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Complexions Dancer Jillian Davis Makes Contemporary Ballet Class Edgy

Davis performing Gutter Glitter with Brandon Gray. Photo by Ani Collier, courtesy of Complexions

At six foot two, Jillian Davis doesn't fit the classical ballerina mold. Her teachers discouraged her from pursuing a career in ballet because, although she excelled technically as a young student at School of American Ballet and San Francisco Ballet School, her tall frame presented limitations—especially when it came to partnering. Undeterred, she found the training program of Alonzo King's contemporary ballet company, LINES.


From there she was invited to join Complexions Contemporary Ballet by founders Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Now in her fourth season, she credits the world-renowned duo's innovative style and edgy ballets performed to David Bowie and Metallica with expanding her ears (and her iTunes library) as a dancer and a teacher. "Even though hitting the perfect line is essential," says Davis, "the music is what motivates a dancer to tell a story."

Photo courtesy of Complexions

When teaching a ballet class on the performance tour, she sticks to the typical class format, but incorporates eclectic music choices to challenge the movement. "Teaching a tendu exercise to a contemporary song changes the feeling of the exercise," she says. An inspiring music choice gives the students something to latch onto and distracts them from focusing solely on the steps. "I'm always thrilled to have a drummer," she says. A live percussionist helps to bring the music to life in a classroom.

Whether it's at the barre or a center adagio, she asks students to imagine being onstage. She encourages them to use their torsos and bring their own personality to draw out their performance quality. Straying from the go-to ballet class music helps to loosen students up, a tactic she learned from Rhoden. "Sometimes people hear the word 'ballet' and they're stuck," she says. "Clean, classical technique is necessary, but let's relax a little."

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Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

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@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

In the spring of 2012, Barry Kerollis was abruptly forced into treating his career as a small business. Having just moved cross-country to join BalletX, he got injured and was soon let go.

"I'd only ever danced with big companies before," the now-freelance dance-teacher-choreographer-podcaster recalls. "That desperation factor drove me to approach freelancing with a business model and a business plan."

As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

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Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

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