Get to Know Kyle Froman
SW:Tell me a little bit more about your background. I know that you are a former
dancer with NYCB, and while I want to hear about that, I would also love it if you
would elaborate on your life pre NYCB. Where did you grow up? What was your
childhood like? Did you always want to dance? What were some other activities
you pursued in your childhood?
KF:I was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1976. My twin brother Kurt and I were the last of six
kids born within a span of twenty years.
My family oddly straddled the worlds of engineering and dance. My dad worked for
General Dynamics as a failures analysis specialist while my mom taught dance at my
sister Debbi Jo’s dance studio- a studio she had started in my parents’ garage when she
was sixteen and was a huge success in Fort Worth by the time I was born. What had
started as Froman Dance Studio was now Dance Concept.
Kurt and I were precocious monsters, always running off to do cartwheels in restaurants
and ride the elevators the minute we went into any hotel. We also loved to dress up in
my mom’s leotards and tights, and there are famous stories of us walking up and down
the street in her high heels and nightgowns.
We loved the musical “Annie” after we saw the touring production in San Francisco, but
we were equally thrilled watching “The Exorcist” whenever it came on TV. Annie (an
orphan living under drunk Miss Hannigan) and The Exorcist (a family member turning
into something horrible) were very telling of what my childhood was turning into.
My mother was an alcoholic, and by the time Kurt and I were five our parents were
getting divorced. There was a very bad custody battle that ensued, and though my father
was probably the more stable of the two, my mom was awarded custody.
Despite her addiction, my mother was incredibly loving. She wanted us to have hobbies,
but finding ones that suited us was tricky. Kurt and I weren’t like her other sons. We
hated football and had no interest in any other sports besides liking soccer camp one
summer. However, we loved ice skating and gymnastics.
Noticing our artistic inclinations, my mom asked us if we’d like to try taking tap at my
sister’s studio. We did, and we loved it. A year later we added jazz to the mix, and a year
after that ballet – which we hated. My sister wouldn’t let us quit, stressing its
importance. “It will clean up your tap and jazz technique,” she told us, and we stuck it
Once we saw the movie “Six Weeks,” though, we were smitten. The movie is about a
talented young ballet dancer, Katherine Healy, who wants to dance in The Nutcracker
before she dies of leukemia… definitely a Kyle and Kurt movie! Rather than just go see
The Nutcracker, “why don’t you audition for it?” my mom asked. It involved changing
dance schools… and wearing tights, and though this new ballet school wasn’t top-notch,
it changed everything we had thought about ballet. We were eleven years old.
The older we got, the less verbal we were about our after-school activities. Few people
knew what we did with ourselves every night or the love we had for dancing. Ballet was
saving our lives, though.
The structure of ballet and the chance to sweat out our daily stresses was saving our
minds from the chaos that comes with living with an alcoholic. Every class was a chance
to experience something predictable and to focus on something as small as the
placement of my foot- something that we had control over. It’s no wonder that many
professional dancers come from families of addiction.
When we turned fourteen, we changed ballet schools again, this time to the Fort Worth
Ballet. Paul Mejia was the director of the company, and the dancers there and in the
school were steeped in the Balanchine style. The day we auditioned for the school we
were brought in to watch the company rehearse. I had never been so blown away, and I
knew immediately that THAT was what I wanted to do with my life.
My brother and I started coming up to the School of American Ballet for the summers
when we were fifteen. By the time we were eighteen, we had graduated a year early
from high school, been company members with the Fort Worth Ballet for a year, and had
moved up to study at the school full-time. We had been awarded the first installment of
the Rudolf Nureyev scholarship to study at SAB. Six months later we got into the New
York City Ballet!
SW:How did you discover photography? What made you start to venture in that
KF:I knew the minute I joined the New York City Ballet that I couldn’t dance anywhere else.
Everything around me was the best, from the costumes to the repertoire. Touring all over
the world was fantastic, but what I especially loved were the long seasons in Lincoln
Center. I spent my days in the theater learning and sweating through rehearsals and my
nights performing the greatest ballets in the world. At 11:30 every evening, I would drag
myself home just to wake up and do it all over again.
The longer I was in the New York City Ballet, though, the more I started to question if I
was doing what I was meant to be doing with my life. After just a few years of being a
vital part of the company I started feeling I was being left behind.
My friends were being promoted and getting to dance more challenging roles. Instead of
the hope of learning something new, I was having to relearn ballets over and over and
over again with new generations of dancers. I was getting bored. I needed some sort of
guidance, some kind of interest taken in me if I was going to reach my full potential, and
that wasn’t happening for me at City Ballet.
I started taking acting lessons on Mondays (the company’s free day) which were followed
by singing lessons a few years later. I wanted to go to Broadway, but the daily rejection
most Broadway performers face on a daily basis wasn’t something I wanted to put myself
That’s when I discovered photography.
In 2005, after roughly ten years in the company, I started to see pictures. One morning at
barre, I caught sight of the dancers in front of me lined up perfectly, their arms raised in
high fifth, all in perfect symmetry. I wasn’t looking at them as much as through them.
Only a dancer standing at the same barre could have seen what I was seeing. I
remember wishing I had my camera.
As I made my way through the rest of the season, more images kept hitting me. I
decided to make a project out of bringing my camera to work, and over time I amassed
thousands of photographs. My work caught the attention of an editor at John Wiley &
Sons, and she offered to publish a book of my photographs, In the Wings: Behind the
Scenes at the New York City Ballet.
I felt I had turned a corner in my life. Photography found me, not the other way around,
and I was so grateful for the growing passion I was feeling. Photography was this
unknown world for me to explore, yet because I was shooting dance I was also using
everything I had learned over the previous 20 years.
After the publication of my book, I continued to dance and photograph for several years.
But in the spring of 2009, I decided it was time to focus entirely on photography. I didn’t
want to start another winter season with the company just another year older and
knowing exactly what I was going to be dancing; it was time for me to devote myself
entirely to photography, and though I was letting go of the performer I’d been for two
decades I was so happy to find another voice inside of me.
The funny thing is, I’m sure I wouldn’t have found photography were it not for every
obstacle I’d had in my life. I wouldn’t have found ballet were it not for my parents’ divorce.
I probably wouldn’t have been as devoted were it not for my mother’s alcoholism. And I
wouldn’t have found photography if I had been dancing more. You never know what life
has in store for you, and I wouldn’t change anything.
SW: What are some of your sources of inspiration in the world of photography? What
moves you artistically?
KF: I’ve always been inspired by the dance photography of Martha Swope and Steve Caras.
Swope is really the gold standard, and Caras’ shots are so intimate and offer a wonderful
insider’s view. They both covered such an incredible time in the dance world too, so their
subjects are amazing.
I love the classic fashion photography of Edward Steichen, Martin Munkacsi and George
Platt Lynes, as well as the modern images of Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Juergen
Teller, and Cindy Sherman.
Given my history as a dancer, I’m inspired by movement, patterns, and other dancers. I
always loved the glamour that surrounded ballet in the seventies and eighties –
something that seems to be dwindling these days – and I sometimes try to bring that
back in my photos. I love long hair, makeup, and legs on the ladies, and I try to use them
in my photos… but with a cutting-edge, Kyle twist.
SW: Do you solely do dance photography or have you begun to explore other aspects
of photography? What is your ultimate goal for your photography?
KF:I’m trying not to plan too much for my photography these days. I’m loving discovering
where it’s going by itself, so the future still feels unknown right now. I definitely want to
spread my wings outside the dance world and cover more mainstream topics like
fashion, beauty, and even advertising.
These days I contribute to The New York Times, New York magazine, Page Six
Magazine, and Dance Magazine a lot. I’ve been flown several times to photograph the
Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, and the Miami City Ballet recently made me their
official company photographer. I also sell my photographs on my website,
www.kylefromanphotography.com, which has turned out to be a great business.
My absolute favorite projects have been the ad campaigns I’ve shot for dance
companies. I love brainstorming projects and fleshing them out with my camera. I’m
looking forward to a few of these shoots in the next few months.
SW: For the techies out there, what type of equipment do you use?
KF: I use a Mac computer and an Eizo monitor. As far as software, I use Adobe Photoshop
and Lightroom for post-processing. My Epson 7800 wide-format printer completes my
workflow, is as big as my dining room table, and prints gorgeous poster-sized prints.
SW: What are some of your other interests and hobbies outside of both dance and
KF: Hmmmm. I love cooking, the beach, my family, husband (Andrew), cats (Dempsey and
Valentino) and dog (Oscar). Andrew and I own a b&b called The Madison in the Fire
Island Pines as well as some commercial properties there. I love movies, restaurants,
traveling, and enjoying life – sometimes from the comfort of my couch.
For more on Kyle or to purchase one of his prints or his book, visit his website kylefromanphotography.com