What I’ve learned: Sarah Hay

Sarah Hay

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

At 32 years old, Sarah Hay has become an accomplished ballerina and actress. As a child, she danced at the prestigious School of American Ballet. She later trained at American Ballet Theatre, and at the age of 22, she joined the Semperoper Ballett in Germany. In 2010, she made her acting debut as one of the corps de ballet members in the movie, “Black Swan.” Six years later, she was nominated for a Golden Globe, Satellite Award and Critics’ Choice Television Award for her role as Claire Robbins in the Starz mini-series “Flesh and Bone.”

Today, Hay is still dancing, but not professionally. Rather she’s dancing for the joy and the happiness it gives her. She’s currently living in Los Angeles, where she’s also developing her own films and working on TV projects. Hay shares a few things she’s learned since her early years and start of her professional career.

I was always the goofy kid who wanted attention. Ballet is such a rigid structure that, if I had lacked talent, I wouldn’t have survived a day. The only reason the teachers humored me was my potential. I eventually started to realize that my behavior could have negative impacts, so I forced myself to be more serious and I set my mind to working hard and eventually getting a job as a professional.

I grew up so engulfed in dance that my schooling suffered. Luckily, I was raised in a home with intellectuals who constantly analyze and problem-solve. I learned a lot from being around them, but that caused me to often analyze myself and my choices. This is not necessarily a good thing for ballet or for life because over-analytical behavior can lead to self-obsession or self-hatred. You’re constantly ripping yourself apart, criticizing your every move you and judging your physical appearance. I’m still shaking this off.

I realized while I was dancing, ballet was more important to me than anyone. Ballet came first. Actually, my career came first. It damaged my friendships, intimate relationships and family relationships, and towards the end, it severely isolated me. I realized [that as long as] I was incapable of loving myself, there was no chance that I could fully love someone else. 

Having an “unconventional” body type for any professional sport or art is going to cause a lot of controversy. So many people had opinions on how they thought I should look and I developed body dysmorphia. I worked so hard to keep my weight down and keep my body strong on so little food. I was so obsessed with my exterior being “perfect” that I forgot about my interior. I look back now and see the stupidity of it all. Uniqueness is what has gotten me success and if I looked like everyone else, I don’t know if I would’ve been as successful. 

Ballet is not a career for those who can’t handle rejection. Rejection is so frequent that you have to develop a shield to the pain of feeling like you’re not enough. I don’t take on the losses, I just continue to move forward. 

As long as I am in a creative position, I’m happy. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Olivia Lee is a reporter based in Chicago. You can email her at olivialee2020@u.northwestern.edu.

Photo at top: Sarah Hay gets candid and shares what she’s learned about life, relationships and herself. (Courtesy of Sarah Hay)