Dance News

My Top 5 Moments From The New York City Dance Alliance Gala

To most of my friends, summer means days on the beach applying sunscreen and reading magazines.

To me, summer brings long nights in chilly convention ballrooms, taking frantic notes about this year's up-and-coming, OMG-we-have-to-feature-them dancers.

And I wouldn't have it any other way: Nationals season is my favorite time of the dance year.

One of the highlights for me is always the night of the New York City Dance Alliance senior gala. All these dancers have flown in to NYC to audition for scholarships, take classes with a killer faculty and, if all goes really well, take home some top prizes (Outstanding Dancer titles and Critic's Choice are the most coveted).

Last night, Rachel, Margaret and I got all dressed up to attend a long-but-awesome evening with Joe Lanteri and incredible dancers. Here are five of what I have deemed the night's most memorable moments:

1. Sitting in the audience and actually witnessing lives changing onstage. NYCDA is big in the whole "dancers, you should go to college" movement, which we fully support. (Just wait for our September issue, which is dedicated to higher ed.) Lanteri and his team awarded $1.7 million in college scholarships last night to schools including Point Park University, Marymount Manhattan College, Dean College and more. The most amazing presentation was when Lanteri presented Montana Michniak (who, by the way, is stunning) with a full scholarship to the University of the Arts. Her family and teacher (I assume) were seated right behind Rachel and me, and they jumped to their feet, applauding and crying. Their kid just got her college education paid for. Lives = changed. (Sorry I didn't do that, Mom.)

2. Seeing the dancers we've featured kicking major butt. Remember in April when we did that story on "Who's Who on the Comp Scene?" Well, many of those dancers were at NYCDA last night — and they all rocked. Kali Grinder was part of a group routine up for senior Critic's Choice and she handed over her 2011 National title. Hannah Seiden dazzled in her group routine, and Victoria McWilliams (one of my long-time favorites) won 2nd Runner-Up Senior Outstanding Dancer. Christina Ricucci took 2nd Runner-Up Teen Outstanding Dancer, and Jordan Pelliteri won the Teen OD title. On the men's side, Vinson Fraley represented, nabbing the 2nd Runner-Up Male OD spot.

3. Spotting a dancer in a crowd of 112 Teen Outstanding Dancer hopefuls and shouting, "OMG she's beautiful" — and then realizing it was our own Cover Model Search finalist Megan Skalla! Megan totally stuck out during the Teen OD opening number (with hard-hitting, fun choreography by Joey Dowling), not just for her exquisite beauty, but also for her movement quality. Then, in the pack of Senior OD's, we saw another CMS finalist: Alyssa Ness! Alyssa was in the Top 8 for the seniors, and Megan took home the 1st Runner-Up teen title. We're so proud!

4. The Newsies opening number. I cannot get sick of this show. I've seen it, I have the soundtrack, and I've spent hours (uh, seriously) staring at the photos from our July/August cover shoot with the Newsies boys. They are just so dang talented, and kicking off the night with a performance of "Seize the Day" gave me goosebumps that lasted the entire night (also the ballroom was kind of cold).

5. The people-watching, of course! Everywhere I looked I saw one of my favorite dance celebs. Joey Dowling was there in sky-high heels (of course), May/June cover girl Taja Riley made her full-time faculty debut, and Jakob Karr was just a few seats down. Kaitlynn Edgar looked dynamite in a strapless chambray jumpsuit (probably the only person I know who can pull that off) and Tony Testa looked dynamite in...actually, who cares what he was wearing? He's Tony Testa. And I love him.

If I could pick sixth and seventh outstanding moments from the gala, they would be Colton Krouse's solo performance (in a toga!) that won him the Teen OD title, and Ivan Kalinin's "I'm sad my year as a National winner is over so I'm going to dance for you now" performance. Keep an eye out for these two dudes: They're going places. Like, onto DS covers, perhaps...

Oh, and an eighth moment! Alexia Meyer's National Outstanding Dancer victory performance. She may be tiny, but that girl can attack. I'm thrilled she won.

Congratulations to all of last night's performers. You inspire us. (Now go celebrate on the beach like everyone else!)

Photo by Lee Gumbs, courtesy Taja Riley

Taja Riley's bold, full-out presence and unique ability to mix hard-hitting hip hop with smooth, sensual choreography paved the way for her success in the commercial industry. She's danced with music icons like Chris Brown, Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Pitbull, and Bruno Mars, and has assisted with choreography for Britney Spears' Femme Fatale tour, Demi Lovato's Skyscraper tour, and Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter tour. She also appeared in Beyoncé's groundbreaking visual album Lemonade. Raised in Virginia Beach, VA, Riley grew up training at Denise Wall's Dance Energy. Currently, she's on faculty at New York City Dance Alliance, where you can catch her touring the convention circuit. —Courtney Bowers

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You can catch A Nutcracker Christmas on December 10 at 8 pm. Get your slippers and hot cocoa ready.

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