The most endearing thing I learn about Isabella Boylston is that she really, really loves to eat mayonnaise in the morning. The 30-year-old ballet star, who is a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in Manhattan, fuels up with her own quirky take on New York’s classic deli breakfast sandwich. “I really like an English muffin with scrambled eggs, cheese, avocado, hot sauce, and mayonnaise. I really love mayonnaise, especially when it’s mixed with hot sauce. It’s delicious…just so good,” she tells SELF.
It’s no wonder that Boylston loves this hearty sandwich so much, given her grueling lifestyle. She started dancing when she was just three years old, in Sun Valley, Idaho, and got scouted by the time she was 17. Now, on rehearsal days, she’ll often dance for up to nine hours, and she’s even curating her own ballet festival, Ballet Sun Valley, in her hometown this summer. And yet, while work is keeping her busier than ever, she still finds time to treat herself—and credits her mornings with helping her maintain balance throughout her (strenuous, seemingly exhausting) days.
For Boylston, a good morning routine actually starts the night before.
Getting a good night’s sleep is the key to Boylston’s productivity. “The main way I take care of myself every day is by sleeping enough the night before—it’s huge!” she says. “If I’m tired, I’m more injury prone, and it’s really scary to think about getting injured because of exhaustion.” To prevent sleep-induced injury, she tries to get nine hours of sleep every night—though eight or even seven hours per night is okay, too. If she has a big performance the next day, she goes to bed even earlier in an attempt to be in bed for 10 hours straight. “I give myself extra time in bed on those nights because I get so nervous, and I know I’ll be tossing and turning.”
Another way Boylston preps for a good morning the night before: She makes a to-do list, either in her iPhone notes or in her Moleskine journal. “I’ve found that when things are looming before bed, a good way to get them off my mind is to write them down—otherwise I’ll just be stewing all night,” she explains. When she wakes up, she looks at the list with fresh eyes, and uses it to mentally prepare for the day ahead. “It’s really helpful, especially now that I’m directing my own ballet festival. I have to be way more organized than I’ve ever been.”
The ballet dancer starts most mornings with texting and treats.
Boylston is not a morning person. Her alarm goes off around 8 A.M., and the struggle begins. “It’s hard to wake up pretty much every day,” she admits. Her first order of business: texting her husband from the comfort of her sheets. “He’s out the door every morning by 6:30. And so we’ll usually have a little exchange where I’m like, ‘Hey, you didn’t say bye to me this morning!’ and he’s like, ‘I did, but you didn’t wake up!’ ”
Once out of bed, Boylston is all about coffee. She’ll either make it at home or pick it up from MUD, the coffee shop near her apartment. But during the summer, she buys a large cold-brew coffee to keep in the fridge, and puts it on ice with coconut creamer in the morning—a combo she highly recommends. “It’s so delicious—you have to try it,” she gushes. “It tastes like a treat!”
In fact, Boylston is a big believer in treating yourself to something, anything, no matter how big or small, every morning. “It’s a great mental trick to set yourself up for a better day, and avoid feeling stuck in the same dreary routine over and over—it makes every day feel like a special event,” she explains. She starts most mornings with eggs—either scrambled or in that mayo-and-hot-sauce deli sandwich mentioned above—but for an extra treat, she’ll go for a bacon, egg, and American cheese (“I know that’s not something you should eat every day, but…” she trails off). Her other go-to treats are a nice cappuccino, a mid-morning chocolate chip cookie, or simply taking the time to enjoy her coffee at home. “It’s much better than doing the mad hustle,” she says of factoring in time to sip her brew in peace. I make a mental note to wake up five minutes earlier so I, too, can savor my beans in the morning, and therefore start my day off with better vibes.
Boylston also trusts in the power of music to put her in a good mood for the day.
It should come as no surprise to you that Boylston recognizes the mood-altering power of music—after all, she spends her days dancing to it. But what may surprise you is just how much the dancer lets her playlists call the shots. Right when she leaves her apartment, she puts on her Beats headphones, and spends the next 15 minutes walking to work and taking in her tunes. “Music is a drug,” she says point blank. She goes mostly for soulful, emotion-inducing artists in the morning, like Frank Ocean, Dolly Parton, and Beyoncé. “Morning music improves my mood immediately, and sets the tone for the whole day.” Add a tasty treat into the mix, and perhaps a quick text exchange with someone in your crew, and you’ve got yourself an Isabella Boylston–approved recipe for A.M. success.
Stylist: Shibon Kennedy; hair: Clay Nielsen; makeup: Brit Cochran; clothing: Fendi, Her.