(Break the Floor Productions)
If you’re a convention kid, surely you know Ray Leeper. As executive director of NUVO Dance Convention and co-director of The Dance Awards, Leeper is immediately recognizable for his awesomely spiky hair and his fabulous year-round tan. But he’s more than just a good-looking guy: Leeper is a sought-after choreographer and master teacher, whose jazz pieces are powerful, provocative and sassy.
Beyond the comp world, Leeper has worked with Elton John, Cher and Queen Latifah, and choreographed commercials for Pepsi, Hyundai, Saks Fifth Avenue and Levi’s. Most recently, he’s created pieces for “Dancing with the Stars,” “The X Factor UK,” “America’s Got Talent” and “So You Think You Can Dance” (he’s the mastermind behind Amy Yakima and Aaron Turner’s Season 10 jazz fusion routine). —Alison Feller
I know you’re freaking out because you’re not sure you have what it takes to make it in the dance industry. But deep down, your heart is telling you that you do. GO FOR IT!
(Break the Floor Productions)
Although it might seem overwhelming right now, please know that if you work really hard, stay focused and take in everything your mentors (or “angels,” as you like to call them now) have so graciously offered you along the way, you will certainly go far.
As you begin your journey, you’ll be recognized for your talent. But you’ll learn that it’s equally important to approach your work with professionalism, tenacity, grace, a great attitude and kindness. You will find that these attributes will contribute to your longevity in “the business.”
As you progress, you’ll be surrounded by the most amazingly talented people, who have the same goals and ambitions as you. Try not to be intimidated! Realize that you are uniquely you, and that everyone has something different to offer. Stick to what you do best. Be authentic to who you are.
When your career picks up, remember to thank the “angels” who helped you achieve success. You didn’t get there alone.
Don’t freak out, buddy. You got this!
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!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
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.