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Meet the 2020 Dance Magazine Award Honorees

Since 1954, Dance Magazine has celebrated the living legends among us with the Dance Magazine Awards. This year, in light of deep reflections on racial equity inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the selection committee decided to take a close look at exactly who the magazine has honored over the past seven decades. Unsurprisingly, the list is overwhelmingly white. Although it's grown more diverse in recent years, many brilliant artists of color have been left out for far too long.

So for 2020, in order to reckon with and take a step toward repairing that history, the committee chose an outstanding group of all-Black artists. A ceremony to celebrate this year's Dance Magazine Award recipients will take place virtually on Monday, December 7, with performances and presentations for each honoree. For ticket information, visit dancemediafoundation.org. I'm delighted to announce our incredible honorees for 2020:


Carlos Acosta

In addition to dancing with some of the world's most prestigious companies, including The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Houston Ballet, Carlos Acosta has choreographed productions of Don Quixote and Carmen, plus Guys and Dolls for the West End. Acosta established his own dance company, Acosta Danza, in 2016 in his native Cuba, and opened a dance academy there through the Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation a year later. He also became artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in January 2020, and currently leads both organizations on either side of the Atlantic.

Debbie Allen

An internationally recognized director, choreographer, teacher, dancer and actor, Debbie Allen first made her mark on Broadway in revivals like West Side Story, for which she was nominated for a Tony. She became a household name with the movie-turned-television-classic "Fame," and has since directed and produced several TV series including "A Different World," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Scandal." Allen has been artist in residence at the Kennedy Center for over 15 years. She founded the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, mentoring and inspiring hundreds of students. She is currently an executive producer, director and actress on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."

Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown's prolific choreography merges her modern dance foundation with elements of African, social dance and musical theater to highlight deeply personal and complex Black experiences. In addition to being artistic director of Camille A. Brown & Dancers, she has been commissioned by companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Urban Bush Women, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Ballet Memphis. Her Broadway choreography credits include Choir Boy (for which she was nominated for a Tony) and Once On This Island. She also choreographed Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert on NBC, as well as The Metropolitan Opera's Porgy and Bess. Netflix's soon-to-be-released Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, directed by George C. Wolfe, will mark her feature film debut.

Laurieann Gibson

After training in Dunham, Horton and Graham at The Ailey School, Laurieann Gibson began her career dancing for Mary J. Blige. As a choreographer and creative director, she went on to work with such artists as Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Michael Jackson, Diddy and Katy Perry. She also choreographed the Universal feature film Honey, which was based partly on Gibson's personal experiences. In 2005, she was the on-air choreographer of MTV's hit show "Making the Band." Most recently, Gibson has appeared as a choreographer and judge on "So You Think You Can Dance."

Alonzo King

Contemporary ballet choreographer Alonzo King is founder and artistic director of San Francisco's Alonzo King LINES Ballet. In 1989, he opened the San Francisco Dance Center, offering weekly classes for professionals and community members alike. With more than 160 works to his name, his choreography appears in the repertoires of companies such as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Royal Swedish Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He's collaborated with BaAka Nzwba Lela dancers and musicians from the Central African Republic, Shaolin monks, vocalist Lisa Fischer and many other artists from all over the world.

Chairman's Award: Darren Walker

A Chairman's Award, chosen by Dance Media CEO Frederic M. Seegal to honor distinctive leaders behind the scenes, will go to Darren Walker. As president of the Ford Foundation, Walker has been an instrumental leader in philanthropy, supporting the arts with an eye to social justice.

Harkness Promise Awards: Kyle Marshall and Marjani Forté-Saunders

The Harkness Promise Awards, which offer a $5,000 grant, 40 hours of rehearsal space and ongoing mentorship for innovative young choreographers in their first decade of presenting professional work, will go to Kyle Marshall and Marjani Forté-Saunders. These awards, given in partnership with the Harkness Foundation for Dance, are funded by net proceeds from the Dance Magazine Awards ceremony.

Marshall has presented his company Kyle Marshall Choreography at BAM New Wave Festival, Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out, Joe's Pub, and NYC Summerstage. Forté-Saunders, a former member of Urban Bush Women, is currently collaborating with her partner, composer Everett Asis Saunders, as 7NMS; the pair also directs ART & POWER, an emerging platform for artists, writers, scientists, spiritualists and scholars, dedicated to Black purpose and innovation.

Check out Dance Magazine's December issue to learn more about each of these incredible artists. A ceremony to celebrate them will take place virtually on Monday, December 7, with performances and presentations for each honoree. For ticket information, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."


In 2019, NYCB came calling: Resident choreographer Justin Peck visited Houston Ballet to set a new work titled Reflections. Peck immediately took to Chan and passed his praises on to NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford. Chan was invited to take class with NYCB for three days in January 2020, and shortly thereafter was offered a soloist contract.

The plan was to announce his hiring in the spring for the fall season that typically begins in September, but, of course, coronavirus postponed the opportunity to next year. Chan is currently riding out the pandemic in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, where he was born and trained at the Guangzhou Art School.

We talked to Chan about his training journey—and the teachers, corrections and experiences that got him to NYCB.

On the most helpful correction he's ever gotten:

"Work smart, then work hard to keep your body healthy. Most of us get injuries when we're tired. When I first joined Houston Ballet, I was pushing myself 100 percent every day, at every show, rehearsal and class. That's when I got injured [a torn thumb ligament, tendinitis and a sprained ankle.] At that time, my director taught me that we all have to work hard, memorize the steps and take corrections, but it's better to think first because your energy is limited."

How it's benefited his career since:

"It's the secret to me getting promoted to principal very quickly. When other dancers were injured or couldn't perform, I was healthy and could step up to fill a higher role than my position. I still get small injuries, but I know how to take care of them now, and when it's OK to gamble a little."

Chan, wearing grey pants and a grey one-sleeved top, partners Jessica Collado, as she arches her back and leans to the side. Other dancers behind them are dressed as an army of some sort

Chun Wai Chan with Jessica Collado. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

On his most influential teacher:

"Claudio Muñoz, from Houston Ballet Academy. The first summer intensive there I couldn't even lift the lightest girls. A month later, my pas de deux skills improved so much. I never imagined I could lift a girl so many times. A year later I could do all the tricky pas tricks. That's all because of Claudio. He also taught me how to dance in contemporary, and act all kinds of characters."

How he gained strength for partnering:

"I did a lot of push-ups. Claudio recommended dancers go to the gym. We don't have those kinds of traditions in China, but after Houston Ballet, going to the gym has become a habit."

On his YouTube channel:

"I started a YouTube channel, where I could give ballet tutorials. Many male students only have female teachers, and they are missing out on the guy's perspective on jumps and partnering. I give those tips online because they are what I would have wanted. My goal is to help students have strong technique so they are able to enjoy the stage as much as they can."

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

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