Nathan Bland is a professional dancer, teacher and choreographer based in Manhattan. Born in Arkansas and raised in Northern California, Bland began his dance training at the age of of nine. At just 16, he was accepted into the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, and immediately went on to dance professionally out of high school for the Kansas City Ballet.
Bland has spent the last eight years touring and performing for different companies including the Croatian National Ballet Theatre. He now teaches, choreographs and performs as a guest artist in the U.S., and resides in Manhattan.
At the age of only 26, he is an inspiration for many young dancers. In addition to dancing professionally, he will assume a new role working as director, teacher, choreographer and mentor for a regional ballet school in Pennsylvania.
Why did you start dancing, and how old were you?
I started dancing for a pretty random reason. My father who was an older parent (he was in his mid-fifties when I was born) was working for the local newspaper and he was taking an ad to be proofed by my dance teacher. They started talking (that’s something my father had no problem doing as a retired Army/Methodist minister), and one thing led to another and my younger sister and I ended up being enrolled in ballet and tap for the summer and the rest is history! It would have been the summer I turned nine.
When did you realize that you wanted a career in dance?
I’d say I realized around 15 that I really wanted to be a professional dancer. My father passed away a few days after my 15th birthday and I think I just realized that life is short and you have to do what you truly love.
Has your family always been supportive of your choice to be a dancer?
100%. Neither one of my parents was artistically inclined, but one of my older sisters is an opera singer, so they were aware of the arts world. They just wanted us to be happy and live our lives to the fullest. My extended family has also always been very supportive, if somewhat unknowing of what being a ballet dancer really entails.
What is your favorite and least favorite thing about being a professional dancer?
My favorite thing… I guess I’d say my favorite thing is always trying to be better–Pushing myself physically, mentally and emotionally beyond what I thought was possible. Also, just having one of ‘those’ days and losing myself in the music and movement… there’s NOTHING like that.
My least favorite thing would be the lack of appreciation and understanding. There’s always someone who asks what’s your “real job” or how do you survive? And it is true (for most dancers), how do we survive? We are, as a whole, highly underpaid for what we do and what we go through. It’s sad that I can make more money waiting tables than dancing for a ballet company.
If you weren’t a dancer, what other profession would you like to try?
A chef… I LOVE to eat good food and I love to cook good food. Cooking was something that both of my parents did daily. I can recall making a cake from scratch for boy scouts, (winning first place I might add) and experimenting with my own recipes from age 11 or so.
How did you end up living in New York City?
My first experience with NYC was the summer I turned 14. I was here for a week, never really left Midtown or Times Square. I was here for an acting/modeling workshop. Two years after that I spent 8 weeks studying at The Joffrey School and each year I would come back, be it for a week just to take class or to attend another summer program like ABT or NYC Ballet, and I just always loved it.
After a pretty major injury while dancing for Eugene Ballet/ Ballet Idaho, I decided I really wasn’t happy living in a small town and I had the opportunity to move to NYC to work with a small touring company, LazarBalletNYC. After the contract was up, I just stayed and made it happen! I was guesting with such companies as CT Ballet, Montgomery Ballet and various pre-professional schools. And so my freelance career began.
What do you love most about living here?
Now that is a hard question to answer! I love the energy, the life. I love having everything and anything at my disposal. I love people watching. I love sitting at an outdoor seating area enjoying a wonderful meal and an equally wonderful bottle of wine with a good friend.
For those who visit New York, what are your top three must-sees or must-dos?
The High Line is such a tourist trap, but it’s such an unbelievable trap. What a random gem of art and nature in the middle of a bustling city.
You MUST go to the Metropolitan Museum. One day isn’t nearly enough time to see everything it has to offer, so I always suggest breaking it up into multiple trips. That way you can really absorb all the wonders.
Go see a performance at Lincoln Center–be it American Ballet Theatre at the MET or New York City Ballet at the Koch Theatre.
Aside from those three things, EAT! You have SO many options and almost anything you pick is going to be good, but ask a local for a recommendation of something AMAZING! I have my go-to places that I will share with those lucky enough!
For those who love New York, but say they could never live here, how would you respond?
I’d tell them that it’s okay. If you don’t think you could live here, then you can’t, but if you want to live here, you can. New York City is one of the only places in the world that if you want to make money and live, it will happen. It may not be your dream job, but if your dream is to live in NYC, then so be it.
You are making the transition from performer to teacher, choreographer, and director of the Berks Ballet Theatre Conservatory of Dance. I’m sure you have done these jobs in the past, but now you will be on the other side full time. How did you arrive at your decision?
It really came out of nowhere. I approached the current owner about one day purchasing and taking over. I had been back from dancing in Europe for about five months. I was keeping very busy with performing, teaching, choreographing and working in a restaurant. I was really just planting the seed. Well little did I know, someone had been feeding that seed miracle grow! One minute I am talking about it, the next BAM. I have made an agreement to take over July 1st. But you know the great thing? Not once did I question was it the right time.
Do you think you will still have the time and desire to perform?
I will make the time to perform, because my desire is nowhere near gone. If anything I think it’s more so. Teaching makes me a better dancer.
You will be in New York less, and spend time in Pennsylvania each month. It will almost be like living in two places. What about the change are you looking forward to?
Yeah, I will be spending at least 10 days a month in PA. I’m looking forward to being in the studio and working with the students and seeing their progress on a regular basis. I am also looking forward to seeing one of my best friends on a regular basis. Kelly Barber is the Principle Teacher of BBT Conservatory of Dance, so it will be nice to be working together all of the time.
You will be working with children of all ages, and will be a role model for many. How do you think your experience and life thus far has prepared you for this new role?
I have a very large family. I have over 30 nieces and nephews. So I’m used to being around children of all ages. Also as a teenager I was an assistant teacher for my teachers, so I think that’s where my love for teaching began to form. I think that being a professional ballet dancer, I will bring the discipline and drive into the studio. Dance is all about technique, but beyond that is the emotional part. Of course it’s hard, but it also has to be fun. You need to be able to relax enough to go beyond just the steps. So I hope to be able to show them that you can be dedicated, serious and work very hard, while having fun and exploring the artist within.