That Pivotal Moment

Some professional dancers can pinpoint the exact second they were inspired to pursue a career in dance. Others feel they’ve known all along. We asked nine pros to share when they decided to devote their lives to dance.

(Photo by Marty Sohl)

Whiteside in Don Quixote (photo by Marty Sohl)

 

James Whiteside
Principal, American Ballet Theatre
“When I was 12, I fell in love with old Broadway films, like Funny Girl and West Side Story. At that point, I knew I wanted to be on Broadway. I didn’t know how, or when, or why—I just knew I was going to have to work like crazy to get there. So I came up with my grand scheme: I would start in ballet, then move to Broadway—and then take over the world!”

 

 

(Photo by Mathieu Young/FOX)

(Photo by Mathieu Young/FOX)

 

 

Alexis Juliano
“So You Think You Can Dance” Season 10 contestant
“I started dancing when I was 2, and by the time I was 11 or 12, I just couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I would watch the movie Tap, and get inspired by Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Hines and Savion Glover to take my tapping all the way to the top.”

 

 

Cunliffe (left) in Pippin (photo by Joan Marcus)

Cunliffe (left) in Pippin (photo by Joan Marcus)

 

 

Colin Cunliffe
Dancer in Pippin on Broadway
“I had two main moments that made me realize I wanted to be a dancer. First, when I was 6, I saw my brother performing in a local theater troupe in Denver, CO. While watching him sing and dance onstage, I had this crystal-clear idea of what I wanted to do—I wanted to move to NYC and be on Broadway. Then, when I saw Bob Fosse’s ‘Rich Man’s Frug,’ I knew I wanted to be a Fosse dancer.”

 

(Photo by Nika Shneyder)

(Photo by Nika Shneyder)

 

Riquel Olander
“America’s Best Dance Crew” alum, member of We Are Heroes crew
“I grew up studying at a dance studio in Idaho where there were no hip-hop classes. It wasn’t until I visited my sister in L.A. at 16 that I experienced popping, waving and all different kinds of hip hop. That trip was my great awakening.”

 

 

 

(Photo by Christopher Duggan)

(Photo by Christopher Duggan)

Camille A. Brown
Artistic director and choreographer of Camille A. Brown & Dancers
“In school, they used to tell us about becoming a lawyer or a doctor, but they never mentioned becoming a dancer. It wasn’t until I began taking classes at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and The Ailey School that I realized dance could be a profession. Being around the older dance students and witnessing their excitement as they prepared for performances made me think, ‘Wow, it must be fun to travel the world doing what you love.’ But there were still obstacles for me. Because I wasn’t considered to have the ‘ideal body’ for dance, I wouldn’t get picked for pieces. Eventually, I realized that if I developed myself as a choreographer, I wouldn’t have to wait for others to tell me when I could perform.”

Hyltin in George Balanchine's Mozartiana (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Hyltin in George Balanchine’s Mozartiana (photo by Paul Kolnik)

 

Sterling Hyltin
Principal, New York City Ballet
“I was always a tomboy, so when I initially started dancing, I didn’t like it very much. When I was 12, my dance teacher told me to go to a School of American Ballet summer course audition, so I went. When I got to the audition, I was so overcome by nerves that I could barely pick up the combinations. That’s when I realized I cared about dance more than I thought. And when I got into the program the following year and saw NYCB perform at Saratoga Springs, I knew I wanted to dance with the company one day.”

(Photo by Matthew Murphy)

(Photo by Matthew Murphy)

 

 

Danny Wallace
Executive director of 24 Seven Dance Convention
“My parents owned VHS tapes of Singin’ in the Rain and A Chorus Line, and I used to watch them every day after school. When I was 6 or 7, I told my mom, ‘Hey, I want to dance!’ At that age, I didn’t even know dance was a way people made money. But I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

 

Lawrence in The Sleeping Beauty (photo by Ryan Galbrath)

Lawrence in The Sleeping Beauty (photo by Ryan Galbrath)

 

 

Katherine Lawrence
Principal, Ballet West
“I never had a moment when I said, ‘I’m going to be a dancer.’ I just always knew it. My mom put me in creative movement classes when I was 4, because I was already dancing around the house. In high school, I told her, ‘If I’m going to do this seriously, I need to move to a professional school where I can get better training.’ That’s when I switched to the HARID Conservatory.”

 

 

Nugent with Talli Jackson in Bill T. Jones' Ravel (photo by Paul B. Goode)

Nugent with Talli Jackson in Bill T. Jones’ Ravel (photo by Paul B. Goode)

 

Jennifer Nugent
Former dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
“When I was 14, I wanted to be a commercial jazz dancer because I grew up in that world. My dance friends and I would spend hours learning all the dances from Flashdance and Saturday Night Fever and then choreographing new versions. So I danced professionally in the entertainment industry until I was about 21. Then I saw something that changed my course: After watching a performance by the modern group Houlihan and Dancers, I found myself very worked up. I realized that through modern and improvisation, I could achieve a deeper connection with dance. From that point on, I was fully committed to becoming a modern dancer.”

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