Dance News
Photo credits, clockwise from bottom left: Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Jayme Thornton; Jochen Viehoff, Courtesy Stephanie Troyak; Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet; Jim Lafferty; Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet; Scott Shaw, Courtesy Shamar Wayne Watt

Every year we love to see Dance Magazine's coveted list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing in the field of dance. This year's picks are nothing short of exceptional.

Congratulations to these 25 up-and-coming artists!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Via Beyoncé's Instagram

This past week, Brianna Bundick-Kelly broke the internet when she posted a video of her dancing Beyoncé's Beychella, only hours after the live performance. The Virginia State University freshman, who's Twitter handle is "Briyonce," told Business Insider that she taught herself the choreography in 40 minutes. For dance teachers, this might seem just like another day at the office–dancers are supposed to pick up choreography fast, right? But Bundick-Kelly gets some serious props for her near flawless slaying of the Queen B's latest moves from a video, a feat she's no stranger to.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Long story short: It. Was. 🔥. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella via The Cut)

Beyoncé became the first black woman to headline at Coachella this weekend, and people are (justifiably) freaking out over her performance. ICYMI, you can catch the entire performance here. But be warned, you'll never be the same. 👑🐝 Here's our list of highlights.

Keep reading... Show less

Beyoncé: She's the rare performer who both exists in her own dimension of unbelievable talent and also convinces us occasionally that we are ALL Beyoncé. If you've been worshipping Queen Bey for years, you've also probably riffed on her moves in your own choreography (or at the very least, demonstrated your mastery of said moves for friends or maybe just your mirror). Adam France created this delightful, short video highlighting a Beyoncé move for each letter of the alphabet, and I bet you're gonna want to watch it and see how many you recognize. Here are a few of my favorites:

Keep reading... Show less

Mel Mah (left) and Kim Gringas hosted the event at Playground L.A. in West Hollywood.

At the end of last month, YOU GOT THIS, GIRL! (YGTG), a workshop to encourage young dancers to go after their dreams, threw the event YOU GOT THIS, L.A.!, held at L.A.'s newest studio, Playground L.A. YGTG was founded in September 2015 by professional dancers Mel Mah (Janet Jackson, Justin Bieber, Kanye West) and Kim Gringas (Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Chris Brown). Both women made the move from Canada to L.A. in 2011, and after accomplishing their dance goals wanted to give back to the next generation of aspiring professional dancers.

An all-female panel of industry experts, including Tiana Brown, Brittany Perry-Russell, Robin Antin, and Randi Kemper, shared their unique success stories and how they've navigated the entertainment industry. The night also included performances by Dana Foglia Dance, the band Bennett and spoken-word by dancer Tajana Bunton-Williams.

"It was really incredible seeing so many people show up at The Playground; we had around 130 attend the event," said YGTG co-founder Mel Mah. "Each person there was so invested in bringing positive energy into that space, and it was an incredible moment for the L.A. dance community."

She added: "It was motivating to see so many L.A. people from different industries gather and talk about how we can all make an impact, how to focus on the positive, the wage gap and sexism, how to stay inspired, and how we can empower others."

For more info about YFTG, visit ygtgofficial.com.

Photos by Ja Tecson; featured image by Wes Klain

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Armstrong, center, with the rest of PBM. Photo courtesy of PBM.

If your full-figured dancers need a role model, look no further than Akira Armstrong. She's a Beyoncé video dancer who started her own company, Pretty Big Movement (featuring plus-size dancers), after struggling to find consistent work as a professional dancer. Clearly a talented dancer, she's assembled a group of equally enthusiastic and gifted dancers with curves like hers.

Armstrong's adolescent struggles will probably sound familiar to you and your curvier dancers (“My costume was always different from everyone else's," “Family members used to make fun of me—it was frustrating"), but PBM is clearly a huge confidence booster, not just for Armstrong and her dancers, but for girls everywhere. “It's about uplifting and empowering women," says Armstrong, “to feel like they can do anything—not just dance."

Learn more about Armstrong and PBM in this video:

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Sheryl Murakami’s bold moves

Murakami’s popular Saturday jazz funk class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in L.A.

Inside Hollywood’s EDGE Performing Arts Center, five industrial spotlights illuminate a dim room, making it seem more like a stage than a sweaty studio. At various points during the lively jazz funk class, instructor Sheryl Murakami picks up a light and shines it on an individual student, urging her to go full-out. It’s all part of Murakami’s master plan to make her students feel—and dance—like stars.

“I take these lights to class to make dancers feel like they’re performing,” she says. “Most classes have such sterile lighting, and I want them to feel like they’re onstage.”

Clad in a tiger-striped purple unitard and metallic Dodgers baseball cap, Murakami herself is no stranger to the spotlight: The sultry Japanese-American choreographer snagged an MTV Video Music Award in 2011 for her work on Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” video and has danced for Lady Gaga. And now, after 13 years choreographing and dancing in New York, Murakami has moved back to Los Angeles to set her sights on elevating her commercial career and directing the music video stars she’s helped make famous.

She’s also transitioned from teaching at NYC’s Broadway Dance Center to L.A.’s EDGE, where students are eager for a chance to learn from the pint-sized powerhouse. As one watches her lead class, it’s evident why artists like Beyoncé and Gaga have been drawn to her sensibility. The students come alive as they perform a combination to Kelly Rowland’s “Down for Whatever” that shows off the choreographer’s feline-like signature movement style.

The 8-counts have the dancers writhing on the floor, hitting come-hither poses and traveling across the room, while Murakami yells out animated directives in her raspy voice. (There’s humor, too: She ad-libs, “Cleanup in aisle two!” after one of the dancers accidentally breaks a spotlight.) “My choreography is simple to understand—classy, sexy and strong,” she says. “I believe females should be powerful and still have sexuality.”

To draw out this side of dancers, Murakami’s philosophy is straightforward. “It’s about getting comfortable and being confident, so I accomplish that with positive reinforcement,” she says. “I like to emphasize good energy throughout the room—it’s easy to get stressed out with a teacher who’s hard on you. Dance is supposed to be fun.”

The Road to New York City

Though dance is now her livelihood, Murakami very easily could have gone down a different road. The charismatic California native grew up in Huntington Beach, where she studied classical ballet at the Huntington Academy of Dance until age 15. In high school, she joined Marina High School’s well-known dance program, and she competed frequently at Showstopper with two Orange County studios, Jimmie DeFore Dance Center and Pace Dance & Performing Arts Center. “I choreographed all of my own pieces,” she says.

At 16, she signed with famed agent Julie McDonald, who got her hired on “Star Search” and for an L.A. Gear commercial. But just as the dancer appeared poised to launch a successful career, life intervened. Family finances were precarious, and a part-time job kept her from auditioning—and that got her dropped from McDonald’s agency list. Around age 18, Murakami “got involved in a lot of bad circles” and stopped dancing completely. “I rebelled against my family and those who loved me,” she says. “I was young and mad at the world.”

Luckily, dance drew her in again in her early 20s, when, after a two-year hiatus, she booked a two-week job at the Tropicana hotel in Atlantic City. When it concluded, she decided to try for a fresh start in New York City. “I needed a new life and to change, to grow up,” she says.

Not long after her arrival, she met choreographer Jermaine Browne, who invited her to attend his class at Broadway Dance Center. “It was there that I reconnected and found my passion again,” she says. “I look at him as my angel.”

She started teaching dance at local gyms and found an in at Broadway Dance Center when she subbed for Salim “Slam” Gauwloos. Soon she joined the faculty teaching jazz funk. Browne says her BDC classes really took off, thanks to her uninhibited approach.

“What makes Sheryl’s class stand out is her raw feminine sexuality, ” he says. “It was so different because, at the time, no one was doing movement like that in New York. She’s always been willing to buck the trends, and it’s a great testament to her tenacity and confidence.”

Around the same time, she also signed with Clear Talent Group and started booking dance and choreography gigs. “New York City was fascinating to me, and the big city became small and tightly knit with so much culture, art and unexplainable energy on every corner,” she says. “I was beyond inspired.”

Pop Life

After teaching for about five years, Murakami realized the work she’d made for class could be performed onstage. In 2006, she formed her own company, naming it T(H)RASH in homage to the sexy hair-thrashing movements that often appeared in her choreography. With an in-your-face style she calls “jazz funk/rock/twisted cabaret,” the all-female company performed in rock clubs around the city. “We performed at every event we could, paid or unpaid,” she says.

After 13 years in NYC, Murakami is back in
L.A., building on the
success of her music video career.

And then she landed the gig that would ultimately open a new career path. A then-unknown artist, Lady Gaga, needed backup dancers for the intimate club performances she was doing in Manhattan to promote her forthcoming single, “Just Dance.” Murakami was one of just two hired. “Gaga is amazing—she’s a star. I learned to just be wild and be myself,” she says. “Little did we know she would become so huge.”

With the help of her company dancers, Murakami began filming sample music video demos “just for fun.” When her agent got word that Beyoncé’s creative director was seeking new choreographers, Murakami knew she wanted to submit something. “I shot a demo in a studio with full hair and wardrobe. We sent it in and they loved it,” she says. She was called in to perform her work for Beyoncé herself.

That demo ended up as the template for the video, “Ego”—and landed Murakami a directing credit. “Beyoncé said she fell in love with the song again when she saw my work,” she says. “That’s when you know you’ve done your job.”

Murakami loves video for its permanence and the creative freedom she has in making it. “With videos, you can capture the viewer in a more personal way through the camera with close-ups, powerful cuts and location changes,” she says. “Videos are forever and really put the ‘stamp’ visually on the song that people can watch over and over and remember.”

Coming Full Circle

After 13 years in NYC, Murakami took another leap of faith in January by moving back to Los Angeles. Her work had been largely bicoastal for a while, with periodic travel to L.A. to choreograph various music videos and teach at EDGE. “I felt I’d come full circle as a choreographer and done everything I could do in New York,” she says. Intrigued by the film and television opportunities the West Coast had to offer, she also wanted to be closer to her family. Last year, after finishing work on Kat Graham’s “Put Your Graffiti On Me” video, she posed the idea of a permanent move to her fiancé, a guitarist. “We’d been talking about it for a couple years,” she says, “and he was open to doing it with me.”

In addition to teaching at EDGE three days a week, Murakami plans to revive T(H)RASH (which dissolved in 2010) in Los Angeles. But her big plan is moving from choreographing into directing future music video projects. “I’m fascinated by directors,” she says. “I don’t even mind the 24-hour shoots—you’re dying while you’re on set, but then when it’s all edited and you see it come together, it’s just magic.”

Browne, for one, has no doubt that Murakami can pull off such an ambitious goal. “As someone who has seen Sheryl from her first week in NYC to where she is now, I’ve seen what can happen when you believe in yourself and you have something to share,” he says. “She is proof that no matter how hard it gets, things happen when you’re true to yourself.” DT

Los Angeles–based, Jen Jones Donatelli is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher, Dance Spirit, Dance Magazine, Pointe, and Dance Retailer News.

Photos by Hao zeng

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox