Pro dancers have all had their share of nutty jobs—anything from ridiculous choreography to hilarious costumes. After all, if it’s fun and harmless, why not make a little extra cash? And sometimes, those kooky gigs can be surprisingly rewarding.
Clockwise from left: Jolina Javier (courtesy Javier); Hillary-Marie Michael (courtesy Michael); Mollie Sansone (Wheatphoto.com, courtesy Sansone); Kyle Robinson (Colleen Hayes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images); Michael Gross (courtesy Ingrid Bonne); Francesca Forcella (courtesy Forcella)
Jolina Javier, FREELANCE DANCER
Wacky work: Performed as a dancing bear in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular
“I was a ballerina bear for four years. The costume wasn’t too heavy—it was sort of like dancing in a Snuggie. You stepped into the bear body, and the head went on top. The snout was right in front of your face, so it was like looking through a screen. At first, it was a little scary. I’m claustrophobic, and when the head was on, you could hear yourself breathing. Not being able to fully see was the most disorienting—especially when on pointe. Pointework is hard enough without a big suit! On my first opening night, I fell onstage. It was so embarrassing. I couldn’t believe I fell—in a bear suit—in front of 6,000 people.
“When you’re growing up, you always imagine yourself in a tiara, or as a Rockette. But looking back on the experience, I love that I got to be a part of something bigger than myself.”
Hillary-Marie Michael, tap dancer and Jersey Tap Fest director
Wacky work: Tapped dressed as Kim Jong-il on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report”
“A colleague’s husband works on the show, and she told me they needed a few tap dancers for one episode. I immediately said yes—no questions asked. It was going to be my first
experience on TV, so I dropped everything to do it. All I knew was the piece had to do with a North Korean ban on imported Italian tap shoes. The six of us got to hair and makeup and we saw our costumes: We were going to be dressd as Kim Jong-il—green jumpsuit, wig, glasses and all. The experience was pretty cool: Colbert is a tap super-fan, and he came out and did a few shuffles with us. But when you’re expecting an artistic performance, a 20-second shtick in a silly costume can seem pretty disappointing. That was the day I learned to always ask questions before signing or agreeing to anything.”
Mollie Sansone, Nashville Ballet
Wacky work: Performed as a fire dancer
“During Nashville Ballet’s off season last year, I danced with Quixotic, a multimedia performance company that’s sort of like Cirque du Soleil. For one section of the show, I wore metal clamps on my fingers. The clamps attached to metal skewers with wicks on the tips that were lit on fire. My immediate reaction was pure excitement—I’m a bit of a daredevil."
“I performed barefoot, wearing a leotard with a hood to cover my hair. The work was very grounded—not a lot of jumps and no partnering—so I felt safe with the flames. Of course, I had to be careful: If my fingers pointed downward, the fire would shoot up and burn my hands. And if I moved my hands too fast, the flames would go out. The first rehearsal was a little scary, but after that I loved it. What a rush!”
Kyle Robinson, Shaping Sound Dance Company
Wacky work: Played an exotic dancer dressed as Abraham Lincoln on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”
“I was the last appointment at the audition for the part, and when I walked into the waiting room, it seemed like every guy in L.A. between 5'10" and 6'4" with brown hair and muscles was there. I thought by the time I got into the room, the agents would have already seen a million abs.
“Finally, it was my turn. I tried my best moves: I ripped open my shirt and I threw my head back as I landed on my knees, channeling Flashdance. I did a headroll, a handstand with a twist—and as I pretended to remove my belt, I heard yelling: ‘Stop, stop! Mr. President, put your pants back on!’ They loved it! Two days later, I heard I’d booked the gig. Being on the show was an incredible experience.”
Michael Gross, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Wacky work: Performed as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland at a fundraiser for the Chicago House and Social Service Agency
“For the benefit performance, I wore a black and white checked singlet, an oversize hat that kept falling over my eyes and patent leather white go-go boots with two-inch heels. It wasn’t my favorite choreography—but it was for a good cause and I figured I wouldn’t know anyone in the audience. Right before I went on, though, Hubbard Street’s artistic director, Glenn Edgerton, approached me. At the time, I wasn’t in Hubbard Street, but I had auditioned for the company a couple times and had yet to make the final cut. I kept thinking, Please don’t stay and watch this! He did, of course. Little did I know that about a year later, he’d be my boss. We haven’t actually talked about the show yet…it might be better that way!”
Francesca Forcella, BalletX
Wacky work: Danced in a circus-themed fashion show for Macy’s
“When I was in Houston Ballet II, three dancers from the company were chosen for a fashion show. We assumed we were going to model—and we were so excited! On the day of the show, however, a Macy’s representative brought us to what she called the ‘talent room.’ The talent room? We walked in and saw a bearded lady and another woman with a monkey. It turned out the show was circus-themed, and we had to dress up as faux Cirque du Soleil performers. My friend was the ringleader, and I danced down the zigzagging runway in a silver unitard and full-footed tights. They didn’t have shoes for us, so we performed in stocking feet, trying not to slip. It was a crazy day, but it ended up being fun: I was with my friends, and we made the best of it.”
Get in, losers. We're going to Broadway.
OK, not losers, actually—more like the bajillion die-hard fans of Tina Fey's 2004 cult hit Mean Girls, who've been wearing pink every Wednesday since a musical adaptation of the film was first teased back in 2013.
Now their world is like a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, because Mean Girls the musical, which had a trial run in Washington, DC, last fall, is set to open at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre April 8. And in a very grool twist, it turns out the show—with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a book by Fey herself—is delightfully dancey.
Brian Friedman is not only a legend in his own right—he's also worked beside the biggest legends in the business. Growing up a Scottsdale, AZ, comp kid, Friedman was soon dancing behind Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, and Paula Abdul, and as an OG Newsie in the 1992 film. Now he calls the shots: He's choreographed and been creative director for icons like Britney, Cher, Beyoncé, and Mariah. Nominated for five MTV VMAs, two Music Video Production Association Awards, and four American Choreography Awards, Friedman's won an Industry Voice Award for best choreography, and a World of Dance award. Dance Spirit talked to Friedman to find out what inspires him. —Helen Rolfe
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.
They say there's no "I" in "team"—and nowhere is that truer than the world of college dance teams, where precision reigns, uniformity is key, and a single misstep from any given "I" can cost a group a championship trophy. So it's unsurprising that securing a spot on one of the best dance teams in the country is no easy feat.
Members of these highly athletic teams rehearse for hours every week—on top of academic classes and commitments—and perform at football and basketball games, annual concerts, and nationally televised competitions (hi, ESPN). And "no I" rule notwithstanding, each of these top teams is made up of highly trained, highly technical, highly hard-core individuals, who come together to create a ready-for-victory pack.
These six teams aren't one-off success stories—they're consistently strong, and earn the top spots at major competitions like UDA and NDA nearly every year. Up for the challenge? Here's what to know before you go to auditions.
Let it gooooo! The much-anticipated musical version of Frozen, with choreography by the fabulous Rob Ashford, opens on Broadway tonight. And to get you even more excited about this latest dancy Disney venture, the show's team just released a brand-new trailer—a sneak peek at how they've translated the film's special magic into perhaps-even-more-impressive stage magic.
Dance competitions are where great memories are made. But—between the traveling, the challenging routines, and the bazillion costume changes—they're also the source of many, many #struggles. If you're a comp kid, you'll 100 percent be able to relate to these 10 problems.
Veteran Brooklynettes dancer Asha Singh knows what it takes to get a crowd pumped: This NBA season marks her fifth year on the squad. And as team captain, she's also well-versed in the art of keeping a team looking picture-perfect. An Overland Park, KS, native, she trained in ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, and tap as a child, and later majored in dance at the University of Missouri. Since then, she's danced with music legends, including Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, and performed in commercials for big brands like ESPN and T-Mobile. Catch her courtside cheering on the Brooklyn Nets—and read on for The Dirt.
Odds are you already know the photography of Omar Z Robles, whose images of dancers in striking natural settings mesmerize his hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. Recently, Robles paid a visit to his native Puerto Rico for the first time since it was devastated by Hurricane Maria. And the images he captured of its resilient dancers, finding beauty in the ruined landscape, will bring tears to your eyes.
Principal Lloyd Knight has become a true standout in the Martha Graham Dance Company thanks to his compelling presence and dynamic technique. Knight, who performs leading roles in iconic pieces like Appalachian Spring and Embattled Garden, was born in England and raised in Miami, where he trained at the Miami Conservatory and later graduated from New World School of the Arts. He received scholarships to The Ailey School and The Dance Theatre of Harlem School in NYC and joined MGDC in 2005. Catch him onstage with MGDC during its New York City Center season this month. —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 for a chance to be featured!
I'm a hip-hop and jazz dancer, and I want to get involved in the commercial-dance world. I've never studied ballet, but people keep telling me I "have to" take ballet classes if I want to make it professionally. Is that really true? My family has limited money for dance classes, and I have to be careful about how I spend it.