“My mother used to say I could dance before I walked,” giggles Jessica. “And since then I’ve decided to live by her motto: You can live your life day-to-day not trying or caring and end up insignificant. Or, you can strive for success and leave your mark upon the world.”
With this encouragement, Jessica began her journey as a ballet dancer at a local studio. Soon after, she moved on to the Junior Australian Ballet for more serious study. Her passion remained ballet until a ballroom studio opened near her home when she was 9. With this simple change, Jessica’s life shifted.
“I always loved ballet, but I also didn’t know anything else,” she says. “I was curious about the new studio. I took my first ballroom class with ballet shoes on!”
But even in slippers, Jessica was hooked. Fortunately, the ballroom world loved her right back. “I found that I caught people’s eye dancing ballroom more, even from a young age,” says Jessica. “It felt freer to me. I was quite cheeky and ballroom had so much diversity that I never got bored.”
So, she began competing regularly with a partner. While on the circuit, Burn the Floor choreographer Jason Gilkison noticed her. Once a year she took a private lesson with him and eventually her hard work enticed Gilkison to offer her a company contract when she was 16. But she still needed to finish high school. Right after graduation she joined the group and became a professional dancer at 17.
Jessica thinks she was hired at such a young age because of her holistic approach to performance. “Some dancers put on a character, but everything I do is real,” she says. “I give my heart and soul every time I’m on the dance floor because you never know when it can all end.”
This genuine nature was highlighted most recently in the Burn the Floor production, FloorPlay. During one number, Jessica danced completely blindfolded, emphasizing her daring spirit. She says that her technique improved dramatically and helped intensify the connection with her partner. But more importantly, she was so touched by her experience that when she returned home she contacted Vision Australia and began teaching dance to blind people all over the country.
“When I dance without sight, I am absolutely free and now I love it!” she says. “I realized that blind people should be given the opportunity to dance, too. Plus, they are so susceptible to touch and used to being led, so they really relate to it! It brings me joy to see their smiles.”
Jessica hopes to expand her philanthropy through Blindfold, an organization she started with producer Harley Medcalf. But for now, she is also thrilled to continue dancing with the company, enjoying every moment along the way.
“I joined the show as a young girl and I was definitely not in the front row,” she says. “It’s taken me seven years to be where I am now, and every night I perform I know it’s my dream come true. I appreciate every second on that stage!”
- Favorite musicians: Bob Marley, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper
- Favorite book: Courage by Osho
- Must-see TV: “Sex and the City” and “Family Guy”
- Fave movies: Coming to America, Son-in-Law and Sex and the City
- People describe you as: Loyal, affectionate and passionate
- Favorite ballet: Swan Lake
Rodric J. Bradford is a Phoenix-based arts, business and sports writer.
Photo: Courtesy of Burn the Floor
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
Remember that fabulous old-school clip of dancers tapping in pointe shoes that Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo brought to our attention back in March? As we mentioned then, toe-tap dancing was actually super popular back in the 1920s and 30s—which means there are more videos where that one came from. And because #ToeTapTuesday has a nice ring to it, we thought we'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Dick and Edith Barstow, a toe-tapping brother and sister duo from that era who are nothing short of incredible:
Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.