A High School Dance Diary
Amanda (second from right) and the original cast of "Good Intentions" performing at a 2009 Eurythmic Dance Company concert. Photo by Anna Caccitolo.
As many aspiring dancers know, juggling school and dance can be a challenge. But for 17-year-old Amanda Winkler, the two worlds were one. Amanda, who graduated this spring, was a member of the Lyons Township High School’s Eurythmic Dance Company (EDC) in LaGrange, IL. After the final bell rings, this group of dancers doesn’t head for the studio—they stay at school, where they take dance classes and rehearse for their annual year-end show. The company also gives students the opportunity to choreograph their own work; Amanda began creating pieces for EDC her sophomore year (she was named the company’s Outstanding Choreographer twice!).
This spring, one of Amanda’s pieces was chosen to be part of the student choreography showcase at the National High School Dance Festival (NHSDF) in Miami, FL. The festival took place over four days in March, and more than 1,500 students from 100-plus high schools took dance classes together, auditioned for scholarships and performed in various concerts. Amanda documented the experience for Dance Spirit. —Katie Rolnick
Sunday, March 14
I’m leaving for the National High School Dance Festival in three days, and even though it will be my second time, I still don’t think it’s hit me. In addition to taking classes and performing a piece by guest choreographer Joseph Holmes, three other EDC members and I will be performing a contemporary dance I choreographed called Good Intentions. The piece is set to a Vitamin String Quartet instrumental version of the song “Misery Business.” The dance is about relationships between girls—how we’re so desperate to be a part of a group that we stay close to people who hurt us.
Tonight I’m staying up late working on choreography for tomorrow’s rehearsal, and I have a ton of schoolwork to get done before we leave.
Wednesday, March 17
Happy St. Patrick’s Day—and wow, what a day it has been! After fourth period, we took a bus to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. On the ride there, I found a little blue box and a card from my mom in my carry-on (a preshow tradition she began my freshman year). Inside the box was a beautiful crystal shamrock necklace; the note wished me luck and told me how proud she is of me. I couldn’t help but tear up. Love you, Mom!
We landed in Miami, and on the ride to our hotel, the back door of the shuttle bus flew open! We didn’t see any bags fall out during the debacle, but once we arrived at the hotel, we realized that our assistant director, Ms. Caccitolo, was missing her suitcase. Along with the cash budget from our school, we lost part of our costumes for Holmes’s piece. I hope we can figure out our costume situation by the time we perform on Friday!
Thursday, March 18
We woke up this morning to clear blue skies and the beautiful Miami sun. After checking in at the New World School of the Arts, we spent the morning trying to find replacements for the missing costume pieces. We had been to three fabric stores when we got a call: Someone found the suitcase! Now we could enjoy the festival knowing our stuff was on its way.
Friday, March 19
We woke up early for Robert Solomon’s 8 am modern class, and right after class I met up with the rest of EDC to get ready to perform Holmes’s piece at the 11 am informal concert. I was nervous before we went on, but we nailed it!
Afterward, we didn’t have time to relax because we were off to our next class: jazz with Ric Rose. I wish I could’ve stayed for the entire class, but the Good Intentions cast had to leave early to go to tech rehearsal for the student choreography showcase.
Tech went well, and before the show we returned to our dressing room, where we met some dancers from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. We had a blast hanging out and poking fun at each other’s accents.
Then it was show time. Waiting in the wings, I had a feeling that I’d never experienced before. My stomach was flipping over a million times per minute, and I had a goofy smile on my face. I looked at the other EDC dancers, three of my best friends, and said everything that I needed to say to them at that moment: “Thank you.”
As we performed, I could only see some of the theater’s 1,500 seats because of the glare of the stage lights. But judging by the crowd’s roar when our music ended, I imagined an infinite number of rows extending beyond the balcony. As I came forward to take my own bow as the choreographer, I felt invincible.
Tonight, at the end of the festival’s gala concert, they announced the winner of the Outstanding Choreographer Award. I didn’t win, but that’s OK. Performing on that stage was the experience of a lifetime, and the love from my friends and family was all I needed. When we got back to the hotel, it was past 1 am. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I plopped down on my bed.
Saturday, March 20
I woke up at 6:30 am and felt like a zombie. But with our performances behind us, today was all about having fun! I took modern class with Paul Win, Afro-modern with Dewarne Long and jazz with Elijah Alhadji Gibson, which was an awesome blend of jazz, modern and hip hop. By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted.
Sunday March 21
Flip flops seemed like a good idea this morning in Miami, but when we landed in Chicago, we were greeted with snow. Welcome back to the Midwest!
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!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
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.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.