optional—dancers don’t get paid for the hour and a half spent painstakingly refining their technique. But Rausch puts air quotes around optional.
Depending on the day, formal rehearsal could be three hours long or nonexistent. Today, Rausch has a full-length rehearsal for Carmina Burana, choreographed by former PNB artistic director Kent Stowell. The dancers’ union contract secures them a five-minute break every hour, which Rausch uses to rehydrate and change the paper towels ensconcing her toes. She might switch out her pointe shoes in her rotating lineup of up to 10 pairs. Some are better for turns, others for balances, by virtue of their age and stiffness, and she can differentiate them all by the manufacturer date stamped on the sole.
Rausch sometimes teaches another pilates class to the professional division students during her lunch hour, but today she’ll use it to run home and eat a light meal.
Another three-hour rehearsal block, this one dedicated to the pas de deux—a partner dance—from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Rausch will appear as the fairy queen, Titania. She might squeeze in a 20-minute costume fitting if time allows.
Another blistering shower. If she’s not sweating when she gets out, it wasn’t hot enough.
Rausch FaceTimes her sister and nephew, who is almost two, while she makes a meatless dinner. Her husband works in the evenings, so she’ll set aside his portion for later.
After a demanding day, some mindless television is in order. Rausch is currently hooked on Making the Cut; Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, and a cohort of frazzled fashion designers look on while she ices her sore muscles and puts her foam roller to work on her IT band. The rituals necessary to maintain her body are a full-time job, and it doesn’t end when she’s off the clock.
An early bedtime makes it possible for Rausch to get up and do it all again tomorrow.