Alyson Stoner Talks YouTube Collabs and Advice for Young Dancers
The world first got to know Alyson Stoner as the tiny b-girl in Missy Elliott's "Work It" video. But, as she says, "A lot's happened since then." Now 24, the dancer, choreographer and director has matured as both an artist and a person. She has a resumé that includes roles in the films Camp Rock, Step Up, and Step Up 3D, and she also releases a new video on her YouTube channel every Thursday—a series for which she recently won a Streamy Award. We caught up with Stoner to talk about her creative process, how she balances her hectic schedule, and her advice for young dancers.
How did you realize you were interested in choreographing and directing?
It was almost out of necessity. I didn't have the funds to hire experts in the field, but I had these big ideas I needed to communicate. I started asking myself, "How badly do you want it? How badly do you need to get your message and your art out there?" As you come to find out, no one cares about your vision as much as you do. I find it a privilege to have a digital platform so I can communicate ideas directly rather than through a third party.
What inspires you?
First, I want every video I make to force me outside of my comfort zone. For example, when I wanted a voguing element in the video I made with Kaycee Rice, I brought in amazing voguer Dolores Parisi from the House of Ninja. I've trained in vogue, but I'm certainly not an expert, and you can tell when you watch the video. I'm also inspired by what's happening in culture and society. The House of Ninja is a surrogate family for many gay and transgender people, for example, and I found that incredibly inspiring. I want my videos to be driven by the ideals of equality and social justice.
What are you working on right now?
I'm spending the remaining months of this year writing a music album, and that's a top priority for me. I've released several EPs before, but as I've evolved as an artist, I've become excited about breaking the mold I've been put in and creating my own type of music. I know that fame isn't what matters—it's ultimately meaningless. What keeps me engaged is work that has purpose.
Well, it's important, but it's hard. Talking to people who are supportive means I can't turn a blind eye to those who aren't. It's how I understand where they're coming from and what they need as people. I want to be a connector, not a star. Talking to people on Instagram is hopefully a stepping stone towards creating a group of people who care about a cause.
You have a lot going on. How do you balance it all?
I barely do! At any given time I have about 13–15 projects going on, and it's been that way since I was a child. I have two mentors who I speak with weekly, and those conversations are my reset buttons. When I'm stuck on something, they can say, "Hey, here's the bigger picture." I'm also trying to be more disciplined about self-care. I'm figuring out how I can work smarter and not just harder, because I can't reach my goals without knowing my priorities.
What keeps you sane?
Meditating and writing, even if it's just for five minutes a day. I also recently switched to a plant-based diet, and I've found that to be so beneficial. And I have to prioritize exercise. I'm the worst with that. They're basic things, but if I don't have that foundation, I can't survive.
What's your advice for young dancers?
Ask yourself what, specifically, you're trying to say when you move. You can always do other people's choreography, and we should always train in styles outside of our wheelhouse, but if you want a sense of autonomy—to be an artist and not just a responder—think about what your own dance mission statement is. That's what sets you apart as a performer and a storyteller.
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!
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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.
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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.