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Meet a PNB Principal Dancer Who Just Opened a New Ballet School

A Q&A with Laura Tisserand

Published on: May 29, 2019

Laura Tisserand and daughter Amélie
Laura Tisserand and daughter Amélie; credit: Will Austin

Her studio is immaculate: walls painted pale pink and purple, a glittery chandelier hanging from the ceiling and pointe shoes framed as art. Step onto the “Bonjour!” welcome mat, and a woman dressed in a leotard and tights introduces herself as Miss Laura.

She’s Laura Tisserand, a principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) and owner of a new ballet school located on the north side of Queen Anne. This jewel of a studio, Tutu School, is open to students ages 18 months to 8 years.

Tisserand leads her toddler class through dancing like butterflies, blasting off like rocket ships and stomping like dinosaurs. They practice bending their knees (plié) and jumping into a ring (jeté). Tisserand knows her audience well — she’s mom to a toddler, daughter Amélie. She’s gentle and encouraging, and the kids (and their mamas) are a little awestruck to be in the same room as a real ballerina.

Tisserand started dancing at age 2, tagging along to her big sister’s creative movement classes. “I honestly never remember a time when I didn’t want to be a ballerina and dance,” she says. They lived in a small town in Louisiana, and her mother drove the girls to New Orleans every day, one hour each way, for their dance lessons.

Tisserand moved to New York City at 15 — by herself — to train at the School of American Ballet. At 17, she joined PNB as an apprentice and worked her way up to the highest rank for a ballerina, principal dancer. Tisserand, now 34, teaches at Tutu School four days a week, while continuing her other full-time job at PNB.

She’s danced as Queen Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” as Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake” and as Aurora in “The Sleeping Beauty.” You can see her on stage at PNB performing in “Themes & Variations” through June 9, 2019.

As a ballerina, how was your pregnancy?

Being pregnant is a crazy thing to begin with. I was a little sick in the beginning — it’s always the worst time, when you don’t want to tell people. Just super tired. I got pregnant in October and danced through December on stage; that got me through “The Nutcracker.”

I knew I wanted to continue to take dance classes all through my pregnancy. I felt like that helped me come back quicker. I also swam twice a week. I definitely took advantage of having rest time, because you don’t get that as a dancer.

The morning I [delivered], I took my class, I did my stretches and then I went into labor. As a dancer, your pain tolerance is pretty high — I’m pretty sure I labored at home a little longer than I should have.

She came, and it was just the most amazing thing possible. I was so lucky.

You and your husband, Jerome, are both principal dancers. Do you want your daughter to go into ballet?

She’s inevitably going to be exposed to it. She’s surrounded by music and movement, and if she decides that’s the path she wants, that’s great.

I do know that being a ballet dancer is hard. You’re kind of fighting your whole career for everything. When you’re young, you’re fighting for the next part and constantly trying to prove yourself. It’s exhausting.

As wonderful as it is, I also want to spare her the hardships my mom hated to see. It’s a double-edged sword.

What led you to open Tutu School?

Ballet is very different from any career. You’re already working by age 18. The downside is you can’t dance until you’re 60 or do classical ballet — you want to go out when you feel like you’re on top. I’m hoping I can make it to 40.

You have to retire a lot earlier than other people, which is where Tutu School comes into play. I love ballet and I love kids.

Tutu School is a franchise. I saw that my friend Genevieve Custer Weeks had opened a Tutu School 11 years ago. And it was magical, this beautiful studio space where kids could go and feel like they were transported to a fairy land. I loved the idea of blending creative movement with proper ballet technique.

What do you want kids to get out of dance?

Not only do I want the children to get ballet training, I want them to hear a piece of classical music that brings a smile to their face and move in a way that is very free. I want them to learn all about how ballet can teach you discipline and kindness and patience. I want them to have fun and be in a safe space where they can move however they want and not feel judgment.

A full-time job, a new business and a toddler — talk about a juggling act!

It’s like anything else — if you have the dream and the will, you just find a way to make it work.

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