Ballerina Carla Körbes Is a Pop-In Power Girl

At age 11, Carla Körbes saw Swan Lake and knew what she was born to do. Since 2006, the ballerina has been a principal dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet; she’s retiring this June at age 33 to begin a new adventure. We met with Körbes most serendipitously as she was picking up her Jesús Peiró wedding gown from the Nordstrom Wedding Suite. The shimmering silk dress with an embellished waist was as elegant as the Brazilian dancer herself, who spoke with us about pursuing and achieving goals with a little help from her girlfriends. And a Pilates class here and there.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Carla Körbes; image by Angela Sterling

The Thread: What’s your preferred workout?
Körbes: You know, actually there’s nothing that compares to ballet. When we are off-season, I do Pilates, go to the gym, do treadmill, elliptical, my ab exercises, I do some yoga. But nothing will put you in the same shape as ballet classes. And I will take my pointe shoes to Brazil when I go home. During the World Cup I would watch the games with my pointe shoes on.

What’s your favorite class or studio?
When I’m in season, I’m pretty much at PNB. They have a Pilates studio in the back; I take classes with Margie Thompson. Shout-out to Michele Miller at Shift Movement and Healing Arts, too. She’s incredible, Pilates-wise. She has such a good eye, she’ll kill you. It’s amazing.

I know I got a fantastic workout when I feel:
Happy. Whenever I really work out, I always feel really happy afterwards. And I think people say the hardest thing is to get to the gym, right? But after the gym, most people feel uplifted. Energetic.

Favorite way to exercise or be active when you’re alone:
I do this combination of Pilates, yoga and meditation. I think because I’ve worked out hard-core since I was 15 and taken so many different kinds of trainings, I just kinda know what works for my body. My favorite thing is to get in the studio in the morning by myself and put music on and do my own routine.

Favorite workout soundtrack:
It depends on my mood. I was putting on early Shakira this week, and it just puts me in a good mood. Especially Latin music makes me really happy.

Carla Körbes taking her curtain call after a performance of Diamonds, choreographed by George Balanchine at the George Balanchine Trust; image by Angela Sterling

What do the words “girl power” mean to you?
I think equality is so important for people, but women are so strong. Being in a ballet company and looking at what the girls have to go through versus the guys, you really see how much more women have to put up with. Pointe shoes, hair, makeup, our tutus. We look at the boys who get there 30 minutes before the show, and we’re there 2 hours before the show getting ready. So I think overall women are very powerful and go through a lot. Men are very powerful too, but it just doesn’t compare.

What’s the last mind-blowingly kind thing someone did for you?
People do mind-blowing things for me all the time. Every day I’m surprised by people I know, how nice they are. I travel a lot, and I met a woman named Denise out of nowhere, and now she takes my dog all the time when I’m away. Bella adores Denise. I’m so lucky.

What motivates you to be successful, whatever “success” means to you right now?
I never see life as a “success” really. What motivates me is really that I love what I do. My partner Karel and I were very tired last weekend and we had two shows, which is very hard when doing something like Swan Lake. We were looking at each other like, “We can’t do this.” But then the music starts and you’re feeling, “It’s not so bad!” So doing what I love is really motivating. That’s why retiring is gonna be so difficult. I’m not sure if I can find something like this again. Which is fine—I’ve been lucky, and I can do something else. And I’ll see.

Who inspires you to challenge yourself and be more + more radical?
Everyone around me. Dancers, my coaches. I think we can all learn from each other. And that’s why I think competition, it’s okay at a certain level, but it’s not that productive. Because the moment you really look at people, they’ll inspire you to either do something better or try what they were doing, or disagree with what they’re doing and then do it how you think.

Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires and motivates you?
What’s the quote, “Dance like there’s no tomorrow”? I do like to live like there’s no tomorrow. I was in rehearsal the other day and my coach who I’ve worked with for 10 years says, “Wow, emotionally you’re so ready!” Usually you put the steps on and then you work on the character. But Karel and I were just living it. And it’s like Monday morning. I was like, “Elaine, I might not make it to the stage! This might be it!” But it’s the truth. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. So if I don’t make it to the stage, I’ve lived that Odette/Odile now! If I don’t make it tomorrow, I had a blast today.

Read more about our 30 Days of Radical Power MovesPop-In Power Girls

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—Rachel Shimp