Dancer to Dancer

Former comp kid (and 2013 DS Cover Model Search winner!) Hayden Hopkins grew up training in Seattle, WA, cultivating her huge social media presence along the way—she has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram alone. The 20-year-old recently landed her dream job: dancing in Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas show Mystère. DS had her keep a diary last spring to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on what dancing in a Cirque show is really like.

—Courtney Bowers

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Dancer to Dancer
Makeda Crayton as the African Queen in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity (Eric Jamison, courtesy Zumanity)

For dancers who've spent their lives in pink tights, signing a big ballet company contract can seem like the be-all-end-all goal. But ballet-trained dancers aren't one-trick ponies, and many end up leading successful dance careers outside the ballet world. Before you say “ballet or no way," get inspired by dancers who traded in their pointe shoes for something a little different.

Makeda Crayton, Soloist in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity

I trained under former Dance Theatre of Harlem principal Homer Hans Bryant, and always dreamed of following in his footsteps. But when DTH went on hiatus in 2004, I decided to look for other jobs, and I ended up finding my dance home at Cirque du Soleil.

I love Cirque's storytelling aspect. It reminds me of performing story ballets, but you're given a lot more freedom to develop your character. Right now, I play the African Queen in Zumanity—I have a solo that opens the whole show. It's up to me to pull the audience into our world, and I'm constantly reinventing my character to find new ways to connect. I still do a floor barre before every performance, and I'm thankful for my ballet training. The show's acrobats are always shocked at how quickly I can pick up movement. Before DTH reopened in 2013, I was invited to take class with its traveling repertory ensemble. While it reminded me how much I missed ballet, I realized my path as a dancer had changed. I love what I do.

Brandon Leffler in costume for "On the Town" (Monica Simoes, courtesy Leffler)

Brandon Leffler, dancer in Trip of Love, off-Broadway

I was on The Performing Arts Center in L.A.'s commercial track when I first fell in love with ballet. The school's director helped me switch around my schedule so I could do a classical concentration, and I ended up booking a job with Ballet Austin II after attending the company's summer program.

I spent a year there, and it was an amazing experience. Ballet Austin is a small company, so we got to dance in the corps for larger ballets. Once

I got used to the day-to-day rigor of ballet company life, though, I realized I needed a bit more freedom. That's when I set my sights on Broadway. I moved to NYC to take a job with Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, and began auditioning for musical theater jobs. About a year later, I booked a national tour of Cats, and haven't looked back since.

The greatest gift ballet gave me is my solid technical base. In musical theater, you're doing the same movement eight times a week. Unless you're using your body properly—and ballet teaches you how to do that—you're going to get injured.

Wada as a member of Sidra Bell Dance (David Flores, courtesy Sidra Bell Dance)

Madison Wada, Sidra Bell Dance New York

Growing up in the small town of Lancaster, CA, I studied many styles at a local studio, but I fell in love with ballet. I looked up to ballerinas like princesses. When I decided ballet was my dream, my mom started driving me an hour each way every day to train at Los Angeles Ballet Academy. It was a rigorous school, with graded exams at every level. But after spending a summer at Alonzo King LINES Ballet post-graduation, I decided I wanted to go in a more contemporary direction. As much as I loved classical dance, I knew even if I gave 125 percent, I still probably wouldn't make it—I just don't have the feet or the stature. When I started to explore contemporary dance, first at LINES and then with Sidra, I began to appreciate the value of my movement quality, beyond the height of my leg or the number of pirouettes I could do.

Usborne in her bunhead days (Patrick Baldwin, courtesy Usborne)

Georgia Usborne, Gallim Dance

My second-year ballet teacher at Central School of Ballet in London told me I didn't have the facility to join a company—and that I needed to learn to maximize what I had. Ballet was my passion, but with the limitations of my body, I knew classical technique would always be a struggle. I ended up spending three years at Bern Ballet in Switzerland, which has a more contemporary repertoire and allowed me to further explore that kind of movement. I had to break down a lot of mental walls to find my artistic voice, and taking Gaga class in Bern helped me find that freedom of expression. Now, at Gallim, I've found the perfect balance of ballet and Gaga.

Prominski backstage at "Dirty Dancing" (courtesy Prominski)

Katelyn Prominski, Broadway dancer

I started off on a pretty successful ballet track: I trained at San Francisco Ballet, toured with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, spent four years in the Boston Ballet corps and then joined Pennsylvania Ballet. Shortly after moving to Philadelphia, I got very sick. I didn't know what was happening to my body—ballet became miserable. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and decided to retire.

My boyfriend at the time (now my fiancé) was touring with Billy Elliot, and as I started to get better, I realized musical theater could be a great way for me to return to performing, because it's a slightly less grueling, more flexible environment than the ballet world. I just finished touring with Dirty Dancing, where I used my ballet training every day. Broadway choreographers love ballerinas—they know I'm going to give them a six-o'clock penché, sky-high leaps and can-can kicks to my face.

Emnace in her ballet days (Oliver Endahl, courtesy Emnace)

Ariana Emnace, Commercial dancer

I trained intensively in ballet, going to summer programs at San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre and competing at Youth America Grand Prix. ABT was always my dream. I was fixated on joining a ballet company and becoming a principal—it's what I thought I deserved after training so hard.

When I started auditioning, my ballet teacher convinced me that joining an agency might be a better fit. I signed with Bloc and began looking for commercial and ballet jobs. For a while, nothing really happened. Then Mystic Ballet of Connecticut offered me a spot in their training program—right as I booked a private audition for Chris Brown's BET Awards performance. I told myself if I didn't book the Chris Brown job, I'd move to Connecticut and recommit to ballet. But I got the gig, and I took that as a sign. Since then, the commercial world has really opened up for me. I've realized this is my path.

Rutledge (right) with Reid Bartelme in Lar Lubovitch Dance Company's "Elemental Brubeck" (Nan Melville, courtesy Lar Lubovitch Dance Company)

Laura Rutledge, former dancer with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company

I danced at Indianapolis Ballet Theatre, California Ballet Company, State Street Ballet and Ballet San Jose, and I thought ballet was my home. But when I was a member of Company C Contemporary Ballet, I was introduced to Lar Lubovitch's choreography. From day one of rehearsal, I totally fell in love with the movement. I felt my whole body sigh. I decided to make the cross-country move to NYC to dance with the company.

It was a huge transition for me—no more pointe shoes, and I really had to learn to drop my weight. But all of Lar's movement is based in the ballet vocabulary. You always have to find clarity in your lines. Honestly, I don't think he would've hired me if it weren't for my solid ballet foundation.

Dance News

To me, Thanksgiving means three things: delicious food, quality family time and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Nothing says "It's the holidays!" quite like wrestling a turkey into the oven, while looking over my shoulder to make sure I haven't missed the Radio City Rockettes. (This has yet to end in disaster, knock on wood.)

So each November, I begin scouring the web for hints about the year's dancetastic performers. And I'm super psyched for what 2013 has to offer.

First, there's the pre-parade show, which features an assortment of fun dance numbers to celebrate the year's new Broadway shows. Get excited for excerpts from Motown, Pippin, and Matilda:

The Revolting Children from Matilda the Musical

In case that's not enough, we get a sneak-peek at The Sound of Music, Live!--an NBC telecast, airing December 5 at 8/7c, starring Carrie Underwood:

(courtesy NBC/Everett Collection)

The pre-parade show also features the world-famous Radio City Rockettes, who never fail to kick it up a notch:

The Radio City Rockettes perform at the 86th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (by Taylor Hill/Getty Images North America)

After that, the parade procession begins (led by those ginormous character balloons..Snoopy's coming back this year guys!).

My favorite part of the procession? The various dance teams, who travel from all over the country to show off their spirit and skill in the Big Apple. This year, we'll be entertained by the South Shore Drill Team, Varsity Spirit Cheer, Spirit of America Dance, All That! (a clogging group that appeared on "America's Got Talent") and J.U.M.P. (Jumpers United for Macy's Parade).

Varsity Spirit Cheer brings infectious energy to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Added bonus: Cirque du Soleil is teaming up with Macy's this year to debut Dreamseeker, one of the parade's largest floats (which is sure to feature some of our favorite bendy acrobats).

The 87th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade airs Thursday, November 28 from 9am to noon on NBC.

Get excited! (And don't forget about that turkey in the oven...)

Dancer to Dancer
Megan Levinson prepping her Rockettes look (Rana Faure/MSG Photos, courtesy MSG Entertainment)

There are zillions of makeup goodies out there, and just as many ways to wear them. Rather than spending the rest of your life trying to find that perfect black eyeliner pen, take a cue from these pros, who have streamlined their prep routines to get the job done night after night.

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Dance News

We're big Cirque du Soleil fans here at DS for many reasons—stunning costumes? Check. Insane acrobatics? Check! Jaw-dropping, breath-taking moments? Check and check. But one thing that both Cirque performers and dancers often have to tackle is performing with a prop (and making it look effortless, at that!). This new video takes us behind the scenes of , with an in-depth look at the prop weapons the cast members must carry around onstage.

in action (photo by Eric Jamison)

The craftsmanship of these pieces is stunning, and the thought of having to maneuver around stage with them is slightly terrifying. Anything can go wrong, but rarely does (and if you find yourself having an onstage performance mishap, we've got you covered). There's something so captivating about the beauty of martial arts combined with dance and acrobatics, and KÀ embodies all of it. Check out the video below.

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Dance News

Thanksgiving is a bad day to be a turkey, but a GREAT day to be a Broadway baby: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature numbers from no fewer than eight musicals this year. And that's something for which we're truly thankful.

We'll see the cast of On Your Feet! kick off the whole shebang, salsa-style. The School of Rock kids will shred on a guitar-shaped float. Fiddler on the Roof's cast will show off Hofesh Shechter's traditional-with-a-twist choreography. We'll get sneak peeks at NBC's The Wiz Live (airing December 3) and Cirque du Soleil's first-ever Broadway show, Paramour (opening this spring). Longer-running Broadway productions—Finding Neverland, The King and I and Something Rotten!—will get moments in the spotlight, too.

On Your Feet! is sure to bring the heat. (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Let's take a moment to be thankful for the very real, very amazing exposure the parade gives these shows: About 23 million people are expected to tune in. (Contrast that with the 6.7 million who caught the Tony Awards back in June.) So odds are good that many folks who thought they were just in it for Jordin Sparks and Santa will be totally in love with musical theater by the end of the broadcast.

(Also: Temps in NYC are supposed to reach the 60s tomorrow—which means you can watch guilt-free, knowing that the frequently half-naked Bway performers aren't smiling through gritted, chattering teeth.)

Catch the parade on NBC from 9 am to noon tomorrow!

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Dance News

 

That's right folks—everyone's favorite circus extravaganza is coming to the Great White Way.

The New York Times reports that Cirque du Soleil is planning on producing a show at the Lyric Theater, which is currently home to On the Town, called Paramour. It will combine musical theater and acrobatics, and is set to open in the spring of 2016.

Cirque du Soleil rehearsing at Radio City Music Hall in 2011 (photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

Paramour will feature actors and acrobats, but it won't be a full-blown musical. All the better to cater to Cirque's strengths rather than trying to fit a Broadway mold. Apparently it will be very story-driven but will still feature the mind-bending theater magic and feats of strength that we've come to expect from the company. It's yet to be revealed whether the show will feature any traditional dancing, but Cirque is such a great gig for dancers, you can bet there will be familiar faces in the cast—even if they're soaring over the house instead of busting a move onstage.

Dance News

What's cooler than a chance to talk to dance pros, pick their brains about how they got where they are and get an insider's look at where they work and train? Nothing.

Chapman University in Orange, CA, hosts a yearly Cirque du Soleil Entertainment and Technology Symposium, which allows students to get a special look at what it takes to make the Cirque system operate. The symposium also includes mock auditions and lectures with Cirque directors. This year, the symposium runs from April 16–19.

Chapman University senior Katie Gossen says that the symposium is a really unique experience. And she's especially excited to be heading to the Cirque headquarters in Las Vegas this year. "We will be taking master classes with Cirque employees as well as seeing Michael Jackson ONE and The Beatles Love with a behind the scenes tour for both shows. It's going to be an amazing weekend!"

Dancers in Michael Jackson ONE (photo via Cirque du Soleil)

Cirque was drawn to Chapman thanks to the University's dedication to theater technology, and the symposium hosts classes for theater tech folks as well as performers. Classes range from audio engineering to casting, from costuming and makeup to rigging and stage management.

When you're considering college, these kinds of relationships could help you get a job down the line. And even if your school doesn't have a huge partnership like Chapman's with Cirque, masterclasses and workshops are often a great way to get a foot in the door!

 

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