Not Your Average Jocks

First things first: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Alicia Graf Mack is extraordinary. I initially watched this New York Times video without sound, and that was just fine: Mack's endless limbs and serene focus were enough to keep me glued to the screen. (There's some nice footage of AAADT performing Ailey's Revelations and Rennie Harris' new piece, Home, too.)

But then I plugged in my headphones and watched it again. And maybe I'm just in a bad mood today, but I couldn't stop myself from groaning (audibly—apologies to my cubemate!) at several points. Here's what bothered me: The heart of the video is a conversation between Mack and NYTimes sports columnist William C. Rhoden about how dancers are also athletes. I'm not usually one to hate on anything that gives good dancers good publicity, which this film certainly does. But really? Dancers as athletes? Is this news to anybody? It's been discussed again, and again, and again. (And those links are from a very, very superficial Google search.) We did a (great, if I do say so myself) story about it. There's even a Facebook page dedicated to it.

Why are people continually surprised by this idea? Of course dancers are athletes. Does anyone really NOT think about the physical aspect of dance as they're watching it? Even ballet, which is supposed to look effortless—part of the "wow" factor is seeing dancers conquer the sheer physical challenge ballet technique presents. In fact, companies like AAADT are sometimes accused of focusing on the athletic over the artistic.

I think we're all easily drawn in by the physical beauty of dance. (Myself included: See the first paragraph.) It's not hard to sell. And the positive thing about this video is that that superficial appeal might draw in sports fans who are otherwise intimidated by dance, who think they "won't get it." Fair enough. But as Mack says, dancers are more than athletes—so much more. And it's frustrating when dancers like Mack, who are deeply gifted artistically as well as physically, are featured in a way that essentially reduces them to beautiful shells. The famous Albert Einstein quote isn't "Dancers are athletes"; it's "Dancers are the athletes of god."

What do you think? Am I just crankypants? Or does this kind of thing bother you, too?

Dancer to Dancer

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.

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Courtesy CAA

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Tiler Peck and Chase Finlay in Swan Lake (photo by Paul Kolnik)

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.

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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!

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Dance News

Week five of "Dancing with the Stars" proved to be one of the best weeks of the season so far. (And we're not just saying that because Mickey made a cameo debut on the piano during one of the routines—although that certainly didn't hurt!) Everyone brought their A-game, and with such a fun theme the contestants were able to really let their guards down. There was true sincerity in their dancing that we hadn't seen before. But not all Disney stories end with a "happily ever after," and one couple still had to hang up their dancing shoes.

If there's one week you should watch all the routines of it's undoubtedly this one... But, ICYMI, scroll below for our highlights of the night.

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Dance News
Via Facebook

Almost a month out, Puerto Rico continues to suffer the devastating aftereffects of Hurricane Maria. Many of the island's residents still lack power, clean water, and safe housing. Ballet classes? For Puerto Rican dance students, they must feel like an impossible luxury.

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Dancer to Dancer
Gianluca Russo (via Instagram)

Yes, I am a dancer, and yes, I am fat.

There's nothing quite as soul-crushing as the reactions I've received when I've told people I dance. They can range from disbelief to confusion to shock. To many people, it's somehow incomprehensible that a plus-size person like myself could grace a stage. While the body-positive movement has been trucking along at full force over the past few years, it hasn't made much progress in the dance community yet. In fact, the words "body positivity" and "dance" are almost never used together in the same sentence.

Despite that fact, dance is what helped me learn to love my larger frame. In honor of National Body Confidence Day, I wanted to talk about my first time in a studio, and about the tremendous progress I've made since.

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