Contemporary phenom Christina Ricucci has super-flexible hips, which means she can stretch her legs to unbelievable heights. But when she noticed herself making contorted positions in class, Ricucci realized she was approaching her extensions all wrong. "I went back to the basics in class, squaring my hips and using my turnout," Ricucci says. "I learned to create proper positions, rather than whacked-out versions of them."
Some dancers are so wonky they have a hard time supporting their high legs, while others struggle with limited flexibility. But no matter your facility, you can find a balance of stretch and strength to achieve your fullest range of extension. It's not about how high (or not) your legs can go: It's the quality of the movement, and how you get those legs up, that counts.
American Ballet Theatre principal Sarah Lane charms audiences with her bright energy and crisp technique. The San Francisco, CA, native first started dancing at age 4 at a local community center, and at age 7 started training in Memphis, TN, at the Classical Ballet Memphis. Her family later moved to Rochester, NY, where she continued studying at the Draper Center for Dance Education. In 2002, she was a YoungArts Foundation winner in dance, allowing her to become a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. She joined American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice in 2003, was made a soloist in 2007, and was promoted to principal last fall. Recently, she originated the role of Princess Praline in Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. Catch her later this spring during ABT's Metropolitan Opera season. —Courtney Bowers
"I had a unique path to dance," says Nardia Boodoo, a luminous, elegant apprentice with The Washington Ballet. She briefly studied ballet as a child, but didn't start serious training until she was 14 years old, attending Baltimore School for the Arts. "I didn't know what a pirouette was," she says. "I would wake up really early to stretch and remember my corrections." But, a focused student, she advanced quickly: Soon she was attending prestigious summer intensives, and she earned a spot in The Washington Ballet Studio Company in 2014. Now, Boodoo is working with her childhood idol, TWB artistic director Julie Kent, and dreams of someday dancing the title role in Giselle.
Boodoo is acutely aware of the power of representation. "It has only recently become OK to have a Misty Copeland," she says. "It's no longer socially acceptable to only have girls who look exactly the same, in any aspect of entertainment. But at the same time it feels like a trend, and I'm not a trend, I'm a human being." Boodoo wants to see genuine diversity, from top to bottom. "You need teachers and directors, ballet masters and répétiteurs," she says. "Diversity on every single level is progress."
As a student at Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy, American Ballet Theatre corps member Erica Lall saw iconic former Houston Ballet principal Lauren Anderson on a regular basis. "I think I assumed her position as an African-American principal dancer was a one-time thing," Lall says. "Lauren became a principal in 1990. Why aren't there dozens of brown swan queens now?" In 2013, when Lall came to NYC for the ABT summer intensive, she registered for two weeks at Dance Theatre of Harlem. "I wanted to experience ballet in an environment where I could feel comfortable and proud of my brown skin," she says. "But I didn't have to wait, because I found acceptance at ABT right away."
Lall, who counts her colleague Copeland as a role model, is proud to be the first recipient of the Josephine Premice Fales/ABT Project Plié award, which allowed her to pursue training at ABT. "The award is one of my greatest inspirations to work relentlessly," she says. But, she adds, "the last thing I want to hear is that my talent was secondary to the need to add color." Those who've seen her ebullient, expressive dancing onstage with the company know she needn't worry.
In 2011, after dancing with American Repertory Ballet and Nashville Ballet, Rachael Jones had decided to retire her ballet shoes. At that point, she was a sophomore at Florida State University, planning to major in political science and international affairs and to work for the State Department when she graduated.
But then another black ballerina changed Jones' path. A message from former New York City Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer Andrea Long-Naidu popped up on Jones' Facebook page. "I was in shock that a woman who I had admired for so much of my life was looking at my profile," Jones says. "She told me she saw something very special in me, and that I should be sharing my gift, that I should be dancing." The two began corresponding regularly, with Long-Naidu offering encouragement and advice. Once Jones graduated, she accepted a contract with The Washington Ballet. "To this day, I will never be able to thank Andrea enough for that first message," Jones says. "I don't know that I would have returned to ballet without her generosity or persistence."
The Snellville, GA, native has been with BalletMet since 2016, and is known for her powerful presence and dynamic technique. She's also giving back to other young dancers through her work with Brown Girls Do Ballet. "When I went to summer intensives, I was usually the lone brown ballerina in my group," says Jones. "And I grew up pre–social-media, so it was definitely a struggle to feel so obviously different from my peers. I would have loved for there to have been something like BGDB when I was growing up."
With her endless limbs and regal bearing, Amanda Morgan is an arresting presence onstage. Born in Tacoma, WA, Morgan studied at Dance Theatre Northwest and Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and attended summer courses at Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Boston Ballet School, and the School of American Ballet. In 2016, Morgan was offered an apprenticeship with PNB, and, in 2017, she joined the main company as a member of the corps de ballet.
Only a year into company life, Morgan is already making her mark. In addition to her demanding corps schedule, she's danced Rosalia in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite, and originated a role in Dani Tirrell's Suckle, which premiered last August. "Growing up in the school at PNB, I was never able to see a woman in the company who looked like me," Morgan says. "That pushed me even more. Now, as I'm dancing in the company, it means little brown girls in Seattle are finally able to see themselves onstage. It's because of them that I continue to strive to be the greatest dancer I can be. They're our future."
There's a serenity and ease to every one of Miranda Silveira's movements. Even in a lightning-fast classical variation, her port de bras is effortlessly liquid.
Growing up in Barcelona, Spain, Silveira excelled at everything from hip hop to tap to contemporary. She moved to Madrid at 14 to start getting serious about ballet at the Real Conservatorio Profesional de Danza Mariemma. At 16, she accepted a full scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School—with less than a week's notice. "It was hard moving 5,000 miles from home to suddenly start a new life," Silveira says. But she relied on ballet to pull her through: "The rhythm of everyday classes, and knowing it was a good step for my future, kept me going."
Silveira became an apprentice with San Francisco Ballet in 2013, and joined the corps in 2014. Since then, she's built a varied repertory, including featured roles in several full-length story ballets. In the future, Silveira wants to keep telling stories, bringing to life iconic roles like Onegin's Tatiana and the Alvin Ailey solo Cry. "Of course, there's been an increase in diversity in ballet—if we compare it to back in the day, it's amazing how many different dancers from all over the world are pursuing this professionally," she says. "But it's still a very narrow field, especially in terms of skin color. Change should start in the schools, with training. We need to go further to bring students from all over. If the dancers are diversified, the audience will be, too."
Dance runs in India Bradley's family: Her mother is a dance teacher and a former member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Unsurprisingly, Bradley ended up in dance classes at a young age, studying a little bit of everything but falling hardest for ballet. After training at Dance Theatre of Harlem and the School of American Ballet, Bradley earned her apprenticeship with New York City Ballet last year. Tall and impossibly long-limbed, she's brought a compelling mix of energy and delicacy to a slew of corps roles, as well as some featured parts in The Nutcracker. "I love the fast pace of the company," she says. "You have to keep up. You see how focused everyone is, and you want to work that hard, too."
Bradley grew up idolizing NYCB principals like Wendy Whelan and Tiler Peck, and aspires to join their ranks. "There's a lot of discussion at the moment about the fact that there has never been an African-American female soloist or principal in the company," she says. "I would love to be the first black female to get to that point. I don't necessarily want it for me; it's more just that it needs to happen. It's not about my success. It's bigger than that."