Adriana Pierce made Acantilado on her colleagues at Miami City Ballet. Photo by Leigh-Ann Esty, Courtesy Pierce

Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."

Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.

Show Up Prepared


Setting an agenda for each rehearsal shows your dancers that you respect their time. In return, they may be more likely to respect your leadership. "With peers, you can't walk into the room and say, 'I'm the teacher; you're the student,' " says Pierce, who can currently be seen in the Broadway revival of Carousel. "Authority has to be earned."

Preparation can also ease nerves about your new role. When Maddie Hanson, a dance major at The Juilliard School, began choreographing on her classmates as a freshman, "I always came into rehearsals with a movement phrase and goals for the day," she says. Now a junior, Hanson has become more confident creating on the fly. Still, she strives to be organized, and to bring something new, like a particular image, to each session.

But preparing doesn't mean being inflexible in rehearsals. Elizabeth George, who teaches composition at the University of Arizona, explains, "You never want to be so rigid that if something spontaneous happens, you're not willing to explore it." A collaborative environment can keep everyone invested in the process.

Communicate Clearly

MCB dancers in Pierce's Acantilado. Photo by Leigh-Ann Esty, Courtesy Pierce


Last semester, George and her co-teacher Sam Watson asked their composition students what helped them most when choreographing on classmates. The top response: communication. "Dancers want information about what they're doing," Watson says, "whether they're working with a guest artist or a fellow student."

Communication should be a two-way street, Pierce adds. If a transition looks awkward, ask what would make it feel better. If your dancers seem exhausted, see if they have the energy for another full-out run.

Frame Feedback Wisely


To avoid hurting friends' feelings, frame criticism to be both positive and constructive. Rather than saying "That's not right" or "I don't like that," try acknowledging what a dancer is doing before asking to see it another way. "Then, you're offering options instead of barking orders," Pierce says.

When it comes to behavior issues, you may need to put your foot down. Pierce advises approaching the dancer the same way you would if you were having a non–dance-related issue. "Make it a conversation, not a confrontation," she says. "It can help to find out where they're coming from. Everyone is a human with emotions and a life outside the studio."

Cast Carefully


Juilliard students performing Hanson's work. Photo courtesy Hanson


Casting from a group of peers can feel fraught. What if your best friend isn't a good fit—or a strong enough performer—for what you have in mind? Hanson advises putting your vision first. "The people who support you will understand that you have to do what's right for your choreography," she says.

If the dancers you want aren't available, be open to what others have to offer. "I've worked with dancers I initially didn't see myself using," Pierce says. "They've always brought something surprising to the table." Stand by what you're looking for, but be ready to find the best in every dancer.

Lead with Confidence


Maddie Hanson in the studio, Photo courtesy Hanson


Even if you're new to running rehearsals, you already know what works for you when you're dancing for someone else. Call on those experiences when you're in charge.

Remember that you aren't the only one who wants the process to be productive and fulfilling. Your dancers—your classmates and colleagues—are on your side. "If you're considerate of your cast's needs and confident in your own abilities," Hanson says, "you'll have a better piece in the end."

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Students from Inspire School of Dance in Naperville, Illinois, danced an impeccably rehearsed Love with Urgency to music by Mumford & Sons. The dancers, ranging in age from 13 to 18, blew me away with their full-bodied abandon, flawless technique and the unmatched cleanliness of their performance. If these dancers represent the future, things are looking extremely bright.

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Robert Fairchild performed a solo by Gene Kelly.

New York City Ballet superstars (and former NYCDA kids) Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck were set to perform a duet by Liam Scarlett. However due to injury, the duet was changed to a solo. Fairchild whipped out a Gene Kelly solo, complete with hat, “jazz fingers” and his signature An American in Paris showmanship.

The best moment of the evening came when Mattie Love, NYCDA scholarship recipient and soon-to-be Marymount Manhattan College graduate, came onstage and talked about her experience. Nearly bursting into tears, she talked about the opportunities the scholarships provided her and how she was embraced by director Joe Lanteri and the whole NYCDA family. It just goes to show that at NYCDA, dreams do come true.

Since 2010, the NYCDA Foundation has raised roughly $17 million in college scholarships. Dance Magazine is privileged to support NYCDAF as a Gold Sponsor (donations of $25,000–$49,999).

Photos (from top): by Eduardo Patino; by Nina Wurtzel Photography (2), all courtesy of NYCDA

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Savion Glover is serious.

Serious talent. Serious about upholding tap history. Serious about having a good time and making the audience feel joy. Serious is the only way to describe the man after seeing the second performance of his new show STePz at The Joyce Theater in New York on Wednesday night.

With Marshall Davis Jr. and 3CW (3 Controversial Women: Ayodele Casel, Robyn Watson and Sarah Savelli), Glover tore up the stage, his feet going for 32nd-note rhythms at times, but often appearing to barely move. The ensemble showed their stuff to a blazing opener from John Coltrane, “Miles Mode,” and went from there to Prince and on to Charlie Parker, Shostakovich and Miles Davis in the first act. The musicality of the group was mind-blowing, as they matched complicated jazz and orchestral runs note for note in unison.

One of the big highlights of the first act saw Glover and Marshall Davis in a face-off set to the “Mission Impossible” theme. Two sets of stairs were unveiled and the duo syncopated their way all over them, smiling the whole time in friendly competition. (Glover and Davis formerly worked together in Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk on Broadway, and the chemistry showed.) Later, in the second act, they got together again for an a cappella number, “Gregory Mode,” an homage to their mentor, Gregory Hines.

Marshall Davis and Savion Glover

The ladies were no slouches either, with feet flying up and down their own staircase to open the second act to Benny Goodman’s “Bugle Call Rag,” before being joined by the men later in the set. Glover took off on his own to the slow title number, “STePz,” set to Sammy Davis Jr. singing, what else, “Mr. Bojangles.”

When the group came out to close the show with “Stevie,” set to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” the crowd was thrilled. Again, Glover and associates matched the horn section’s lines note for note with their feet. Pretty impressive.

That’s two performances down, 19 to go. The show runs until July 6 at The Joyce, with July 4 the only break in the action. See joyce.org and saviongloverproductions.com for more info. Tickets start at just $10.

Photos by Elijah Paul

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