Choreographer's Collage: Karole Armitage

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In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.com for a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,
I have super-archy feet, which is great—sometimes. But they're hard to control because they're so flexible. How can I make them stronger and easier to work with? I have a hard time even standing properly in pointe shoes.
Natalia


Dear Natalia,
While I'm sure many of your fellow dancers envy you, having beautiful feet can be tough! The first thing to do is to make sure you have the right pointe shoe. You need a good, strong shank to support that arch, but not a rock-hard shoe that'll keep your feet from getting stronger. Go to your local dance store and try everything. Having the right shoe can do wonders!

Establish a daily Thera-Band routine. Your super-flexible feet will need a really high-resistance band—I'd suggest either a black, gray or blue band. Do lots of simple push-through-the-feet exercises to build stability in your ankles and metatarsals.

Once you're in your pointe shoes, add extra relevés, élevés and balances to your pre-class warm-up to improve your strength. Even doing simple tendu and dégagé exercises in your pointe shoes, focusing on pushing through your metatarsals, will help your feet and ankles learn to stabilize the rest of your body. It's all about repetition and time!


Using a Thera-Band every day is super important.Photo by Nathan Sayers


Dear Katie,
I've loved dance for as long as I can remember, and I want to pursue it professionally. But lately, I haven't felt
the same joy when I dance. I'm always sad at the studio, and I'm not even sure why. I miss the old me. What should I do?
Saleen

Dear Saleen,
Many dancers go through a "burnout" period, either in their training or once they become professionals. Think back to why you started dancing in the first place. Was it the music? The freedom of the movement? Reconnecting with those initial feelings can help you find your joy again.

We dancers also tend to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection, and that can mess with your head. Scary as it sounds, try taking a few days, or even a week, away from dance. (Pick a time when not a lot is going on at the studio, so you won't be missing any performances or other important opportunities.) Odds are, just putting a little space—mentally and physically—between you and the dance world for a while will allow you to come back to class newly energized and excited.
However, if that time away leads you to realize that you no longer want to dance, that's OK too! It doesn't make you a failure. It just means your passions and goals have changed. And if that's the case, it's better to realize it now than 10 years down the road.

Dear Katie,
I just got a big part in my school's musical. There's a lot of dancing, which I'm not worried about at all—but I also have to sing and speak. I'm not used to using my voice onstage! What can I do to get comfortable?
Karen

Dear Karen,
The first time I had to speak and sing onstage, I was terrified. Thankfully, I had some great coaching. I'll pass along the wisdom I received!

Dancers are taught to lift up through their bodies. But if you lift up while singing, you'll run out of air. Instead, during singing and speaking passages, focus on staying grounded. Let your body relax and your weight drop into the floor—foreign as that might feel.

Be sure to actively enunciate every lyric or line of dialogue, too. In normal speech, eliding your words, so they slur together a bit, is OK. But onstage, it's not—the audience has to hear everything clearly to be able to understand you. You might feel silly hitting every "t" and "d" hard, but it's important!

Finally, focus on projecting your voice, just as you project your dancing up and out. The people in the back row have to hear you as well as see you! Well-supported breathing, using your diaphragm, will help your voice carry to the far reaches of the theater

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Remember when getting a selfie/making a dance video in the Rain Room was the coolest of cool-kid things to do? Now there's a fabulous new place to create Instagram magic: The Attention Room, an immersive exhibit in L.A. promoting Charlie Puth's newest single, "Attention." It's basically a big black box filled with crazy LED projections that make you look like you're suspended in a disco queen's re-imagining of deep space.

Naturally, genius filmmaker/ultimate cool kid Tim Milgram just made a dance video there. And he casually brought Jade Chynoweth, Sean Lew, Jake Kodish and Jason Glover (to name just a few) along for the ride.

It's super trippy, and just plain super:

Angelenos, you can see The Attention Room for yourselves at 8017 Melrose Avenue, now through April 30.

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When über-talented duo Chelsie Hill and Josh Killacky dropped their collab video a few weeks back, we were blown away—and so was Ellen DeGeneres. Naturally, DeGeneres (who's not-so-secretly the biggest dance fan ever) invited them to perform "Ellen" and the result was absolutely incredible.

Hill and Killacky have top-notch chemistry, their musicality is #onpoint and the choreo is so beyond perfect. We can't stop watching—see for yourselves:

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Joe Toreno

If you follow ballet darling Juliet Doherty on Instagram—which you probably do—you already know that the two-time Youth America Grand Prix gold medalist is a self-proclaimed "plant-powered ballerina." Doherty has followed a vegan diet for four years now, and though she never forces her lifestyle on her followers or IRL friends, she does love sharing her daily eats and the plant-based meals and snacks that help her perform at her best. Curious as to what that entails? Here's a day in the life of Juliet's meat-and-dairy-free diet.

I always start my day with a big glass of water.

Today, I squeezed the juice of half a lemon in because I have a lemon tree in the yard and a surplus of them to use! I love adding lemon not only for the flavor, but also because they are alkalizing to the body and help restore a balanced pH, they add extra vitamin C to your diet to fight against colds and the flu, and they increase peristalsis, which helps eliminate waste from the body, and cuts down on that bloated feeling.

Then it's oatmeal for breakfast.

Rolled oats are a go-to breakfast food of mine. They're filling, and the complex carbohydrates along with the protein from the oats gives me sustained energy. Plus they're quick and easy to cook!

Here are all the ingredients I used for my breakfast:

  • 1⁄2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 cup frozen organic blueberries
  • 1 banana
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup

I add ground flaxseed for some good omega-3 essential fats. Even Gandhi once said, "Wherever flaxseed becomes a regular food item among the people, there will be better health." I try to incorporate a bit of flaxseed into my food each day either in oats, a smoothie or even salad. The blueberries and banana each have their benefits: antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, the list goes on and on. I always have different fruits with my breakfast, and they make the oats taste sweeter. Natural maple syrup contains trace minerals like zinc, but I really just added it because it's sooo delicious. This all keeps me fueled through three hours of rehearsal in the morning.

Next up: a quick snack before technique class.

I had an apple and 16 oz. of coconut water with a scoop of chocolate plant protein. Fruit is such a great option for fast energy because your body digests it quickly. I love coconut water, which replenishes the electrolytes lost while sweating. Sometimes I add a bit of plant protein powder if I feel like I want more protein that day. The protein powder I use is a blend of proteins sourced from peas, brown rice, and hemp. Nutrient dense and yummy!

After class, it's time for lunch.

I got lunch from a smoothie bar. I love smoothies because you can pack a lot of nutrition in and you won't feel stuffed while you're dancing. Here's what was in my green smoothie:

  • 1 large banana
  • 1 cup mango
  • 1 cup kale
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 tbsp coconut butter
  • 16 oz coconut water

Then it's time for a two-hour pas de deux class, followed by dinner.

Finally, time to go home and have dinner! I kept it quick and simple tonight by making a salad and popping a sweet potato in the oven. My salad was super high-protein and took less than five mins to put together. Here's what I ate:

    • 1 large handful of arugula
    • 1⁄2 head of romaine heart lettuce
    • 2 stalks of celery
    • 2 cups of garbanzo beans
    • 1⁄4 cup raw sprouted pumpkin seeds
    • 2 tbsp fig balsamic dressing
    • 1 large baked sweet potato

Everyone knows how important it is to get your greens each day. Maybe I'm weird, but I love salads and enjoy the taste of fresh raw veggies. Beans and lentils are so good for you, so I aim to have at least a cup a day. By using two cups of garbanzo beans in my salad I added 30 grams of protein! I topped my salad with some raw sprouted pumpkin seeds. Studies have shown that sprouting seeds boosts their nutritional value and makes them easier to digest. Today I opted for a dressing without oil, but other times when I have fewer fats throughout the day I like to add a little olive oil to my salad.

I'm not afraid of fats!

Natural plant fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds are necessary for the mind and body to function properly. Especially as highly active people, we need fats to recover and repair.

An extra active day requires a stretch and a late-night snack.

If I have time, I like to stretch at night. I feel that helps me sleep better, because my muscles are more relaxed, and I wake up less sore. Tonight I stretched for 30 minutes. A little later in the night, I had a cereal craving. It's important to listen to my body when it's telling me it needs more nourishment! I ate one cup of Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal with a cup of organic soy milk. Kashi cereals are my favorite; they're minimally processed compared to most cereals, and they have very few ingredients, which is always better when it comes to eating packaged foods. I make sure my milk is organic and non-GMO.

Why did I go vegan?

When I ate animal products, I used to have chronic stomachaches. I was always so bloated and uncomfortable. Since eliminating meat and dairy from my diet, I don't get the stomachaches, I feel lighter, and I'm more energized. That's a great feeling to have when you spend the whole day in a leotard, and need to be dancing intensely. I rarely get sick, and have never had a dance-related injury. And I've found it's not hard to nourish my body and thrive as a plant-based athlete.

Here's my advice for going animal-free.

Eat mindfully! Choose foods that will best support your training, performances and recovery. Fueling my body properly is something I consider essential to feeling and performing my best!

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I don't know about you guys, but I'm still #shook. Like, beyond shook. I mean, remember when this season's "DWTS" cast was announced? Remember when we basically called it that our former cover girl (and "Glee" superstar and Beyoncé backup dancer) Heather Morris was gonna win it all? Yeah, that's not happening—Morris and her partner, Maks Chmerkovskiy, were sent home last night. So while that news sinks in, let's talk about the amazing dancing that happened (because there was lots of it, despite the crazy elimination). On to the dancing and the stars!

Team Girl Group vs. Team Boy Bands

I'm a sucker for lots of things, but specifically coordinated outfits, giant neon signs that say "Ladies Night" and the iconic TLC masterpiece, "No Scrubs." Seeing as the Team Girl Group dance had all of those things, it's getting a big shoutout. Team Boy Bands gets one, too, because they were equally as amazing, and it's not their fault they had #NoScrubs to dance to.




Normani and Val's Salsa

To say this dance was a highlight is an understatement—Normani can bring the heat. She and Val were living their best life out there. Her dancing skills are amazing to begin with, but her performance skills are literally beyond. The duo easily executed some super-tricky partnering and flips for a score of 38/40.



Heather and Maks' Rumba

If you look up "Perfect Rumba," chances are the example would be this video. Maks Chmerkovskiy is the definition of an attentive and trustworthy partner. Seriously, this dance was incredible. Every moment was picture-perfect, every flick of the wrist and développé was precisely timed, and every step was fused with musicality. Naturally, the judges felt the same way and gave the pair a well-deserved 40/40.



But apparently, perfect scores mean nothing and everything is a lie: Heather Morris and Maks Chmerkovskiy, aka The Couple That the Entire World Thought Would Win, were eliminated. It's a whooooole new ball game in the ballroom, so be sure to catch next week's recap—it's bound to be a very interesting episode after this shake-up.

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Gallim Dance (photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art has long had an impressive collection of still-life art about dance (much of it by a little-known fellow named Edgar Degas). But The Met as a hot dance performance venue? That's a pretty new thing—and a very, very awesome thing.

Last fall, as we were prepping to shoot our cover story on Andrea Miller's gorgeous Gallim Dance, the company gave a beautiful, innovative performance in The Met's Temple of Dendur. And now the museum has named Miller one of its 2017-18 Artists in Residence. That's especially major because Miller is the first-ever choreographer to hold the AIR title.

So, what does being a Met AIR mean? Next season, Miller will create several works that take advantage of The Met's iconic spaces—the first of which, Stone Skipping, will be performed back at the Temple of Dendur in October. You can find more info about the performance here.

Gallim's dancers won't be the only ones performing at The Met next season. Further solidifying its commitment to live dance, the museum has announced that choreographers Faustin Linyekula and Eiko Otake will also create pieces for its various spaces, and that Monica Bill Barnes' fabulous Museum Workout will return for another run (literally).

How cool is that?

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Even if you've never been to L.A., you probably have a solid idea of what class at Millennium Dance Complex in North Hollywood is like. You can picture the vibrant red walls; you can feel the waves of dancers feeding off one another's explosive energy. Why? Because you—and millions of other dance fans—have watched countless class videos filmed at the center.

Class videos are a VIP pass, taking dancers and non-dancers alike inside the commercial world's hottest studios. And people are watching them obsessively, sharing them on platforms across the web, helping them rack up tens of millions of views. We turned to some of the industry's key players to find out more about what makes the class video format uniquely appealing.

Photo by Evolve Photo, courtesy Matt SteffaninaMatt Steffanina teaching at The Pulse

YouTube Universe

The viral class video is a pretty recent phenomenon. It's been almost a decade since choreographer Matt Steffanina began posting videos on YouTube, but it was only five years ago that he started to have his class videos go viral. "And I was one of the first dancers to get real recognition on YouTube," he says. "It's really blown up outside the dance world in the last two years." He attributes that explosion to the rising popularity of reality entertainment. "People are looking for that raw, authentic, unedited feel," he says. "They're more endeared to real people than production effects."

These days, choreographer Jojo Gomez likes to think of YouTube class vids as the new MTV for commercial dancers. "Tons of people started dancing in the '80s after watching Michael Jackson's music videos on TV," she says. "Now, class videos are doing the same thing, online."

Courtesy Jojo GomezJojo Gomez leading a class at Millennium in Salt Lake City, UT

In fact, Gomez says class videos inspired her to move to L.A. to pursue a career in commercial dance. While she received excellent training through a competition studio in her Massachusetts hometown, she felt like something was missing: "I'd procrastinate from homework by watching YouTube videos of Tricia Miranda, Kyle Hanagami, Janelle Ginestra and WilldaBeast Adams' classes in L.A.," she says. "There was something raw about their style, and I craved that energy in the studio."

Building a Brand

Starring in a class video is a potent—and relatively simple—way for dancers to earn major recognition. In 2013, Gomez appeared as a featured dancer in Adams' vid to Beyoncé's "Upgrade U," filmed by Brazil-Lionheart. Within a few days, the class video had more hits on YouTube than the official music video. "Everyone knew who I was after that," she says. "I was the blonde in the 'Upgrade U' video."



But class videos are even greater assets to the choreographers behind the steps, giving them an inexpensive way to develop a large following. When Gomez discovered her passion for teaching and choreography, she knew to turn to YouTube: "I began teaching in smaller schools in Orange County and posting 30-second clips of my choreo," she says. Eventually, she developed enough of a reputation to land a full-time teaching slot at Millennium, where she regularly puts out videos with popular producer Tim Milgram.

As a primarily self-taught dancer from a small town in Virginia, Steffanina also paved his way to teaching jobs by posting choreo clips. "I started getting contacted by East Coast schools that wanted me to teach," he says. "That's when the light bulb really went off." He continued building his brand through YouTube, and began to get commercial as well as teaching work thanks to his online presence. Singer Natalie LaRose and Taboo, from the Black Eyed Peas, are among the artists who've hired Steffanina after seeing his class videos.

Energy Is Everything

What is it about class videos that makes them so universally addictive? Dancer Allison Buczkowski, who frequently appears in choreographer Tricia Miranda's vids, chalks it up to energy. "The videos capture the vibe of the last 10 minutes of class, when we're done stressing over the steps, and we're just having a blast celebrating dance," she says.

Courtesy Allison Buczkowski Allison Buczkowski in class

Buczkowski admits that the energy in the class isn't always as explosive as it appears on screen. "But you learn to turn it on for camera," she says. Choreographers like Miranda, Adams and Gomez often have the dancers form an "energy circle," occasionally featured in the videos, before the final run-throughs of a combo. "It really helps hype everyone up," Buczkowski says. Fellow class-video favorite Kaelynn "KK" Harris agrees: "A good inspirational pep talk pre-filming helps us enter the choreographer's world and really vibe off one another," she says.

Keepin' It Real

The other key to a real, raw class video is maintaining the integrity of the class, even though cameras are present. "Filming can compromise the class experience if dancers come to be seen rather than to learn," Harris says. "YouTube fame shouldn't get in the way of the dancers' pure love of dancing."

For that reason, choreographer Eden Shabtai tries to get a two-hour slot when she's planning to film, so that filming doesn't eat into class time. "It's important to remember that it's not about the video," she says. She relies on Milgram's vision so that she can focus her efforts on teaching. "If people are truly learning and having fun, it'll make a good video."

Combos for the Camera

How do choreographers craft class combinations that read on film? Shabtai, who first blew up on YouTube with her combo "Needed Me" and has also worked on music videos, live tours and TV shows, says the formula is similar to choreographing for music videos—both require eye-popping steps and lots of energy—but there are a few adjustments. "In music videos, people are looking for signature moves and repetition," she says. A repeated sequence can visually correspond to the song's chorus, for example. In class videos, there's less of an emphasis on recurring moves. Instead, the focus is on creativity and abundance. "I try to put more choreography into class videos, without compromising moments of stillness," she says.

On-Film Firecrackers

How do you land the center spot in a viral class video? The key is to master the basics before you add personal flair. "For the first hour and 15 minutes of class, I do the combo cut-and-dry to get the choreo the way the choreographer intends," says dancer Allison Buczkowski. "When it comes time to film, then I may add extra hair flips, and more of my own personality. But you can't train that way the whole class. You don't want to alter the choreography just to be seen."
Dancer Kaelynn "KK" Harris agrees that going over the top all of the time isn't the best approach. She recommends focusing on the combo's musicality instead. "People gravitate to dancers who make them feel the music coming to life," she says. "It's what makes them want to get up and dance too!"

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