Aran Bell performing Don Quixote at Youth America Grand Prix. Photo by Nina Alovert, courtesy YAGP.
It’s not just that Aran Bell can nail a picture-perfect quintuple pirouette, with a sustained relevé to finish. Or that the 13-year-old can whip out split jumps effortlessly at the end of an exhausting variation. Despite his small stature (5’ 2’’), Aran shines with an impossibly huge presence. He has you hooked from the moment he appears onstage, where he looks completely at home. And, OK—he’s totally adorable.
At age 3, Aran (pronounced AR-an) hounded his mom for a year to let him take ballet like his older sister. After his dad, a Navy doctor, was posted to Washington, D.C., Aran commuted two hours each way to Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet for two years. When his dad was transferred to Naples, Italy, three years ago, Aran began training under the tough Denys Ganio at Maison de La Danse in Rome, a two-hour drive from Naples.
Naturally very shy, Aran credits Ganio with pushing him to develop his stage presence. “At the beginning, the most I did was smile. Maybe,” he adds, with a grin.
Now a seasoned performer, Aran loves the thrill of competing—and he has wowed audiences all over the world, including spectators at the 2011 Youth America Grand Prix finals in NYC, where he won the overall prize in the Junior Division. After touring with YAGP for two weeks, he received coaching on his Basilio Act III variation from one of the best Basilios ever: former American Ballet Theatre principal Jose Manuel Carreño.
Carreño singled out Aran for his natural talent and singular focus and invited him to attend the Carreño Dance Festival summer intensive in Sarasota, FL, last August, for more coaching. “It’s so awesome,” says Aran, visibly humbled when talking about working with his idol. “He’s really, really good at teaching, especially Don Quixote. He knows everything.”
In addition to performing at competitions and galas across Europe, Aran may choose to attend a different school next year. He has standing offers from Paris Opéra Ballet School, The Royal Ballet School, Stuttgart Ballet School and ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School—all affiliated with companies that he says he would love to join someday. And his dream ballet? Now that he has the Basilio variation down, he wants to tackle the rest of Don Q.
Aran at the Carreño Dance Festival. Photo by Bill Wagy, courtesy Carreño Dance Festival.
Birthday: October 7, 1998
Most-played song on his iPod: Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”
Hidden obsession: His huge collection of Nerf guns. “When I’m done dancing, I’ll probably either design Nerf guns or fix them.”
Favorite movie: Rambo
Still gets starstruck when: Taking class with his other idols—ABT’s Ethan Stiefel and the Bolshoi’s Ivan Vasiliev (a fellow lefty who Aran beat in a pirouette competition backstage
Craziest prize: 7,000 euro (about $9,500) for winning a competition in Milan that he received special permission to enter (it was supposed to be for 16- to 25-year-olds)
Unwinds on the weekends by: Playing soccer, riding his bike, taking trips
Movie star moment: Aran is one of the six students profiled in the new Youth America Grand Prix documentary, First Position.
What a week in the "Dancing with the Stars" universe, amirite? After we bid farewell to Drew Scott and Emma Slater on Monday (in a surprise to pretty much nobody, despite the duo's strong performance in a super-fun freestyle that evening), it was time, last night, for Season 25's Grand Finale. And goodness, I don't know if we've ever seen quite so many perfect scores thrown around the ballroom. The final three—Frankie Muniz and Witney Carson, Jordan Fisher and Lindsay Arnold, and Lindsey Stirling and Mark Ballas—performed a total of six routines on Tuesday, and five of them earned straight 10s. Yes, those scores were well-deserved; the finalists danced their bedazzled behinds off. But it also felt like the judges were channeling Oprah. YOU get a 10, and YOU get a 10, and YOUUUU get a 10!
Turkey is great and all, but the best part of Thanksgiving? It's watching some truly fantastic dancing on television, courtesy the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. On Thursday, when your arms are sore from mashing potatoes and/or you need to escape crazy Aunt Linda, head to the living room to catch these super-dancey parade highlights:
Taja Riley's bold, full-out presence and unique ability to mix hard-hitting hip hop with smooth, sensual choreography paved the way for her success in the commercial industry. She's danced with music icons like Chris Brown, Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Pitbull, and Bruno Mars, and has assisted with choreography for Britney Spears' Femme Fatale tour, Demi Lovato's Skyscraper tour, and Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter tour. She also appeared in Beyoncé's groundbreaking visual album Lemonade. Raised in Virginia Beach, VA, Riley grew up training at Denise Wall's Dance Energy. Currently, she's on faculty at New York City Dance Alliance, where you can catch her touring the convention circuit. —Courtney Bowers
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?
Last week, we highlighted the deliberately, hysterically bad @biscuitballerina Instagram account, created by a then-mysterious dancer with a great sense of humor. This week, the artist behind @biscuitballerina—who turns out to be Royal Ballet of Flanders corps member Shelby Williams—got in touch with us to set the record straight about the intentions of those LOL-worthy posts.
Her photos and videos, with their exaggeratedly cringe-worthy technical flaws, are NOT meant to mock amateur dancers. Instead, Williams is actually hoping the account will help all dancers move past their shortcomings and accept themselves and their dancing.
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.