David Hallberg on stage.
David Hallberg on stage.
Kent G. Becker

How David Hallberg Found Time for Ballet and Writing His Memoir

For years, David Hallberg has been consumed by the world of dance, performing with companies including American Ballet Theatre and Bolshoi Ballet. Now, he's found another passion.

Hallberg spent four years writing his memoir, titled A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back. Published just last month, it’s a reflection on his experiences in the world of dance – including bullying, dance injuries, and self-doubt.

He's scheduled to appear at Changing Hands on December 22, in conversation with Ib Andersen, who serves as artistic director for Ballet Arizona. And, of course, he’ll be talking about both his dance career and his writing life.

Hallberg was raised in Phoenix, where he first took jazz and tap classes at a competition studio. He attended Arizona School for the Arts in downtown Phoenix.

He came late to classical dance, making his singular achievements that much more impressive.

Hallberg started formal ballet training with Kee-Juan Han at Arizona Ballet School when he was 13 years old. “I was completely unaware of what you need to possess to be a ballet dancer,” Hallberg says.

But clearly, he had it.

In 1999, he was accepted into the Paris Opera Ballet School. In 2001, he joined the corps de ballet for American Ballet Theatre, then rose through the ranks to become a principal dancer in 2006. In 2011, he became the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a Premier Danseur.

With writing, he returned to being a novice. “I had a huge learning curve,” Hallberg says of beginning to write the book. “Writing was a world I didn’t know, and I didn’t call myself a writer for a very long time.”

Along the way, Hallberg discovered parallels in the way he approached both writing and dance.

“I have the same dedication and obsessiveness with writing that I have with dance,” Hallberg says. “I chose to dive in absolutely head first.”

Now that he’s finished one book, Hallberg hopes to write another. “I’ve been percolating some ideas,” Hallberg says. “There are messages I want to convey, and writing is a medium I want to continue exploring.”

Given the rigors of dancing at his level, it’s easy to wonder how Hallberg manages to find time for it all.

“Meeting the demands of being a dancer takes all of my energy,” Hallberg says. During a typical week, he’s in the dance studio six days a week – from 9 a.m. until 4 or 5 p.m.

“It’s very physically exertive, but the body also has to rest,” he says. For Hallberg, that means “going home, getting horizontal, and putting on Netflix.”

Even, so he manages to make time for other things.

“I have to live a well-rounded life,” Hallberg says. “I have to see art, be fed by other people’s creative pursuits, and see friends.”

Without that, he says, his dance and writing would suffer.

“If I didn’t lead a balanced life, I’d be dried up as a person and an artist,” he says.

Hallberg never had the luxury of writing full-time. Instead, he had to work writing around his full-time ballet career. But he got some good advice about how to get the writing done – including this old adage: “Butt in chair.”

“I just started writing, and I found that the more I wrote, the better I got,” he says. “That was my process for four and a half years.”

Now that the book has been published, he’s eager to share it with others. And that means sharing some of the darker moments in his dance career, which he recounts with brutal honesty.

Hallberg basically dropped off the dance scene after sustaining a bad ankle injury, and enduring a botched surgery. He lived in Australia for a year, while he recovered. At the time, Hallberg wasn’t sure he’d ever return to the stage.

But he has, and he’s pushing himself harder than ever. “When you come out the other end, that’s when the real work begins.”

He’s hoping that people who read his memoir get a good feel for the complicated experience of being an artist, in dance or other art forms.

“I feel like I really want people to have a better understanding of what makes an artist tick.”

Changing Hands Bookstore and Ballet Arizona present David Hallberg in Conversation with Ib Andersen at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 22, at Changing Hands' Phoenix location. The event is $28 (with tax), which includes two tickets and a copy of A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back. Get details on the Changing Hands website.

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