Michelle Dorrance (by Matthew Murphy/Kenn Tam)
Tap star Michelle Dorrance has charmed audiences all over the world with her big smile and lightning-fast feet. The North Carolina native started tapping at age 4, and studied ballet at the Ballet School of Chapel Hill—founded by her mother, M’Liss Gary Dorrance. Later, Dorrance joined Gene Medler’s North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble. She moved to NYC in 1997, and has since performed with renowned tap companies and in the off-Broadway show STOMP. She choreographs frequently, most often for her company, Dorrance Dance/New York, whose debut performance in 2011 earned her a Bessie award. Today, you can take Dorrance’s tap class at NYC’s Broadway Dance Center, where she’s been teaching since 2002. —Komal Thakkar
My first question for you is: Are you stretching?! I know your heart and soul belong to tap dancing, but that doesn’t get you off the hook. Sure, it’s embarrassing that you’re the only one in your mom’s ballet class who can’t sit comfortably in your splits, but flexibility is something you can achieve with hard work, and it will help your body for years to come.
You have one of the greatest mentors a girl could ask for: Gene Medler. always remember his mantra: “Dance to express, not to impress.” It will empower your artistry and help you forge genuine connections with the dancers and musicians you work with.
Dorrance as a teen, with Savion Glover (by Gene Medler)
Keep indulging your love of music. Never stop singing, drumming or playing guitar. You may never have had a lesson, but those basic skills will come in handy one day. They’ll also help you create unique phrasing for your improv and choreography.
As your dad says, you can always choose to be a positive life force amidst those caught up in bringing others down. Stand up for people who are bullied—even if the bullies are dancers you look up to. Stay humble but strong, and never let anyone shake your integrity.
Don’t worry about being different. The masters you love and look up to are each unique. Cherish your time with them, as they won’t be around for long.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.