When Shuaib Dee Elhassan began his dance training at 12 years old at The Ailey School in New York City, he never imagined himself as a contemporary ballet dancer. "Ailey was all I knew—Ailey was the dream," he says. But as he got older and was introduced to a range of classical and contemporary companies, something changed. "I began to appreciate something totally different," he says. And now as a member of San Francisco–based Alonzo King LINES Ballet, a promising career in contemporary ballet is shaping up.
On a school day in December, the scene in the P.S. 002 auditorium on Manhattan's Lower East Side is particularly joyful. The pianist plays an upbeat tune, while a sea of fifth-grade students stomp, bend, punch and jump around the stage with big smiles on their faces. The dance teacher, National Dance Institute artistic director Ellen Weinstein, shouts out level changes, direction changes, compliments and corrections, with a pacing that doesn't allow time for distraction. Notably, these students are not chatting, resisting or goofing off the way you might expect of this elementary school age. Everyone is participating.
Photo courtesy of NDI
Martha Graham Dance Company created The EVE Project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. The female-focused initiative includes new works, as well as the company's classic repertoire highlighting Martha Graham's heroines and antiheroines. In April, the company is showing the newly reconstructed Circe, Graham's 1963 interpretation of the Greek myth, at New York City Center. Dancing the role of Circe is company member So Young An. Here, she shares thoughts on The EVE Project and how she's approaching her role in Circe, the 57-year-old work that invites audiences to consider pressing conversations about womanhood.
"The best judges come from the competition circuit," says Jill Wolins, who trains adjudicators for the Star Dance Alliance and Starpower National Talent Competition. "If you competed as a kid, you have proper respect for how hard these dancers work. It's not easy to do what they're doing."
Wolins began judging competition events in 2001 in between dancing as a Rockette and performing on Broadway/national tours of The Producers, The Will Rogers Follies, Sweet Charity and Grease. And, yes, she came up on the circuit herself, before earning a BFA from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
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."
In February, San Francisco Ballet principal Dores André will originate the 11th role of her 15-year professional career with Trey McIntyre's highly anticipated new work, The Big Hunger. The work is inspired by the big hunger/little hunger philosophies of the bushmen in the Kalahari desert. "Little hunger" represents the superficial desires we focus on during day-to-day life, while "big hunger" represents what remains beyond the little hunger. "It's about the deeper meaning we are all looking for in life," André says. "It's not about our careers or a new pair of shoes or any other robotic human want, it's about the search for something bigger than all of us."
It's December, people! That means it's time to put together your wish list for this holiday season. We did some brainstorming and came up with the best possible dance teacher list we could think of. Every dance teacher/studio owner can relate! Let us know what else you're asking for!