Act II: Beatriz Stix-Brunell, ’25, on leaps of faith and life beyond the stage
After 11 years with the Royal Ballet, first soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell retired from dancing and enrolled at Stanford – the oldest member of her freshman class. “I wanted to see who else I was.”
Beatriz Stix-Brunell, a Miami-born New Yorker, was only 17 when she moved across the Atlantic to join the Royal Ballet in London. The baby of the company at the time – she finished high school via Skype during her first year in the corps – she’d spend the next decade climbing the ranks, to first soloist, notching dream roles in iconic productions along the way: Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain; George Balanchine’s Jewels; Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.
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That early career start meant that by 28, Stix-Brunell was ready for a leap. After applying to Stanford and receiving her acceptance letter during the height of the pandemic, she took her final bows on the Royal Opera House stage. Two months later, in September 2021, she found herself in line for a bike rental at Tresidder Memorial Union.
What’s life like when you’re new again to academics, and the oldest member of your college class? Stix-Brunell says age just hasn’t been a thing, and balance is easy to find on the Farm; she’s exploring the opportunities on campus like a “kid in a candy shop.”
“What I did, leaving a career I loved and starting college at 28, was a jump, a scary jump,” Stix-Brunell says. “But I think sometimes the best things that happen to us are the leaps we take without knowing what’s going to happen next, without knowing where we’ll land.”
“For me, to be able to establish this new Beatriz, on this campus, is a dream come true.”
The following are excerpts from a recent conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.
I was born in Miami, and my family moved to New York when I was very young. I have an older brother and nine male cousins. We spent a lot of summers in Florida just running wild. And since I was the only girl, I did everything that the boys did. I grew up a bit of a tomboy.
I was at the Nightingale-Bamford School, an independent girls school from kindergarten through 12th grade, even though I was already living abroad my senior year. Nightingale let me finish my senior year on Skype.
Ballet, and deciding to retire
I started ballet when I was 7, at the School of American Ballet. And I performed for the first very first time in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center when I was 8. That’s when I completely fell in love with performing.
At 11, I moved to France for a year to train at the Paris Opera Ballet School. And a couple of years after that, I joined Christopher Wheeldon’s company, Morphoses, at its inception. I was 14 and kind of the baby of the company. All of the professional dancers took me under their wing.
When I was 17 years old, I joined the Royal Ballet, and I was the youngest member of the company at the time. I was with the Royal Ballet for 11 years and rose up through the ranks.
And then I retired in July of 2021 and came to Stanford. It was a big life transition, but it was the best decision I ever made.
Ballet so wonderfully nurtures a few sides of you, but then there’s a whole other side that goes untouched. I wanted to see who else I was.
It felt like 28 was a good time for me to try something new, to pick up and move on.
Making friends at Stanford
I met my first friend at Stanford, Roman, in September 2021. It was my very first day, moving into my apartment. I was with my parents at the bike shop, renting my bike, and Roman was in line behind me. His own bike was already broken, and his parents were with him too. And while we were waiting, we just started talking.
I have a big age gap with most of the undergraduates – I’m the oldest person in my class. But I’ve been able to connect with the 19-year-olds and the 20-year-olds just as much as I’ve found my cohort in the graduate student community, and with transfer students, many of whom are veterans, having served in the Navy, intelligence, or special ops. It’s been just a wonderful connection on all levels.
In ballet, when you’re in a company of 100 dancers, there’s a constant influx of young people. So this isn’t strange to me; it isn’t different. I just love the fact that I’m around brilliant minds and humble and unassuming people. Even though they’re 19, 20, undergrads here have accomplished some pretty incredible things. And I think I feel perpetually young myself.
Choosing a major
I think one of the best things about Stanford is the amount of choice that you have available, in terms of classes and majors. I feel like a kid in a candy shop.
I’ve always loved the humanities and the sciences and I am planning on majoring in symbolic systems, which is a wonderful interdisciplinary major, kind of an iconic Stanford major.
I always thought that if I hadn’t been a dancer, I would have wanted to be a physician. So I think going forward I want medicine and health care to be a part of what I do. I’m particularly interested in the intersection of the humanities with medicine, AI, and machine learning, and I think something like symbolic systems kind of captures all of that.
And I’ve been able to build just wonderful relationships with my professors. Professor James Chang, who’s head of plastic surgery at Stanford Hospital, is one of my mentors. I’m actually working on a research project with him that we’re hoping to publish in a medical journal. It incorporates medicine, human anatomy, art history, as well as my ballet background. So it’s just this uncanny amalgam of all of my interests, and those are the types of relationships that you’re able to foster in an environment like this. It’s just the wow factor every time I wake up.
Ballet is such a high-pressure career. We’re asked to stretch our bodies and our minds to their maximum. Sometimes you’re performing on empty, the battery is drained, but you still have to get up in front of 3,000 people. That’s one of the things I loved about being a ballerina; it’s live theater and you never really know what’s going to happen. So you have to prepare as much as possible.
I think I get that same adrenaline as a student when I’m preparing for a final or a midterm. And I kind of love it. And I sense that all those years of learning complex choreography have really honed my memory and retention skills.
Honestly, though, at Stanford, they make it very easy to have a good balance and to take care of yourself. Not only is the campus just a haven – anywhere you go is full of little sanctuaries – people give you the opportunity to pace yourself. And I came in wanting to take my time and enjoy everything.
Leaps of faith
What I did, leaving a career I loved and starting college at 28, was a jump, a scary jump. But I think sometimes the best things that happen to us are the leaps we take without knowing exactly what’s going to happen next, without knowing where we’ll land. Those are the most magical moments.
My identity for so long was tied to ballet. That’s who I was, day in and day out, of course molding into different characters on stage every night. The opportunity at this second life feels so precious. For me, to be able to establish this new Beatriz, on this campus, is a dream come true.