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.
P!nk, known for her high-flying, acrobatic awards show sets, has literally raised the bar for pop stars everywhere. For her performance at last night's American Music Awards, P!nk decided to break out some flips and tricks ON THE SIDE OF A BUILDING. WHILE FLAWLESSLY SINGING HER FACE OFF. You know, just casually, like you do when you're a full-on goddess.
When you think of a dancer, a double leg amputee may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But Eric Graise, who's one of the stars of the upcoming "Step Up: High Water" YouTube Red series, hopes to change that. Graise, whose legs were amputated as a child due to missing fibula bones, will play a character named King in the new dance series, set to debut early next year.
We all suffer from Nutcracker fatigue sometimes. After a zillion performances, it's hard not to. But there's nothing to restore your little-kid sense of Nutcracker wonder like a look at the sheer scale of a world-class Nut.
New York City Ballet's iconic production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker opens on Friday, and for the past week, the company has been Tweeting out some seriously eye-popping #NutcrackerNumbers. The stats cover everything from the number of jingle bells used on each Candy Cane costume (that'd be 144) to the watts of light used in the show's grand finale (ONE. MILLION. WATTS.).
One of the most beautiful things social media has brought us is the ability to feel like we're up close and personal behind-the-scenes with all our favorite dancers. And one of our favorite stars to Insta-stalk are actually two casts of 36 scintillatingly synchronized precision dancers. I'm talking, of course, about my mild obsession with the legendary Radio City Rockettes.
Consistent turns are a must for aspiring professional dancers, but pretty much everyone struggles with pirouettes at some point. Luckily, since we're all beholden to the same rules of physics, there are concrete steps every dancer can take to reach his or her top turning potential. “Three is the new two when it comes to pirouettes, but the secret to turning is technique, not magic," says Bojan Spassoff, president and director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.
Falling out of your doubles? Aspiring to go revolution for revolution with your class's star turner? No matter where you lie on the turning spectrum, our 360-degree guide to pirouettes will help you improve.
You rehearse your group routine to perfection, but when the big performance rolls around, everyone turns into speed demons. It's the runaway-train effect—and it only takes one loud tapper, or zippy turner, to throw the whole group off the music.
While nerves and excitement are partly to blame, the ability to keep to tempo begins in the studio. A well-developed sense of musicality is your best defense against the dreaded speed trap. "When you understand how the steps fit with the music, going too fast won't just feel like rushing," says Jeremy Arnold, lecturer of tap at the University of Texas at Austin. "It'll feel wrong." How can dancers develop that musicality? It all starts with learning to listen.
Have we mentioned lately how much we love dance dads? Especially ones who show up to their daughter's ballet class sporting a tutu, like Thanh Tran.
You've seen it a million times: A glamorous, toned dancer posts a perfectly styled shot of her colorful smoothie bowl. The caption gushes about how great you'll feel if you eat "clean"—but what does that actually mean? DS asked registered dietitian/nutritionist Rachel Fine and holistic health coach (and founder of The Whole Dancer) Jess Spinner for all of the dirt.
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org a chance to be featured!
I'm being bullied by one of the girls at my studio, and it's awful. I've talked to my dance teacher and confronted the bully directly, but it hasn't made a difference. What should I do?
Bunheads, this one's for you. They say you can tell a Nutcracker by its "Snow" scene—and we fully believe it. There are so many versions with extra goodies—olive branches! Fake snow! Sleds! Choirs! Snow queens!—and each brings a special something to the holiday favorite. But do you know which ballet has what?