Constance Stamatiou started dancing when she was 5. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native knew at a young age that she wanted to entertain and live in New York City and that dancing could be the catalyst for a career in the spotlight. At 18, she attended the Ailey School, an extensive dance training program, as a fellowship student. She then moved to the Big Apple and joined Ailey II, a junior ensemble for early career dancers. Stamatiou joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2007 and now, in her 12th season with the company, is living out her dreams as a lead dancer and the face of the company’s 2023–24 season.
The 39-year-old trains each day to be less prone to injury and keep her stamina over an eight-month-long season of performing. She doesn’t feel the need to keep up with the 20-somethings in the industry as the dancing world is evolving, but she’s keenly aware of how her own body has changed. She left the company in 2011 to start her family, returning five years later. “When I was younger, it was rare to see a dancer or hear of a dancer who was past their 20s, especially one who has kids,” she said. Being a parent and being older was a career ender at the time, but Stamatiou always felt that Alvin Ailey was an exception that embraced older dancers.
Stamatiou takes pride in being a veteran in the dance company. It was overwhelming to figure out how to show up as a mother and wife, retrain her new body for dancing, and maintain her schedule while finding personal time. But she’s feeling better about the work she’s doing on herself, and it’s showing up in her personal and professional life in a big way. “I feel like a leading lady. I’m not trying to mimic other dancers anymore. I feel like I’ve stepped into my own,” she said. Stamatiou lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children. Here’s how she gets it done.
On her morning routine:
I wake up at 7 a.m. and usually get the kids up by 7:15. I typically go to Starbucks for breakfast and get a quick egg bite and a croissant. Sometimes, I eat a Spartan Meal Prep that my husband gets, which helps me because I don’t have to go out to get food. I’ll have oatmeal that’s already prepared. Once I drop off the kids, my husband will drop me off at the George Washington Bridge. I can catch a transit bus across and then catch the A train. The commute is all right as long as there’s no accident. I can get to work in 30 minutes.
Usually, once I get to Alvin Ailey, I grab the free AM New York newspaper and do the crossword puzzles. After that, I start to warm up. I try to roll out, stretch, and release my muscles. Then, I do a little conditioning to get the muscles awakened again by doing the floor bar, floor pilates, and some Gyrokinesis before the company’s ballet class.
On returning to professional dancing after having children:
I was a newlywed, and my husband and I wanted to have kids when I left. During that time, I was missing Ailey. I was still dancing and teaching here and there, but it just felt like something was missing. My heart kept wanting Mr. Ailey’s work. It has so much meaning, so much it was therapeutic. That’s when my journey to the gym started because, for one, you’ve got to get your body back after having two kids. It’s not the same. Secondly, I’m now in my 30s.
On her exercise routine:
After rehearsal, I will go catch a class for strength training. I’m lifting weights and paying each part of my body some attention. Strength training is excellent for engaging my core and allowing me to balance more. I do a lot of cardio, especially for dances like Mr. Ailey’s Cry. It is a 16-minute solo, and you’re on the stage by yourself the entire time. It does not get any easier as you go toward the end. The pace is being brought up and so is your energy. Cardio is essential to build my stamina. If I don’t feel like going to the gym, I go to tae kwon do practice. I took an interest in it when I signed my kids up for classes.
On how she unwinds for the day:
If my day is intense and I’m coming home and feel like I can’t walk, I’m in the tub with Epsom salt. I also enjoy having quality time with my family because, by the time I wake them up and send them to school, I don’t see them until it’s time to go to bed. We like to watch TV together as a family or as a couple. The kids are into Goosebumps, and my husband and I watch Loot on Apple TV+ and Black Cake on Hulu.
On how she manages stress:
I grew up disassociating and just not feeling feelings. I saw it was taking a toll on my body, especially with this kind of demanding schedule. I remember there was a period on tour when many feelings were coming to the surface, and I didn’t know how to deal with them. It was great to have a bond with other dancers where I could feel vulnerable enough to vent about my feelings. I was encouraged to start therapy, and I’ve been speaking with my therapist now for about two years. It’s been life-changing and life-saving. It’s helped me deal with my feelings and honor myself. I do that once a week, even when I’m on tour. Luckily, I can speak to my therapist through Zoom.
On being a parent with a demanding schedule:
My husband had to play Mom and Dad a lot. Luckily, we have FaceTime. I was able to buy books and read to my kids through FaceTime when they were younger. Nowadays, I’m trying to help with homework through FaceTime. It’s challenging. My husband knew this was my passion. He also sensed something missing when I wasn’t at Ailey. He and I both said we felt that me dancing again made me a better mom. And, of course, my being a mom made me a better dancer. It was really important to me for the kids to see that childhood dreams can come true. As much as I would go through the guilt of being away for so long, I kept trying to remind myself, They see you do something you love and are proud of you.
On the moment she felt she’d “made it”:
I was about 20 years old when I got into the company, so I mimicked what the other dancers were doing and did what I was told, being that good girl and just listening. When I left and returned, I was looking for that same thing. Okay, are you gonna tell me what to do? But now Alvin Ailey’s under a new direction, and it’s a whole new company. I’m one of the oldest dancers, so I have to be able to do it for myself. It finally paid off this year when they told me I was the featured dancer for this year’s poster. I’ve been here for so long; this is the first time I have been honored on a poster. I wasn’t expecting it at all.
On advice she would offer her younger self:
To be more confident in myself and my body. Young dancers end up comparing themselves: This person has better feet, or this person can turn more than I can. We start picking away at ourselves and chipping away at our confidence. That shows in your dance, and you try to hide instead of being vulnerable. I remember being young and my peers had so many opinions about how I should hold my body and move. You end up losing awareness of your own body. But no one can tell you how to move your body because all of our bodies are different. That’s the investigation you must do for yourself, and I wish I had been more independent, stronger, and confident to do that earlier. The investigation should never stop, so even if I felt like I made it, I have to continue to study and continue to experiment because who knows how far this body can go?
On the people who help her get it done:
My husband first, and then my kids because they drive me to strive for greatness. I do it for them because I want to be an example. Regarding my time at Ailey, my first director, Ms. Judith Jamison, is a legend. When she comes into the room, everybody pulls up. Then my assistant director, Matthew Rushing, and rehearsal director, Ronni Favors: Matthew helped guide me into the discipline I have now and into becoming a lead dancer; Ronni has seen me grow, and sometimes I look to her when I need a shoulder to cry on and a therapy session.