From Cleaning Bathrooms to Choreographing For Hollywood Royalty
Jose Ramos' resumé reads like a VMA attendance list: Jennifer Lopez, Chris Brown, Ciara, Diddy, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have all enlisted his incredible skills as a choreographer and dancer. With clientele like that, it's no wonder that Ramos goes by the nickname "Hollywood." But while his life sounds like a fairytale now, Ramos had to work hard to end up in the "happily ever after" stage of his story.
Growing up, Ramos knew he wanted to dance professionally, but wasn't sure how to make his dance dreams a reality. Doors opened for him when he received a scholarship to study at Broadway Dance Center in NYC. When the scholarship ended, Ramos knew he needed to continue his training but couldn't afford classes. So he signed up for BDC's work/study program, which allowed dancers to manage and clean the facilities in return for $5 classes.
From there, he continued auditioning for big and small roles. Success came with persistence, and small gigs with up-and-coming artists slowly lead to bigger gigs with bigger artists. Now he's living out his dreams, choreographing and dancing for events around the globe, and hoping his story inspires young dancer to be persistent in pursuing their goals.
How did you stay motivated during those times when dancing professionally seemed impossible?
You have to know what your goals are, and keep them in sight at all times. When things felt really hopeless, I would talk to my mom for hours. You need people you can count on and confide in.
Who's your dance role model?
I like Wade Robson. I wanted to be him as a kid and have my own show on MTV. He's so intricate and versatile.
What are your proudest accomplishments as a dancer/choreographer?
I would say choreographing for Jennifer Lopez and Diddy because I grew up looking up to those artists.
What's something you wish you'd known at the beginning of your dance career?
Everyone wants success so fast, but you have to have a solid foundation before you can really achieve greatness. There aren't shortcuts.
I used to clean bathrooms at BDC because I couldn't afford the $18 for class. Now I sell out classes in those same rooms. Success came in the end. It just took time and a lot of work!
Who has been the biggest supporter of your dance career?
My mom. She has always encouraged me to follow my dreams. A couple of years ago my mom was ill, and was in and out of the hospital. One time, she signed herself out of the hospital sooner than she should have so that she could go home and watch me perform live on TV. It meant so much that she was able to see me live my dream. She has become my motivation, because I want her legacy to live on through my dancing.
What qualities do you need to make it in the dance industry?
Ambition and determination. First you have goals on a piece of paper; then they're in your mind; then you make them happen. You have to trust your talent, but also know that despite your ambition, you're going to have trials. That's where the determination comes in.
What advice would you give to young dancers?
Don't get caught up with what you see on Instagram or social media. We all start to think those posts are reality, when in truth it takes hours of practice to perfect those routines.
Celebrate your individuality, too! Yes, be inspired by other people, but don't get so obsessed with their gigs or performances or choreography. Ask yourself: What legacy are you leaving?
What's your life motto?
Follow your dreams and keep being positive. The sky is not the limit—we are!
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.
Lani Dickinson's power, grace, and raw presence make her a standout with AXIS Dance Company, whose mission is to change the face of dance and disability by featuring a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers. Born in China, Dickinson was adopted by an American couple and started dancing at 8 in Towson, MD. She attended the Boston Ballet School for two summers, studied at the Idyllwild Arts Academy for the last two years of high school, and graduated with a dance degree from Alonzo King LINES Ballet's BFA program with Dominican University of California. In 2015, she joined AXIS and won a Princess Grace Award. Catch her this month during AXIS Dance Company's 30th-anniversary season—and read on for The Dirt!