How Kirsten Russell Won The Capezio A.C.E. Awards

Russell's winning number, Islands. Photo by Joe Toreno

In 2015, Kirsten Russell's musical, lush, powerful choreography won her the Capezio A.C.E. Awards. Now, she's in demand as a visiting artist and choreographer at studios around the country. But her foray into dancemaking was actually a happy accident. Midway through her dance degree at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she badly hurt her foot and thought it might be a sign she should stop dancing. “I was injured for a year," she says. “That was my lowest point." Instead, she took up choreographing. “Boot on my foot and all!" she says. Her time spent flexing her choreographic muscles paid off: When she walked away with first place in the A.C.E. Awards, it was only her second time entering the competition. After producing her own full-length show last year with her prize money, she's now focused on putting as much of her work as she can on film.

Russell (left) with her sister, Kayla. Photo by Jennifer Robertson Photography, courtesy of Russell

Training: CC & Co Dance Complex; University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Choreography: Won first place in the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards competition and premiered a full-length show in 2016 at Dancerpalooza

Teaching: JUMP dance convention

Her process “Before I start any movement, I have to listen to the song over and over again until I see the entire piece in my head. That part can last hours or even days, depending on how much time I have. Unison choreography is my favorite thing about watching dance, so any unison work is choreographed a day before I begin actually setting the piece."

On musicality “I have the hardest time explaining how I deal with musicality while creating, but I think it comes to me because I had an incredible tap teacher, Emily Shoemaker. When I started choreographing, matching a move to every single count became really interesting to me—because of the speed and lack of transition that happens. I'm addicted to filling the smallest amount of music with the most movement possible to challenge myself."

The best part about winning the A.C.E. Awards “Being able to hire the dancers who were in my piece for my show. They basically started my career in the first place, so that made the experience even more unbelievable." DT

Teaching Tips
@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.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Jill Randall

Whether you're in need of some wintertime inspiration or searching for new material for your classes, these six titles—ranging from personal stories, classroom materials, detailed essays and coursebooks—are worthy picks to add to your pedagogy bookshelf.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.