Ian Hussey: Taking athletic abilities to the ballet’s center stage

12-13, Interviews

Philadelphia Gay News, December 2012
In “Nutcracker: The Motion Picture,” the narrator states: “In the language of this dream, in that palace of delight, we spoke with our whole selves ... And my tall Nutcracker Cavalier had eyes only for me, for at least as long as that dream could be.” Well, this week we only have eyes for Ian Hussey, the principal dancer who plays the Cavalier in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of “George Ballanchine’s The Nutcracker.”PGN:I know you’re used to expressing yourself through dance, but tell us a little about yourself.IH:Well, I grew up in Westmont, N.J., and I’ve been training in ballet since I was 9 years old. At 16, I trained with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle, graduated from that high school, joined the Pennsylvania Ballet and have been with them ever since. I’m pretty much a Philly guy. I’ve lived in all areas of the city and even growing up I was always coming into the city for dance.PGN:Where do you think you got your artistic bent?IH:I don’t really know. Both of my parents were in business. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, now she’s a medical secretary, and my dad worked as a financial advisor. I think the reason they put me in ballet was because I was really into figure skating. I wanted to be a skater so bad. I idolized Kristi Yamaguchi and Nancy Kerrigan, Brian Boitano and Scott Hamilton. As it happened, a friend whose father was working on the house of a dancer with the PA Ballet got free Nutcracker tickets and gave them to my mom, who took me to the show. I was enthralled and my mother asked me if I wanted to try ballet. I said sure, started taking classes and the next winter I was onstage at The Academy of Music in the production as one of the party boys.PGN:That’s amazing! You were clearly talented. Any siblings?IH:Yes, I have an older brother, Colin, and a twin, Eamonn.PGN:I’m guessing you’re an Irish boy?IH:[Laughs.] Oh yes.PGN:No sister? Though I guess that’s a good thing with your last name!IH:Yeah, but my mom is a big Hussey!PGN:[Laughs.] You said it, not me. Is your twin identical or fraternal?IH:Fraternal, but we could easily be mistaken for identical. It was tough growing up: We were best friends and inseparable, but we also fought like crazy people. They called us the Bicker Brothers because we’d fight so much. We shared everything: a room, classes, even friends, and it could get to be too much. And we were very competitive; whether it was playing wiffle ball or basketball in the backyard, we’d always have very intense games that ended up in a fight. As we’ve grown older, we’ve each had different personal lives, but we’re still very close. We talk at least every other day.PGN:So for those people who always think, Man, I wish I had a twin ...IH:That’s so funny. Someone just said that to me yesterday. I was like, “You know, growing up I didn’t think it was so awesome.” I hated it, but now that I’m older I enjoy it­-having that special connection with somebody.PGN:Is Eamonn heterosexual or homosexual?IH:He’s heterosexual.PGN:Any weird twin things?IH:Not really. I mean, I know him. I know how his brain works because it works exactly like mine. So if my parents were having issues with him and said, “I don’t understand why he’s doing that,” I always knew why he was doing that. I get him. Totally ... but nothing like being able to feel his pain or anything telepathic.PGN:What did you like to do other than play wiffle ball?IH:Lots of sports. We played little league baseball, team soccer, a lot of tennis. My brother and I loved to go to the tennis courts and play, though we’d fight there too. We loved anything having to do with sports. We were into the Phillies, Flyers, Sixers, Eagles ... and we were really into playing video games.PGN:So you were a jock, Mr. Hussey?IH:Yeah, I was. It was very difficult because I had to give all that up for dance. When I was about 13, I had to make the decision as to whether I wanted to stay in regular school and play sports or go to Carlisle and study ballet. I’m glad that I chose dance, though it’s still pretty hard sometimes. I’d love to be able to play in the City of Brotherly Love Softball League or join a recreational tennis league but I just can’t. I’m not willing to risk my job sliding into third base. Maybe when I retire ...PGN:Do you have to worry about insurance? Getting sick? I’m guessing most dancers freelance.IH:One thing that is really wonderful about being with the PA Ballet is that we are provided health insurance by the company as part of our contract. Health, dental, it’s all covered, and if we get injured on the job, we can file for workman’s comp, so we’re very well-protected.PGN:That’s great.IH:Yes, you’re correct in that a lot of dancers do live and work as freelancers and they constantly have to audition and look for work and worry about things like health insurance. But with PA Ballet, I’m an employee of the company plus we’re also a part of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which is a union that protects us. It covers opera singers and musicians and other types of musical artists.PGN:I see that in addition to your work as a member of the PA Ballet, you also were a producer of “Shut Up and Dance.”IH:Yes, I’ve been part of the show for years as a dancer and choreographer and production manager. In 2012, I was the producing director. It was hard and crazy and a lot of work but fun and totally worth it. It was one of the best nights of my year. The house was packed and I think we raised, if not more money than was raised before, then darn near close to it. I love the cause and it’s great to be a part of the event. It was an emotional journey and to end it onstage with the dancers behind me and the audience on their feet was awesome.PGN:I saw you did a “Tough Choices” video on coming out. When did you come out?IH:It was difficult for me, being taught by society that being gay was shameful. I was raised in a Catholic family but luckily both my parents were very liberal. I knew if I were to ever come out, I wouldn’t be shunned from the family or kicked out of the house, but it was still terrifying. I knew since I was 13, but I fought it.PGN:You would think being in the world of dance, you’d be exposed to gay culture more.IH:You know what, I was, but it wasn’t until I got older that my friends started to actually come out. Being in the small school environment in Carlisle didn’t help; everyone knew everyone and all their business, so I didn’t want to come out there. I had a girlfriend who I’d been dating for a year-and-a-half and I knew I had to tell her. The video was about the tough choice to tell her and begin to live my life freely and openly. Once I did that, there was no turning back. I told my mom and she was very cool about it. [Laughs.] We were fighting that day so things were already emotional but it drew us even closer.PGN:When did you tell your twin?IH:On Halloween. I don’t even remember why but we were at a Halloween party and he said something about girls and I wasn’t planning on telling him but it just came out. He was awesome about it. He was more mad at me for making him look silly. Over the years when his friends thought I was gay, he’d always say, “No, he’s a dancer, but he’s not gay.” [Laughs.] He was mad at me for making him defend me all those years.PGN:So speaking of your dancing, what are you doing with “The Nutcracker” this year?IH:I am the Cavalier to the Sugar Plum. It’s the best role for a guy in the show. The Sugar Plum Fairy is the lead ballerina and I get to dance with her. I’ve been dancing in the show since I was a kid and have played pretty much every male role in the show.PGN:So does “The Nutcracker” conjure up the holiday spirit for you?IH:Absolutely, it makes you think of Christmastime and families coming to see the show every year. It’s a grueling show to do, especially for the girls, but it’s nice to be in the theater for such a long period of time and to have so many people come see the show. I’m more of a Thanksgiving guy, because we’re pretty busy doing 11-12 shows a week during the holidays, but it’s always a fun time of the year.PGN:What’s the feeling of leaping across the stage in front of a theater full of people?IH:It’s an adrenaline rush. It can be scary, it can be exhilarating, it can be great fun, there’s no one emotion. But for the most part, it’s so much fun, it’s why you do it ... just for the love of dance.PGN:Biggest ballet blunder?IH:Oh, that’s easy. It was in “The Nutcracker” a few years ago. I was doing the Candy Cane dance, which is a part in which the guy jumps through a hoop, like a million times. At the very end, there’s a part where you have to jump up and go through the hoop twice and it’s very difficult. You’re tired from the whole dance and then you have to do this stunt. In this one performance, I don’t know if I slipped or had my weight back, but I landed on my butt with my legs in the air just as the music hit its crescendo.PGN:I see your name connected to Arantxa Ochoa a great deal.IH:She was someone I danced with for many, many years and someone I idolized growing up. She’s danced with PA Ballet since 1996 and just retired last year. She’s a wonderful person and now she’s going to be the principal instructor of the new school.PGN:Do you watch any of the dance shows on TV?IH:No, not at all! I’m a big “Game of Thrones” fan. But I don’t watch a lot of TV. I don’t even have cable; I watch most shows through the Internet.PGN:OK, I admit to watching dance shows, but I like that they show the hard work that goes into dancing. Showing football players and Olympic athletes struggling to do lifts, etc., people see that it’s not for wusses.IH:Oh yeah, ballet is really, really hard. It takes years and years of hard work and dedication to get to where we are and even then, there are many people who put in the time and still don’t achieve the success we have. It’s a grueling process. It’s hard on your body, it’s hard on you mentally, you’re very self-critical and you’re fighting your body every single day. But that’s also why we love it, for the challenge and chance to push yourself. It’s definitely not for wusses. A lot of people think that because someone does ballet that they’re gay, but we have loads of straight guys who do ballet as well.PGN:It seems like the tide is turning: It used to be that men were encouraged to dance — Gene Kelly, Fred Astair, Jimmy Cagney — and then for a minute it became unpopular. But now you have guys like Neyo, Usher and shows like “Glee” making it acceptable for boys to dance again.IH:Yeah, they’re removing the stigma. It’s great.PGN:How about some random questions. The feature I get the most compliments on?IH:[Feigning a Southern accent] Um, prob’ly mah hair. I have a lot of curly hair that people always comment on. Or wait, my eyelashes. I have very long eyelashes, let’s use that.PGN:[Laughs.] OK, they both count as hair. The worst pick-up line tried on you?IH:This guy once said, “You know when I graduate college I’m going to be making over $200,000 starting salary. As an artist, you’re going to need to be taken care of.”PGN:Would you rather travel to the future or go back in time?IH:That’s a hard one, Suzi! I think I’m going to say future. It would be tempting to go back and change things or do things differently. To help my childhood self so he wouldn’t be so damn scared all the time, but I think it would be more helpful to go into the future. It would be fun to see how the world changes.PGN:The family claim to fame is ... ?IH:Cooking. Both of my parents are really good cooks.PGN:I saw that you were reviewed in the New York Times as “the hunky, precise Ian Hussey” and you were voted one of the Daily News’ Sexy Singles of 2011. How cool was that?IH:Very cool. And flattering. [Laughs.] Unfortunately, it didn’t help me in the dating department, but it’s always nice to get a good review in any form. And I’m happy with my life just the way it is.PGN:A fun dancing experience?IH:I got to be in the film “Black Swan” with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Most of the dancers in the movie are from PA Ballet. It was an incredible experience. I got to work on a movie set with the stars and Darren Aronofsky, who was one of my favorite directors growing up. To see him at work was surreal and when [Portman] won the Oscar it was awesome. It was exciting to be part of an Oscar-winning film.PGN:A fond moment?IH:The final scene of “Romeo and Juliet,” dancing with Arantxa. It was one of the most incredible parts I’ve ever had on stage. It was a part where you really had to bare your soul and she’s such an amazing artist, to share that with her and the audience ... to be in that moment was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.“George Ballanchine’s The Nutracker” runs through Dec. 30 at The Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, visit www.paballet.org/nutcracker.Read at epgn.com. >>