Miami City Ballet principal soloist Nathalia Arja is known for her powerful jump—in fact, she recalls one reviewer describing her as "popcorn." But flying through the air wasn't always second nature. Growing up training in her native Brazil, she says, she didn't know how to use her body efficiently during grand allégro.
So what changed? "At 13, I started doing Pilates," she says. "I did a lot of leg exercises lying down on the reformer, which built my core strength." Then, at 15, she started studying at Miami City Ballet School. "I went from classical to Balanchine training," she says, "and I learned how to push off the floor with my toes, rather than jumping from my entire foot."
As Arja discovered, developing a big jump is more about nurture than nature. Here's advice from the experts about how you can reach your highest heights.
Broadway baby Eloise Kropp is living the dream. After making her Great White Way debut in the ensemble of On the Town in 2014 and landing a leading role in 2015's Dames at Sea, she's now in the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's beloved CATS. As Jennyanydots, the cat who lounges in sunbeams all day but comes alive at night, 25-year-old Kropp brings an irrepressibly bubbly spirit to the production's only tap number. Watching her in action, there's no question that she was born to wear tap shoes. "I never imagined being a tapper on Broadway," she says, "but the timing has been so serendipitous. Tap has really made a comeback in musical theater. It makes me so happy to see other people loving it as much as I do."
Kropp's journey from student to rising star wasn't always easy. After leaving college early for an opportunity that didn't pan out, she spent a year and a half auditioning, doing regional gigs and taking on odd jobs before booking On the Town. She's learned firsthand that in the Broadway world, perseverance pays off.
Utah Valley University juniors Megan Rund and Esther Laws share a love of ballroom dance, but they specialize in different styles. Rund competes in International Standard and American Smooth, dancing the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, fox-trot and quickstep.
“Smooth dancing is so emotional," she says. “I love how expressive the movement can be." Meanwhile, Laws competes in the International Latin category, dancing the cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive. “Latin dance is more free," she says. “You get to flirt and have fun. It's a different type of expression than the poised and pretty Standard styles."
While some dancers do compete across the board—they're known in the industry as “10-dancers" for (you guessed it!) doing all 10 dances—many prefer to specialize in one category. Wondering if it's time for you to home in on either Standard or Latin? Here are a few tips.
A few years ago, 16-year-old Kayla Gonzalez found herself dancing alongside a mean-spirited girl. “She could be so rude," says Gonzalez, who trains at The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV. “It got worse at competitions. She'd make up lies, saying my teammates and I were doing things we weren't. She was always trying to get ahead." Sound familiar? A competitive environment can bring out the very worst in some dancers' personalities. When put in a stressful situation, students can become bossy, overdramatic or downright mean. Here, DS breaks down four toxic types you might encounter, and offers tips on how to respond.
Precision. Musicality. Charm. Swag. Kida Burns' talents were on full display during the finale of “So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" in September. He was his All-Star partner Fik-Shun's equal in the two routines the pair revisited for the finale: Misha Gabriel's bee-themed piece and Kida's own feel-good robot number. He returned to his animation roots with a solo that was pure joy. He even stole the spotlight in Luther Brown's group hip-hop routine, which featured all of the season's finalists and All-Stars in that genre.
As a teenager, contemporary dancer Eveline Kleinjans felt like nothing she did was good enough. Auditioning for university dance programs paralyzed her: “I was so focused on every move I made and what people would think that I wasn't able to be free, to be myself," she says. And her intense perfectionism had real repercussions. “I'd get negative feedback saying, 'We don't see you.' "
Perfectionism is extremely common in the dance world, because dancers hold themselves to terrifically high standards. It's easy to get a little discouraged when you aren't improving as quickly as you want. But there's a difference between healthy self-criticism and an unhealthy obsession with perfection. How can you tell when your drive to be better has crossed the line—and what can you do to get back on track?
Wondering how people actually book the dance world's most coveted jobs? Cattle-call auditions aren't the only route to a career: Sometimes it's about who you know—or about being in the right place at the right time. Dance Spirit asked six dancers to describe the moments when the stars aligned, allowing them to nab high-profile professional gigs.
The job: Company member, Chloé Arnold's Syncopated Ladies
How she got the gig: “I'd been taking class with Chloé at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy for about two years when she mentioned she was starting this new group—it didn't even have a name yet. I first auditioned to dance with them when I was 14 or 15, but I got cut! That was the push I needed to start taking my training more seriously—I wanted to be a part of the company so much. Over time, Chloé saw my work paying off, and I did my first show with the Syncopated Ladies at the L.A. Tap Festival in 2008."
What she's doing now: In addition to being a Syncopated Lady, Lee dances with Sarah Reich's Tap Music Project and is a regular performer at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas' Rose. Rabbit. Lie. supper club.
Job-booking advice: “Be nice to everyone. Tap auditions are rare—it's definitely more about word of mouth. And take class! If I hadn't been in Chloé's class at the right time, I might have missed the Syncopated Ladies train."
The job: Performer, Celebrity Cruises
How he got the gig: “I majored in history in college, but while I was in school I apprenticed with Atlantic City Ballet and took dance-focused electives. Second semester of senior year, I enrolled in a costume-design class. One day, I was daydreaming and started doing a port de bras. My design professor took note—and it turned out she had a side job mending costumes for Celebrity Cruises. She heard from a producer that they needed a male dancer, and reached out to me. I didn't pause to think about it: I filmed some ballet and jazz combos and put the tape in the mail. I got the offer a week later, and was in rehearsals two weeks after graduation!"
What he's doing now: Chester owns TLC Academy of Dance in Absecon, NJ, and works as a freelance performer.
Job-booking advice: “Be versatile. We all have dance styles we gravitate toward, but you can't be afraid to try other things. The more well-rounded you are, the more jobs will be out there for you."
Tim Chester performing in Atlantic City (Suzanne Fiedler, courtesy Chester)
The job: “Dancing with the Stars" pro
How she got the gig: “The 'Dancing with the Stars' producers get to know you based on your competitive credentials. By the time they contact you, they've done their research—they already have a sense of what you can do. When they reached out to me, I'd been performing with the traveling ballroom show Burn the Floor, and the 'DWTS' team had seen me in the production. They just asked me to do an on-camera interview; it was more about testing my personality than my technique. I joined the show's professional troupe for Season 14."
What she's doing now: For the past several seasons, Slater has had celebrity partners on “DWTS."
Job-booking advice: “Be ferocious in your personality. Producers and casting directors want to see confidence and energy."
Emma Slater (courtesy ABC)
The job: Dancer for/assistant to choreographer Marguerite Derricks
How she got the gig: “I'd been assisting Doug Caldwell in his class at the EDGE in L.A. One
day, we were working on a combination at his house, dancing around in his living room, and Marguerite stopped by. I was marking while they talked, and she paused and said, 'Dance for me.' So I did the combination for her, right there. The next day, I got a call offering me a dance role in the movie Fame, which Marguerite was choreographing."
What she's doing now: Esquibel went on to work with Derricks on the TV show “Bunheads," the Broadway musical Wonderland and many other gigs. She's also danced for Taylor Swift and toured with Shaping Sound.
Job-booking advice: “Be prepared at any moment. Every person you meet in the dance industry has something to offer, and could in some capacity help you build a career."
Mallauri Esquibel and Teddy Forance during a Shaping Sound performance (Chris Reilly, courtesy Esquibel)
The job: Swing and dance captain, Broadway's On Your Feet!
How she got the gig: “I'd worked with choreographer Sergio Trujillo on the first and second national tours of Flashdance: The Musical, where I was a swing, then dance captain and finally Sergio's associate choreographer. When Flashdance was over and I was back in NYC, Sergio invited me to audition for On Your Feet! I'd missed the open call because we were still on the road, and I didn't have an agent at the time. Sergio was the one who got me in the room. He said, 'I think this would be a good fit for you, but you'll have to prove that to the rest of the team.' And they ended up hiring me."
What she's doing now: Caruncho is still happily working in On Your Feet!
Job-booking advice: “Share your joy, your passion, your fierceness—whatever is uniquely you. People want to see a human being who will be fun, committed and hardworking in rehearsal. That's how you'll get creative team members to take a chance on you."
Natalie Caruncho backstage at "On Your Feet!" (courtesy Caruncho)
Albert Blaise Cattafi
The job: Company member, Bad Boys of Dance
How he got the gig: “As a teen, I idolized Rasta Thomas. When I was 13, I emailed him,
and he actually wrote back! A few years later, I was at a competition in NYC, and after my solo, Rasta approached me in the hallway. He said, 'I'm getting some guys together to start my own company. If you're interested, I'd love for you to join us.' So, right after graduating high school, I went into rehearsals with the Bad Boys of Dance. Having the opportunity to dance with Rasta—the epitome of what a male soloist should be—at the start of my career was invaluable."
What he's doing now: Cattafi has also danced with Shaping Sound, on “Saturday Night Live" and for musical artists including Kelly Clarkson. He's currently the resident choreographer for Phoenix Ballet in Scottsdale, AZ.
Job-booking advice: “Do your research. Watch videos. If you like a show or company, see if you can take class with people in it. You can control the type of artist you want to be."
Courtesy Albert Blaise Cattafi
It's a question every serious dance student has to ask as she approaches high school graduation: What's next? College, or a company gig? A full-time dance career, or…something else? You can't take this big decision lightly. But how can you know if you're ready to go pro after high school? What about at age 22, with four years of college dance classes under your belt?