On a blustery Friday afternoon, we grab coffee with the fresh-faced and bubbly Isabelle Jaffe, Harvard freshman, accomplished ballerina, and all around sweet human bean. The setting is the Fogg Museum of Art’s bustling cafe. We muse over pastries and sandwiches in the display case as we attempt to find a seat in the crowded establishment. Jaffe, a good sport, follows suit with a smile.
“I always used to watch the movie I Want to Be a Ballerina When I grow Up,” she giggles at the interview’s start. It seems that some things are meant to be. At the age of 3, Jaffe took up dancing and hasn’t stopped since. In fact, as a senior in high school, she left her home in California to live in New York City, enrolling in classes at the Professional Children’s School while pursuing her love of dance through the Ballet Academy East’s pre-professional division. Taking off to an unfamiliar city and balancing a rigorous academic life with a pre-professional dance one isn’t a sacrifice most eighteen year olds have to make, but, as Isabelle openly admits, it was something she happily accepted. Living with her grandmother in the city and dancing 3-4 hours a day for 6 days a week was really fun for her — as immersing herself in her art ought to be. Though she considered taking a year off before college to further pursue dance, she now takes classes 5 days a week at Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, all while enrolled as a full time Harvard student.
Dance provides her with an escape from her demanding academic routine. What does she enjoy most about dance? Working towards mastering challenging choreography and impressing herself. “I’m my own toughest critic.” When asked if her relationship with ballet is a passionate love affair or a tumultuous relationship, she laughs and admits, “Passionate. Definitely. But it has some ups and downs because when you get to a certain level, and you’re trying to decide whether to audition for jobs, the different obstacles or frustrations that come in can kind of get you down.”
A ballerina at heart, mind, and body, dance influences almost all aspects of Isabelle’s life, especially her style:
Go to outfit. What’s your uniform?
“Definitely anything black or close to black. What am I wearing right now? Hmm really dark pants, a black sweater, and white Stan Smiths.”
“A bun for ballet. After ballet it’s usually in a ponytail, but I try to keep it down when I think it looks good.” (She jokingly describes her hair as “pedestrian straight” although her luscious, black mane promises differently.)
If your hair could speak, what would it say?
“Haha, probably, ‘stop putting me in a bun everyday.’”
What’s a trend you like right now?
“This one is pretty unattainable for daily life, but the makeup trends in fashion week are really crazy and cool. I really like makeup from all my years performing.”
What’s a trend you wish would di–?
“BIRKENSTOCKS,” she quickly interjects.
“You hate to see it.”
Soundtrack to your life?
“Classical music. I love classical music in general, but any music that’s played in ballet class is something I’ve heard a million times.”
If you had a signature lip color, what color would it be and what would it be called?
“It would probably be a color close to my actually lip color. Maybe a little shinier? Something natural – like looks natural but enhances. And can I just name it after myself? The Isabelle.”
What article of clothing have you worn to the ground?
“Well I’ve gotten my little Maj ankle boots resoled multiple times…”
If you don’t mind us asking, what’s in your bag?
“Right now it contains tutus, but usually I always have 3 things: wallet, lipgloss, and phone. KEYS! And my keys.”
“I love banana bread and I love anything that is really chocolaty. I had a really good brownie at Crema yesterday. I shared it with my brother and let him have like half of it because it was so rich.”
If you were on death row, what would you be convicted for and what would be your last meal?
“What gets you arrested that’s like a petty crime? Probably something stupid that I didn’t even know was illegal. Oh I jay walk a lot. Especially from living in New York because I want to get places faster. And my last meal? Definitely sushi.”
Last question: how would you describe yourself as a human bean?
“In two words: determined and loyal.”
After falling in love with her lively, upbeat personality and overall ballerina aesthetic, we segway into photos. She changes into her typical dance uniform (think: tights, skirt, leotard, pointe shoes and all), and we split off to take some photos of her throughout the museum, quite fitting to capture her art amongst that of the Fogg. Her twirling form falls perfectly in line with the marble sculptures and dreamy Monet’s. Though we dodged anxious looks and hesitant stares from the dutiful museum staff, we had a blast capturing her in her element. “The Isabelle” — brilliant ballerina, kind soul, and all around delight with whom to share a cup of coffee.
Xx, Katherine & Maia
All photos by Katherine