Best friends April Giangeruso, Courtney Lavine and Katie Williams go way back—so far back, in fact, it’s a surprise they didn’t become close until they were all dancing together in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre.
Their paths crossed repeatedly before ABT. All three grew up in the Washington, D.C., area—Courtney in Fairfax, VA, April in Ellicott City, MD, and Katie in Woodstock, MD—and they ran into each other occasionally on the competition circuit. (“We stood out at competitions: We were the tall, lanky girls with big feet!” April jokes.) Courtney and Katie went on to be suite mates at a School of American Ballet summer program when they were both 12, in 2001. Later, all three girls were high school students at NYC’s Professional Children’s School.
But it’s ABT that has turned these casual dance acquaintances into BFFs—and their friendship just keeps getting stronger.
Getting to ABT
Things started to fall into place when April and Courtney joined ABT II a month apart—April in December 2007, and Courtney in January 2008. They quickly began to bond.
Meanwhile, Katie had been promoted to the main company and was adjusting to the shift from the small company and competitive atmosphere of ABT II to being one of a multitude of dancers at ABT. “When I joined the company, most of the dancers were a lot older than me,” she says. “It’s a different vibe working with dancers who are your peers but aren’t at the same point in their lives.” So when Courtney and April were promoted into ABT in early 2010, Katie naturally gravitated toward them.
For April and Courtney, having a friend in Katie meant having someone who knew the ropes to guide them through the transition. “When I joined ABT, it was so daunting,” April says. “I felt like I didn’t know anything. But Katie was there to say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.’ ” The girls got through their adjustment period by watching performance videos together to help each other learn choreography quickly. Katie pitched in when April and Courtney were learning ballets she’d already danced.
Katie also shared the lessons she’d learned since becoming a corps member. “I told them to stand back and watch—a lot of joining the company is figuring out what’s going on,” she says. “You have so much time when you’re in the background instead of in the thick of things, but you can’t let it get you down. It won’t always be like that.”
Friends Onstage and Off
April, Courtney and Katie took the stage together regularly during ABT’s 2010 spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC. Among their favorite memories from that season are dancing “Kingdom of the Shades” from La Bayadère—“That one’s a total community effort. Everyone’s in it together,” Katie says—and Act II of Swan Lake.
“Katie really helped me get through Swan Lake,” Courtney says. “Standing on the sides is hard on your feet! But Katie knew what was coming. She stood in front of me and hummed to remind me to breathe, so I’d forget about the pain.”
On tour, the three are each other’s extended family. “It can get lonely on the road,” Courtney says. “It’s nice to have someone to call for dinner.”
But their time together doesn’t only revolve around ballet. “We hang out with non-dancers,” April says. “We’re in dance mode from 10 am until 7 pm every day. It’s good to have a life outside of the studio.”
Though they aren’t roommates, the three girls spend a lot of time at each other’s apartments. They watch movies. They go shopping. They watch—and argue about—sports. Last summer, they all spent a week in Ocean City, MD, and they’re planning to visit Hawaii this year.
Support, Trust—and Fun
Though the girls are close, their dancing styles and tastes are very different. April has a fondness for adagio and turns, while Courtney loves grand allégro. Despite their differences, Katie points out that, “having similar body types and heights lends itself to our sharing some roles.”
You might think that vying for the same spots onstage would lead to a friendly rivalry, but that’s not the case.
“We’re nothing but supportive,” April says. “Ballet can get in your head, so it’s nice to know that people have your back. We’re completely honest with each other.” That policy covers everything from telling each other when a leotard is unflattering to offering advice about personal issues. “We have an underlying trust,” April says. “If we talk to each other, it’s only between us.”
That trust is the cornerstone of what takes April, Courtney and Katie from being colleagues who hang out together to being true best friends. They have fun together, both at work and in their free time, but they also genuinely care about each other, and each girl wants her friends to succeed. All of that support, plus top-notch technique and stunning stage presence? Sounds like a recipe for long careers spent dancing side by side.
On Common Ground
Ballet isn’t the only thing Katie, April and Courtney have in common. They also…
…are all Aries: Courtney’s birthday is March 22, April’s is April 12 and Katie’s is April 14.
…love sports: Courtney roots for the Washington Redskins, while Katie and April are die-hard Baltimore Ravens fans. Now that they’re New Yorkers, the girls enjoy Yankees games, too.
…have Maltese dogs: Courtney’s dog Oopsie lives with her in NYC, while April’s dog Pebbles and Katie’s dog Mo live with their respective parents.
What You Should Know About Katie
Training: Ballet Royale Institute of Maryland in Columbia, MD, and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT. Joined ABT II in December 2006, and ABT in December 2007.
As a Dancer: “Katie has the most amazing petit allégro,” April says. “I admire that, because it’s one of the harder things for me. She has such a natural spring—it looks like she’s on a trampoline!”
Outside the Studio: “Katie’s a math whiz!” April says. Courtney adds, “She really is a genius. She even brought her Kindle to the beach.”
What You Should Know About April
Training: The Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C., and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT. Joined ABT II in December 2007, and ABT in January 2010.
As a Dancer: “I enjoy April’s freedom onstage,” Courtney says. “She’s very honest with the audience, very real. It doesn’t look at all forced when she’s dancing, and that’s beautiful to watch.”
Outside the Studio: “April is only 19, but has 50 years of life experience!” Katie says. “I’ve always thought of her as much more mature than her age.”
April was the first winner of the Dance Spirit Cover Model Search contest! She appeared on the cover of the October 2006 issue.
What You Should Know About Courtney
Training: Washington School of Ballet in Washington, D.C., and the School of American Ballet in NYC. Joined ABT II in January 2008, and ABT in February 2010.
As a Dancer: “I love the way that Courtney uses her feet,” Katie says. “She has a really good wing that I’m jealous of, because I’m a sickler! Her feet are so articulate—maybe it’s her Balanchine training.”
Outside the Studio: “Courtney’s so outgoing,” April says. “She’s brought both me and Katie out of our shells. She has a nothing-to-lose personality.” Now that you’ve met April, Courtney and Katie, turn the page to meet 10 more dance best friends.
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.
Lani Dickinson's power, grace, and raw presence make her a standout with AXIS Dance Company, whose mission is to change the face of dance and disability by featuring a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers. Born in China, Dickinson was adopted by an American couple and started dancing at 8 in Towson, MD. She attended the Boston Ballet School for two summers, studied at the Idyllwild Arts Academy for the last two years of high school, and graduated with a dance degree from Alonzo King LINES Ballet's BFA program with Dominican University of California. In 2015, she joined AXIS and won a Princess Grace Award. Catch her this month during AXIS Dance Company's 30th-anniversary season—and read on for The Dirt!
Week five of "Dancing with the Stars" proved to be one of the best weeks of the season so far. (And we're not just saying that because Mickey made a cameo debut on the piano during one of the routines—although that certainly didn't hurt!) Everyone brought their A-game, and with such a fun theme the contestants were able to really let their guards down. There was true sincerity in their dancing that we hadn't seen before. But not all Disney stories end with a "happily ever after," and one couple still had to hang up their dancing shoes.
If there's one week you should watch all the routines of it's undoubtedly this one... But, ICYMI, scroll below for our highlights of the night.
Almost a month out, Puerto Rico continues to suffer the devastating aftereffects of Hurricane Maria. Many of the island's residents still lack power, clean water, and safe housing. Ballet classes? For Puerto Rican dance students, they must feel like an impossible luxury.
But a dance studio in Florida is working to allow a group of young Puerto Ricans to continue their training. And it needs your help.
Yes, I am a dancer, and yes, I am fat.
There's nothing quite as soul-crushing as the reactions I've received when I've told people I dance. They can range from disbelief to confusion to shock. To many people, it's somehow incomprehensible that a plus-size person like myself could grace a stage. While the body-positive movement has been trucking along at full force over the past few years, it hasn't made much progress in the dance community yet. In fact, the words "body positivity" and "dance" are almost never used together in the same sentence.
Despite that fact, dance is what helped me learn to love my larger frame. In honor of National Body Confidence Day, I wanted to talk about my first time in a studio, and about the tremendous progress I've made since.