In every class Kathryn Alter teaches, two things are immediately evident: how thoughtfully she chooses her words, and how much glee she gets from dancing the movement and style of modern choreographer José Limón. At the 2019 Limón summer workshop at Kent State University, Alter demonstrated a turning triplet with her arms fully outstretched, a smile stretching easily across her face. "It should be as if…" She paused to think of the perfect analogy that would help the dancers find the necessary circularity of the movement. "As if you live in a doughnut!" she finished, grinning broadly. The dancers gathered around her laughed—her smile and love for something as foundational as a triplet was contagious.
When Joseph Morrissey first took the helm of the dance division at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a boarding high school in Interlochen, Michigan, he found a fully established pre-professional program with space to grow. And his vision was big, with plans to stage the kind of ambitious repertory he'd experienced during his dance career. But the realities quickly set in. During his first year in 2015, the department was denied by the George Balanchine Trust to license any Balanchine ballets—the dancers were not quite ready.
This early disappointment didn't derail Morrissey. In just four years, he has not only raised Interlochen's training standards, he's staged ambitious full-length ballets and been granted the rights to works by Merce Cunningham, Agnes de Mille and, yes, Balanchine. Guest artists regularly visit, and he's initiated major plans to expand the dance department building. Morrissey is only 37, but it should come as no surprise that he's done so much so fast—his entire life's journey has prepared him to be an artistic leader.
Growing up, Melissa Weigel spent most of her time at Irish step dance competitions. She was a regular at regional, national and world events, representing her hometown studio, located just outside of Chicago. But by the time she graduated from college, she was ready to hang up her dancing shoes. "Dancing beyond college was a full-time commitment, and I wanted to balance my love of dance with my nondance career." She took a step back from competitive performing, pursued a career in conservation investments and enrolled in classes at The New York Studio of Irish Step Dance. She now teaches for the studio one night a week and enjoys the challenges of working with adult recreational dancers in an advanced/championship class, many of whom have backgrounds like her own.
"We have a lot of dancers who used to dance growing up and are looking to get back into it as an adult, as well as some who are picking it up for the first time," she says. "They are all here taking classes to have fun and to get some great exercise."
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.
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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.
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.