18 Bites of the Big Apple
It’s undeniable: There’s no city like New York City. With its energy, talent and bustle, it’s easy to get swept up in the pulsing flow of a place full of people striving to make it big. Whether you’re looking forward to a professional dance career, are interested in a big-city college or simply love to watch phenomenal performances, chances are you’ll spend time in Gotham. If you do, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of this town, from where to get cheap tickets to the hottest dance classes and yummiest food around. To find out about the coolest things to do in the coolest city, we asked the coolest people in the NYC dance world for their picks. Check it out! And we’ll see you in the city that never sleeps. —Lauren Kay
Andy Blankenbuehler, Tony Award-winning choreographer and Broadway performer
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Years in NYC: 19
Fave Studio/Teacher: Jared Grimes’ hip-hop class at Broadway Dance Center.
Fave Dance Company: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.
Hidden Gem: Pepolino, a restaurant at 281 West Broadway.
Moving Tips: Save as much money as you can before you move, so that when you get here, you don’t have to worry about getting a job right away.
MOG!: They say that if you can make it in NYC, you can make it anywhere. This really rang true for me at 7 a.m. one morning last spring, when I found out about my Tony Award nomination for In the Heights live on national television in the middle of Times Square. We were performing a number from the show that’s about the city—right in the heart of the city!—on “Good Morning America.”
Beatriz Stix-Brunell, dancer, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company
Hometown: Miami, FL
Years in NYC: 14
Fave Teacher: Fabrice Herrault. He teaches ballet in its purest form. He is very detail-oriented, which is crucial. And he creates a dancer as a whole, working on musicality, technique, footwork, batterie and artistry.
Hidden Gem: Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb.
MOG!: When I was 9, I had just finished performing with the New York City Ballet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was late at night, and I was doing grand jetés along the sidewalk. All of a sudden, emerging from the darkness, I saw a tall, slender figure doing grand jetés toward me. We passed each other, and he smiled. It was Tommy Tune!
Michelle Dorrance, tapper extraordinaire
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC
Years in NYC: 12
Fave Studio/Teacher: Harlem Tap and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. I love that the studio is family owned and operated. It’s intimate, has unbelievable energy and is in the heart of Harlem, which is filled with tap history.
Fave Dance Event: Tap City, The New York City Tap Festival, Tap Extravaganza and Fall for Dance Festival.
Fave Dance Company: Ballet Tech’s MANDANCE PROJECT.
Unique NYC: The history of the city is alive in not only the people, but also in the streets and buildings.
Jonah Bokaer, choreographer, media artist and former dancer with Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Hometown: Ithaca, NY
Years in NYC: 10
Fave Studio/Teacher: The new studio spaces at Center for Performance Research, a.k.a CPR: It’s a partnership between myself and John Jasperse. It’s an arts laboratory, production facility and the first L.E.E.D. green building of its kind in Brooklyn. Then for Alexander Technique I love June Ekman. She teaches at 47 West 28th St.
Fave Dance Event: The Performa Biennial, a three-week multidisciplinary festival.
Unique NYC: New Yorkers are intrepid and adventurous. Also, Brooklyn has one of the highest concentrations of artists in the world!
Moving Tips: When looking for an apartment, don’t go with a broker. Use personal resources like friends, family members or colleagues. You can find more interesting places if you explore. Don’t be afraid of boroughs!
MOG!: I remember taking a class at Cunningham. Eighty-one-year-old Merce walked through the door and across the studio to sit down. He made me think about NYC in a much longer time frame. He has lived here for decades!
Jonathan Lee, hip-hop dancer, teacher, and recording artist
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Fave Studio/Teacher: The Ailey Extension at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Robin Dunn, my mom! She gives positive reinforcement. It makes you want to become better as a person and dancer.
Fave Dance Event: The House Dance Conference, held every month in Tribeca at Club Remix. But it travels, too. It’s hosted by Brian Green, and house and hip-hop dancers come to get down.
Unique NYC: Everyone is striving to make it. It’s survival of the fittest, and you feel that pulse when you walk the streets; people are always on the hustle. There’s a swagger that happens in NYC that sets the trend.
Logistics: Time Out New York is great to have because you can always find out what’s going on for cheap or free.
Baya Voce, hip-hop dancer and housemate on The Real World, Brooklyn
Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT
Years in NYC: 1
Fave Studio/Teacher: Broadway Dance Center and Jeff Amsdem. He talks a lot about placement and repeats stuff until it clicks. Sheryl Murakami also brings great energy and her choreography is raw.
Unique NYC: You can find every kind of dance from street to Brazilian.
Hidden Gem: L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn. They serve pizza with the sauce on top of the cheese!
Moving Tips: Be prepared. Have a job lined up before you get here. Make sure you’re ready to live in a small space and have roommates.
Logistics: Be careful about blowing through money. Use the subways. They seem intimidating, but once you get them down, they’re easy. And they’re a more green way to commute!
Isabel Lewis, dancer and performance artist
Hometown: Venice, FL
Years in NYC: 6
Fave Studio/Teacher: CLASS CLASS CLASS is a revolutionary model for offering dance classes: It’s artist-run, artist-driven and gives dance teachers a chance to explore what class can be.
Fave Dance Event: Movement Research Spring Festival. It’s an experimental dance and performance festival, and each year they tap a new group of dancers to create a concept and a curatorial model.
Fave Dance Company: Eagle Ager is made up of dancers, sculptors, musicians, video artists and performance artists. And Modern Garage Movement, a.k.a MGM Grand, designs dance pieces that can be adapted to any location and situation.
Unique NYC: The courageous and unrelenting creative spirit of the artists here is incredible. Many artists don’t rely on institutions for support; they have a hard-core, do-it-yourself attitude that’s so cool.
Moving Tips: Get familiar with the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. Like many young artists here, I don’t have health insurance, and the corporation has a system where you can register for financial aid, etc. It’s incredibly helpful because not having health insurance is scary! You can find out more at nyc.gov/hhc.
Mike Schulster, tapper and creator/choreographer of Revolution
Hometown: Ocean Side, NY
Years in NYC: 12
Fave NYC studio: It was Fazil’s on 8th Ave., but it lost its lease last year. Fred Astaire used to rehearse there. For more than 70 years, it was a home for tap dance.
Fave Dance Event: New York City Dance Alliance Nationals because it’s more than a week of amazing dancing. All the best in the industry are there. You never know who will perform.
Fave Dance Company: MOMIX. What they do with props and lights is amazing.
Hidden Gem: My sister just opened a restaurant called Joe Doe on 1st St. between First and Second Aves.
Advice: Do everything! Performing is one big, all-encompassing career where everyone you meet along the way could potentially hire you, help you or support you. You never know where that next job or opportunity might come from.
Anastasia Miller, agent with Clear Talent Group
Hometown: Waldorf, MD
Years in NYC: 2
Must-take Dance Class: I refer people to Jermaine Browne’s jazz/funk/hip-hop class because he’s always switching it up.
Must-attend Workshops: The PULSE and Monsters of Hip Hop, and I always check out Choreographer’s Carnival.
Fave Dance Company: Rhapsody: The Company or the crew Iconic with Geo.
Advice: Be well-rounded. In NYC, one style is not enough. Add singing or acting to your resumé. It’s so competitive here, and people will take jobs from you. Be ready to hustle.
GETTING AN AGENT: Everyone wants an agent the first day they move to the city, but be ready to be turned away the first few times. You have to grow and find your own unique flair. Don’t take rejection in a negative way. We love seeing people returning to auditions the next year because we can see how they’ve grown.
Luis Salgado, Latin assistant choreographer of In the Heights
Hometown: Vega Alta, Puerto Rico
Years in New York: 7
Fave Studio: Broadway Dance Center because it’s where I started making so many of my dreams come true. It’s where I met Andy Blankenbuehler!
Fave Dance Company: Ballet Hispanico.
Unique NYC: There is such humanity within the arts industry. Everyone here unites through art.
Hidden Gem: In the summer, Central Park always refreshes and inspires me. And I go to Meson Sevilla on 46th St. when I need to recharge.
Moving Tips: Know what you want to accomplish before you get here. A teacher once told me to stay focused and not let the city eat me up. So many people come to NYC with a dream, but they go out at night and then don’t have the money they need for classes.
Logistics: Get a monthly Metro Card instead of buying a new one each week.
Sierra Andersen, Knicks City Dancer
Hometown: Lincoln, NE
Years in NYC: 2
Fave Teacher: Joe Lanteri, owner and director of New York City Dance Alliance. He is inspirational, and he motivates you to step outside your box and explore all angles of movement.
Fave Dance Company: American Ballet Theatre.
Moving Tips: Keep an open mind. Give everything a try, whether it sparks your interest right away or not. Networking is important, so always be persistent and establish a good reputation for yourself in all places, no matter if things are going your way or not.
Tori Grempel, student, Ballet Academy East
Fave Studio: Ballet Academy East: Their focus is on technique and attention to detail. We have guest teachers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Unique NYC: It’s exciting to take class in a city that’s home to the Broadway theater district, as well as two of the most famous ballet companies in the world. Where else can you take class with professional ballerinas and hear them discuss their upcoming performances? To see them working at their craft, and then on stage, makes me feel like my own dreams are attainable.
MOG!: Once I was at Steps on Broadway, getting ready to take David Howard’s class. I walked in and plopped myself down at the barre. Then somebody tapped me and whispered, “I wouldn’t stand there if I were you.” It was NYCB principal Wendy Whelan’s spot!
Desmond Richardson, artistic director and co-founder, Complexions Dance Company
Hometown: Laurelton, Queens, NY
Fave Studio/Teacher: Wilhelm Burmann’s class at Steps on Broadway. He is focused, clear and challenging.
Unique NYC: NYC’s diverse community and be-all-you-can-be attitude sets this city apart.
Lisa Gajda, Broadway veteran
Hometown: Great Neck, Long Island, NY
Years in NYC: 16
Fave Studio/Teacher: Suzi Taylor’s jazz class at Steps on Broadway. Her warm-up is an hour long and thorough.
Unique NYC: As a dancer, there are nonstop opportunities.
Hidden Gem: Grey Dog coffee on Carmine Street.
Moving Tips: Live within your means so you can enjoy your life here. Throw yourself into your classes and don’t worry too much about results.
Logistics: Use legwork and Google Maps!
MOG!: The first time I walked into a stage door in NYC, when I was in The Who’s Tommy, was the quintessential dream come true.
Luam, hip-hop teacher, dancer and choreographer
Hometown: Eritrea, East Africa
Years in NYC: 10
Unique NYC: You can feel NYC’s soul. When I walk around, it’s like someone’s singing the song from Fame in my head. I’m always replenished because whatever I put into the city, it feeds right back to me.
Logistics: The crosstown buses usually drive as fast as you can walk. Unless you’re sightseeing or going to Broadway Dance Center, stay away from the Times Square crowds.
Fave Dance Event: I love the events thrown by and for the dance community, such as Sirens Assassins thrown by Rhapsody James, Choreographer’s Carnival and Brian Green’s House of Dance Conference. A young dancer visiting NYC should come to these events to feel the vibe and not just watch, but participate, too!
Mark Morris, artistic director, Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Years in NYC: 33
Fave Teacher: Marjorie Mussman for placement, musicality and directness. I studied with her as a teen, and she’s been teaching at Mark Morris Dance Group since the beginning.
Fave Dance Event: Celebrate Brooklyn! It’s a great festival of arts each summer at Prospect Park.
Hidden Gem: Grand Central Terminal: The ceiling, the Market, the Oyster Bar and Grande Harvest Wines.
Unique NYC: This is still the place to go to excel in your field, no matter how esoteric or unusual. If you’re good at what you do, you must check out NYC, whether you end up moving here or not.
Chita Rivera, triple-threat legend, star of the original Chicago and West Side Story
Hometown: Washington, DC
Years in NYC: 57
Fave Studio/Teacher: Anatole Oboukhoff at The School of American Ballet. He was frightening and passionate and was responsible for me having courage.
Fave Dance Company: New York City Ballet.
Unique NYC: I love the energy, the passion of the people, the different nationalities and the speed of the city. I remember getting a T-shirt that said “When you leave New York, you ain’t going nowhere.” NYC doesn’t lie. If you’re true to yourself, you will get into its rhythm.
Advice: Focus. NYC will give you the thick skin that you need in the business. This is the place with the greatest teachers and competitors. You have to really want to be a performer, but keep a sense of humor. Don’t let anybody change your mind.
John Jasperse, artistic director/choreographer, John Jasperse Company
Hometown: Rockville, MD
Years in NYC: 28
Fave Studio/Teacher: I’ve been hugely affected by the community of teachers that surround Movement Research. That faculty has made a lot of the creative work that’s been inspiring to me.
Fave Dance Event: The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival brought in a lot of the artists that affected my early life as a dancer in NYC.
Fave Dance Company: In NYC, artistic voices emerge within a community of younger people working. When I first came here, the most
powerful voice was Trisha Brown, who had a huge influence on my work. Today, I’m excited about artists like Beth Gill, Sarah Michelson and Miguel Gutierrez.
Moving Tips: The pragmatic part of living in NYC—finding an apartment, making ends meet—is challenging, so keep reminding yourself that you’re doing this for a reason, and find ways to remain connected to your initial ambition. Be willing to abandon your preconceived ideas about what your
city experience will be like.
MOG!: Last year I wanted to create a show, Misuse liable to prosecution, without spending any money. I decided to make a set out of a ton of plastic bottles and I had to go dig the bottles out of the garbage. One night, I was out looking through the trash, and I ended up next to a homeless person who was there for a much more pressing need. We got into a conversation, and he told me about another, better pile of junk a few blocks away! It was a great New York moment.
Photo: Josh Lehrer
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.