Liza & Julie & Misha, Oh My: The “Bright Lights, Shining Stars” Gala

A slightly ghost-like photo of Joe Lanteri, Rachel Zar (far right) and me. Someone get me into the sunshine, quick!

Last night I attended the second annual Bright Lights, Shining Stars gala benefiting the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation. We were told the event would be star-studded—and it sure was.

While DS managing editor Rachel Zar was positively giddy about standing in the lobby next to a Real Housewife (Ramona Singer), I was more excited to see some familiar faces in the crowd, like former Cover Model Search winner (and one of my favorite dancers of all-time) Ida Saki, Joey Dowling, Andy Blankenbuehler and Jakob Karr.

As always, I do my best thinking in list form, so here are 5 Reasons Bright Lights, Shining Stars Was a Hit:

1. It helped kids go to college. Since its inception just two years ago, the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation has awarded more than $5 million in college scholarships to more than 100 dancers. This is huge. Many dancers aren’t sure if they want to go to college (do it!), and some aren’t in a financial position to attend. NYCDAF helps with that, and it’s so incredible to watch executive director Joe Lanteri bring a talented young dancer onstage and tell her she’s getting a full ride into the life of higher education (hello, Montana Michniak). Lives change, and we get to watch it happen. It’s awesome. (You heard me when I said go to college, right? Great.) It’s especially fun for us because our sister publication, Dance Magazine, is one of the foundation’s gold sponsors!

I only teared up once last night, and it was when Utah comp kid Mattie Love spoke to the audience, thanking everyone for coming and for helping her get to college. Thanks to the foundation, she just took her first class as a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College. Too cool. And congratulations, Mattie! We hope you have a rockin’ first year.

2. It was like Dance Spirit‘s competition issue come to life! Logan Epstein! Noelle Meers! Alexia Meyer! Alyssa Ness! Hannah Seiden! Teeny tiny Kayla Mak! All the cool kids you read about after Nationals each year were onstage performing as NYCDAF scholarship recipients. They danced choreography by Andy Pellick and you could tell they were loving every minute of the stress-free performance. No judges! No scores! No pressure.

3. Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Natalia Alonso, will you be my best friend? The two pieces by Complexions—Testament and On Holiday—were so stunning and were definitely my favorites of the evening.

4. Julie Kent! Julie Kent is the epitome of a prima ballerina. She’s lithe and lovely and sweet spoken in a way that makes me hold my breath a little while she’s talking. The American Ballet Theatre principal delivered a wonderful speech about honoree Mikhail Baryshnikov, talking about how he hand-picked her to be in the film Dancers and, ultimately, to join ABT. I especially loved one quote that she shared with the crowd from Mr. Baryshnikov himself: “It’s not what you did, but how you did it.” Kind of makes you want to go do something really full-out doesn’t it?

5. Misha and Liza. It’s hard to imagine a cooler duo, isn’t it? The standing ovation when these two got onstage lasted longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage (sorry, had to go there). So Mikhail Baryshnikov (affectionately known in the dance world as simply “Misha”) was awarded NYCDAF’s Ambassador of the Arts award, and Liza Minnelli got to hand it over to him. She was so sweet talking up her friend, and she referred to Misha as “my honey,” which just about made me melt. She called him “the greatest ballet dancer the world has ever known.” Misha, upon receiving the award, was humble and without a speech. He did, however, imply that he would like his next honor to be Czar of the Arts. We’re on board.

All in all it was a fun, heartwarming night at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Arts. Congratulations, Mikhail Baryshnikov, on your fancy new title and thank you for the endless inspiration.

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