A slow dance to a “beautifully intoxicating” romance

Days after Unity Sickles Phelan became an apprentice with the New York City Ballet in December 2012, she met Cameron William Dieck in an elevator at Lincoln Center, where the ballet rehearses and performs. Ms. Phelan, then 17, wasn’t sure where to pick up her pointe shoes. Herr Dieck, a 23-year-old Corpsman, told her which floor. Each left the elevator with clear impressions of the other.

“I thought, Ah, this is a friend – someone nice and someone I can count on,” Ms. Phelan said.

Herr Dieck braced himself. “She was absolutely gorgeous and super talented,” he said. “I thought, oh no, I have a problem.”

Mr. Dieck, who has danced with City Ballet since 2007, had heard of Ms. Phelan through friends of the dance company and had glanced at her during the six-hour days of rehearsals.

His problem – wanting to date her without making her feel uncomfortable or pressured – resolved itself within the first few weeks. Despite his seniority in the company, Mr. Dieck did not hold a position of authority over Ms. Phelan; he gave in to his crush and asked her for a coffee. She said she didn’t drink it. “That was strike one,” he said. He struck out a second time before she finally agreed to a date with him at a restaurant Mr. Dieck had carefully chosen on February 10, 2013, days before her 18th birthday. “It was a place called Community near the Columbia campus,” Ms. Phelan said. “It had ‘Unity’ in the name.”

Ms. Phelan, 27, now a principal dancer with City Ballet, grew up in Princeton, NJ with an older sister and two younger brothers. Her parents are not hippies, she explained her unusual first name. Kimberlee Phelan is a partner at the accounting firm Withum, Smith and Brown and John Phelan, now retired, was the founder and CEO of Zweena Health, a healthcare services company. They just liked the idea of ​​”Unity”. So does Mrs. Phelan. “I love my name,” she said. “It’s quirky and individual, like me.”

Her first ballet lesson at the age of 4 was at Princeton Ballet School. Being close to another student — her sister, Amanda Phelan — was the draw. “I wanted to do everything she did,” she said. By the time she was 10, her parents relied on the threat of refusal to attend classes as a motivational tool for chores and good grades. “It would be, ‘Oh, Unity, you have to clean your room if you want to go to the ballet.’ Ballet became my continuous line.”

At 13, while still taking classes at Princeton, she auditioned for the School of American Ballet and was invited to coach for the school year there in New York City that summer. Her parents thought she was too young. But the following year, when she was invited back, they gave her permission.

The School of American Ballet, also at Lincoln Center, is City Ballet’s training academy. It was there that Mr. Dieck made his first dance experiences in an urban environment. He grew up with two sisters, one older and one younger, in Mount Kisco, NY. His mother, Eileen Dieck, is a retired internal medicine physician, formerly Dr. William Dieck, his father, is an ophthalmologist at Northwell Health practicing in Mount Kisco.

Like Ms Phelan, Mr Dieck, 34, followed his older sister Caitlin Locke into a dance class before he was eligible for kindergarten (he was a tap class at Westchester Dance Academy in Mount Kisco). He went there mainly because his mother had a lot of juggling to do and needed some alone time. “I was a wild child,” he said. “My mom thought she was going to put me in class with my sister so she could have a private lesson.”

At age 9, a teacher urged him to apply for a place at the School of American Ballet. He auditioned. That same evening, his parents got a call: he was accepted. That fall, the family drove back and forth from Westchester to Manhattan five days a week. “Considering they’re both doctors, that was crazy,” he said. But he loved it, especially the competitive spirit in his all-boys class.

In high school, Ms. Phelan and Mr. Dieck both spent more time in New York than at home. As teenagers, they lived in dormitories at the School of American Ballet while attending the Professional Children’s School for working actors and dancers. Mr. Dieck graduated in 2006, Ms. Phelan in 2012. Both secured training with City Ballet within months of graduating from high school. Ms. Phelan wasn’t sure if hers would matter much. “I had huge imposter syndrome,” she said. “I never thought I’d get past Corps training.”

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Becoming one of the youngest dancers invited to the corps in 2013 helped. But a rise to director, the highest level in the ballet world, still seemed unthinkable.

After their first date, which ended with a kiss on a freezing Manhattan dock, Ms. Phelan and Mr. Dieck kept dating in secret. “When you get into the New York City Ballet, it’s kind of like a year-long audition where you’re tried on for size,” Ms. Phelan said. “As an apprentice, I was afraid of romance because I thought the perception might be that I wasn’t focused on getting into the company.”

Mr. Dieck, already a member of the corps and established in the company, was not so cautious. But for six months he played along. “I figured if it means we’re dating then OK,” he said jokingly.

By 2014, their romance was well established — and open to scrutiny from others. Their only breakup, spurred on by well-meaning friends at ballet, happened that year. “Everyone said, ‘You commit too early,'” Ms. Phelan said. They decided to take a break, but got back together within a month. “I remember thinking, oh, I just want to talk to her,” Mr. Dieck said. Ms Phelan said it had been the worst month ever.

Early on, Ms. Phelan’s rise in the company had reinforced Mr. Dieck’s devotion to dancing. Before they met, that commitment had waned. “I was disillusioned with that,” he said. “I was still in the Corps, and it didn’t look like I was leaving the Corps.” The excitement of what he called Ms. Phelan’s “meteoric rise” and her proximity inspired him to stay.

But in 2018, a year after Ms. Phelan was promoted to soloist, Mr. Dieck left ballet for a very different career in investment banking. By this time, he and Mrs. Phelan were living together in an apartment in Harlem and knew they wanted to get married. Both had taken lessons at Fordham while dancing full-time. Mr. Dieck graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Ms. Phelan graduated three years later with a bachelor’s degree in economics and organizational leadership.

Mr. Dieck’s first banking job as an analyst at Credit Suisse rivaled the ballet with his long hours. But it offered a secure financial future. “If someone got sick, I wanted to be able to take care of them,” he said. Plus, “in the back of my mind, I always knew dance was finite.”

His love for Ms. Phelan, who rarely had trouble finding a foothold but described his exit from ballet as “difficult” — “I lost my person, my ally in the building,” she said — felt the opposite way. Mr. Dieck was ready to propose before the pandemic hit. He planned to surprise Ms Phelan in London after her multinational Stars of American Ballet tour in March 2020 by showing up with an engagement ring. Instead, she had to find a flight from Serbia back to New York days before the US border closed.

Within weeks of the scratched London plan, they were engaged. It was only a matter of time, they both said, before she found the diamond ring he had hidden in her apartment. “I would come home and my underwear drawer would be rearranged,” he said. On March 20, 2020, he proposed after a dinner of homemade bread, grilled sausage, cheese and salad at their Harlem home.

In October 2021, with City Ballet’s performances still restricted for Covid, Ms Phelan was promoted to principal dancer. Mr. Dieck’s career got a boost four months earlier when he accepted his current position as an investment banking associate at JP Morgan. For both, “reaching this level feels like the culmination of so much hard work,” said Mr. Dieck. “We now feel like the New Yorkers par excellence.”

They married on October 22 at Hallockville Museum Farm in Riverhead, NY in front of 170 guests. These included fashion designer Zac Posen and his fiancée Harrison Ball, a principal dancer with City Ballet, and former Balanchine ballerina Heather Watts. Another fellow dancer, Ms. Phelan’s best friend, Indiana Woodward, was a bridesmaid. City Ballet director of corporate relations Fredrick Wodin became a minister of Universal Life Church to officiate.

Mrs. Phelan walked down a grassy aisle, accompanied by both parents in a lazaro dress with a train and a full tulle skirt, and swapped her pointe shoes for block-heeled sandals. She and Mr. Dieck, in a navy tuxedo and velvet loafers, took turns reading out handwritten vows. “With you, some of the most mundane parts of life can be wonderfully exhilarating,” he said. Ms. Phelan said she loves Mr. Dieck with all her heart.

When Mr Wodin declared them married and Mr Dieck leaned in for a kiss, a field of well-wishers erupted in cheers. Few couples have retreated down the aisle so gracefully.

Table of Contents

When October 22, 2022

Where The Hallockville Museum Farm, Riverhead, NY

A reception pas de deux For the couple, “Nutcracker” partners when both were with the New York City Ballet, letting go at a subsequent reception at the farm came with strings attached. “As a dancer, there is a certain expectation that you show up on the dance floor,” said Mr. Dieck. “It’s our job to deliver.” They choreographed their first dance together to Sara Bareille’s song “I Choose You,” which was performed live by Kate Davis. The result included lifts and dips. “They made it look effortless,” said one of her friends, Ashley Higgins.

port in the storm Amanda Phelan quit ballet dancing after high school, but has watched with admiration as her sister’s career soared. The same applies to her sister’s relationship with Mr. Dieck. “The chaos of this life is so specific,” she said. “They became each other’s havens in the ballet. When I look at her, I think that’s what love looks like.”