For Gianna Reisen, a classically trained ballet dancer who now performs with L.A. Dance Project, the process of finding music for her choreography is everything. "If I'm not 100 percent inspired by the music, the movement just doesn't come out," she says. Following this natural creative spirit, though, wasn't always the driving force behind her artistry.
Marshall Davis Jr.'s introduction to tap dance began at 10 years old at African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where his father is director, in Miami, Florida. Training began in sneakers and dress shoes that Davis Jr. did his best to get sound out of. "My father was reluctant to invest in tap shoes, because he thought it was likely I would change my mind about dancing," he says. But it didn't take long before Davis Jr.'s passion for tap became undeniable, and his father bought him his first pair of tap shoes. Just one year later, Davis Jr. became the 1989 Florida winner for the Tri-Star Pictures Tap Day contest, a promotion for the movie Tap, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. Through that experience, a new tap-dancing future was opened.
"No formal training. No dance studio. No mentor," says Erik Saradpon about his beginnings in hip hop.
"I think that's why I'm especially tough on these guys, because I don't take the relationship for granted," he says, referring to his students. "I'm like a dad to them. I had a shortage of role models in my life. I wanted that so badly. I project that onto my kids."
Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.
Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.
Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.
Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.
Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.
Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."
Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.
"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"
Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.
Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.
While leading a rehearsal of Balanchine's Serenade, Stacey Calvert can't help but join in, marking at the front of the studio with a grin on her face. It's a Friday morning at the University of South Carolina—where Calvert taught and staged works for 17 years—and the dancers are preparing for the annual spring performance, Ballet Stars of New York, during which the students are joined by several New York City Ballet dancers who perform soloist and principal roles each year. Calvert had helped organize the event since 2005, bringing to Columbia, South Carolina, such dancers as Lauren Lovette, Jared Angle and Sara Mearns, who grew up in the area and trained at Calvert's mom's studio. As a George Balanchine Trust répétiteur, Calvert clearly is a master at the choreography, and as a former NYCB soloist herself—she retired in 2000 after a 17-year career—the steps are firmly embedded in her muscle memory.
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To the dance world's delight, the long-anticipated High Strung Free Dance hit select theaters earlier this month. The film tells the personal and professional story of a young ballerina (played by Juliet Doherty) who books a new Broadway show called Free Dance. It's produced by Michael and Janeen Damian—the creators of 2016's High Strung, starring Keenan Kampa—and is choreographed by Tyce Diorio and SFB soloist Myles Thatcher.
Here, Diorio shares a bit of his experience choreographing the show and gives some sage advice for educating the next generation of artists.
While training with Abby Lee Miller in Pittsburgh, Rachel Kreiling underestimated the studio's requirement of enrolling in every class. The versatile curriculum (tap, ballet, hip hop, modern, acro, lyrical and jazz) paired with Miller's unconventional teaching style, since showcased on "Dance Moms," greatly impacted Kreiling's own style and relationship to music. "Abby would play the music and choreograph within the phrasing, but rarely to actual counts," she says. This resulted in a huge positive learning component. "I had to learn musicality myself," says Kreiling, who left the studio at age 18 after graduating, more than a decade before the Lifetime network show aired. "And studying every style became instrumental in my attachment to music," she adds. "I'm always seeking out new genres and diverse songs." After a performing career that included a Broadway-style revue at Tokyo Disney, Revolution (a tap tour with Mike Schulster), and dancing with Alison Chase/Performance and in a Rasta Thomas contemporary ballet, Kreiling began assisting Suzi Taylor at Steps on Broadway in New York City. In 2007, Kreiling, who describes her class as extremely athletic and technical, became full-time NYCDA faculty.
For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.
After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.
The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)
Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.
As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.
This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."
A group of dancers, clad in long maroon dresses and armed with garden rakes, are scattered over a gentle hill. Suddenly—clearly visible despite the camera's considerable distance—two white horses appear on the hilltop. The dancers stand stock still, as if frozen in time, as a man and woman carefully lead the majestic beasts around and among the motionless dancers in a twisting pattern. At the bottom of the hill, more dancers enter a horse pen, kicking up dirt and darting in front of and around three chestnut horses, close enough to touch their muzzles and swishing tails. Soon the dancers sprint in a circle, occasionally diving and sliding to the dirt, with the horses at a fast clip behind them. It's a game both playful and perilous. One dancer stays on the ground, rolling, spiraling and twisting in the dirt, as the 1,500-pound equines gallop ever faster toward him. At the last second, the horses halt, just inches from crushing him beneath their hooves. It's a dangerous, exhilarating and magical spectacle.