When it comes to strong dance families, nobody rivals Team Tap. Members of the tap community came out in droves when they heard one of their own was a finalist in this year’s Cover Model Search. As they cast their votes, they made eloquent comments about how eager they are for tap to have a bigger presence in the dance world.

We hear you, tappers. And we can’t think of a better representative for your cause than the magnificent Michelle May, voted the winner of our 2015 CMS contest.

(Photos by Erin Baiano)

This spring, during Michelle’s trip to NYC as a finalist, the Dance Spirit staff saw firsthand how her signature orange tap shoes transform her from a sweet, shy teen into a bold, confident beast of a hoofer. The way she fuses tap and hip hop is remarkably innovative, but she makes it look as natural as breathing. And Michelle is more than a fantastic dancer. She’s also smart (she just enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles), compassionate (she continues to work with Ready, Willing, and Able, which pairs dance mentors with teens and young adults with disabilities) and a natural leader (she wants to found a tap club at UCLA).

DS caught up with the busy college freshman to find out about all her summer adventures. Congratulations, Michelle! We can’t wait to see what heights you’ll reach.

“She’s beyond amazing, and her work with disabled children is truly inspirational.

I <3 Michelle so hard.” —DS reader

“Not only is Michelle one of the smoothest dancers out there, but she also has a really distinctive style—lively, spirited and totally joyful.” —DS reader

“What a fantastic entertainer! Her combination of tap and hip hop is flawless, and with every step she shows us how much she loves to dance.” —DS reader

Dance Spirit: So, what have you been up to these past few months?

Michelle May: I graduated high school in June, which was a big moment! At the end of that month, I went to a dance intensive at UCLA, which gave me a taste of what dancing in college would be like. Everyone there connected on a deep level—the classes allowed us to see and appreciate each other’s gifts in a powerful way. After that, I headed to DancerPalooza, where I was a member of the Beat Squad and performed in Jason Janas’ piece at the Capezio A.C.E. (Award for Choreographic Excellence) Awards. I danced in a Tap Sounds Underground show in August, too.

DS: You put on a really strong campaign. How did you get the vote out?

MM: The campaigning process was such an adrenaline rush. I did a lot of sharing on social media, and I asked my teachers and the members of the Syncopated Ladies to spread the word. I made paper flyers that I handed out to everyone in the airport when I was traveling—people seemed to like those. I was especially humbled by the help I got from Anthony Morigerato. He made a video for his website, Operation: Tap, about how one of the CMS finalists was a tapper, and he called on the tap community to vote. At that point, I’d never even met him! I was blown away by his support.

DS: How have you grown since the CMS trip?

MM: The UCLA intensive was a huge learning experience. I’ve known the type of person and dancer I am for a while now, but I think it helped me dig even deeper into what makes me me. We also took classes in some of the old-school hip-hop styles, including house—which, in a funny way, shares a lot of similarities with tap. So I’ve been working on a house-slash-tap piece.

DS: What are your goals for this upcoming year?

MM: To keep an open mind. I know I want to pursue dance—but from there, I’m not 100 percent sure. Hopefully, over the course of my freshman year, I’ll gain perspective on the paths available. And I’m planning to create a tap club in college. There are some great tap dancers at UCLA, and I want to establish a community.

DS: What’s your advice to other CMS hopefuls?

MM: Let your artistic side shine. It’s OK to be different. It’s OK to be unique. There are a lot of dancers out there, so you have to find the one thing that sets you apart. You have to figure out how to be completely yourself.

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

Dear readers,

Just being part of Dance Spirit’s Cover Model Search was a huge honor—more than I could ever have dreamed of. I’ve been so blessed by all of your support, encouragement and votes. Thank you for believing in that tap dancer no one has heard of [Editor’s note: False!] and giving me the opportunity to share my art with you. I was literally in tears reading your kind comments—I felt so much love.

I especially want to thank my family for pushing me and supporting me through the years. I wouldn’t be the dancer I am now without the many hours you spent helping me pursue my dreams, and I’m forever grateful to have you in my life. Thank you to all my mentors and teachers, who are my role models and continue to inspire me.

Thanks, too, to the Dance Spirit staff for this unforgettable experience, Erin Baiano for the beautiful pictures, Chuck Jensen for the hair and makeup and Broadway Dance Center for an amazing first class in NYC. And I loved meeting two inspirational and gorgeous dancers I’m now lucky to call my friends: Gabriella Stilo and Jordan Pelliteri. I’m honored to have shared this experience with you both!

I’m so humbled by this opportunity, and so happy to have been able to share my passion for tap with all of you.

Love,

Michelle

 

We’re thrilled for our Cover Model Search winner Briar Nolet—but we also love our two runners-up, Kerrynton Jones and Tatiana Melendez. Dance Spirit editor Olivia Manno talked to Tatiana about what she’s been up to since her NYC visit.

 

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

DS: What have you been up to since your trip to NYC?

TM: Since the trip, I attended the Houston Ballet summer intensive for 6 weeks and am still currently training at the Houston Ballet Academy in the professional division (it's my second year!). I've been involved in two performances so far: Stanton Welch's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and "Full Circle" by Oliver Halkowich in Sustatined by Breath and Line.

 

DS: What was your favorite part about the whole experience?

TM: My favorite part of the experience was having the opportunity to work with so many incredible people, as well as getting to know and dance with the two other phenomenal finalists, Briar and Kerrynton. Everyone was so positive and fun to be around—it's an experience I'll never forget. Oh, and of course seeing Finding Neverland on Broadway and site-seeing around NYC were highlights!

 

DS: Any exciting dance things coming up in the next few months?

TM: Since the trip, I've become a JJGirl and represent Jo + Jax. I've also been preparing for Houston Ballet's brand new Nutcracker production, which runs from November through December.

 

DS: Do you have any advice for future CMS finalists?

TM: The best advice I can give is to just be yourself and not be afraid to stand out or be different. Really absorb everything and don't take anything for granted. Lastly, have fun! There's no reason to hold back.

 

Check out Tatiana's letter to readers!

Dear Readers,

Wow, where to begin? I want to start by saying how incredible this experience was and how much it meant to me. The amount of love and support that I received throughout this process is something I cannot even fathom. Thank you to everyone who took the time to share, comment, campaign and vote for me! I am so incredibly grateful and overwhelmed by this entire experience. I also want to thank the entire Dance Spirit team and the two other dancers and friends that I shared this journey with, Kerrynton and Briar, for making this experience so unforgettable. I wouldn't have been able to do it without you all and am so grateful to have been given this opportunity of a lifetime! 

-Tatiana

We’re thrilled for our Cover Model Search winner Briar Nolet—but we also love our two runners-up, Kerrynton Jones and Tatiana Melendez. Dance Spirit editor Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone caught up with Kerrynton and talked about her summer and the CMS experience.

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

NLG: How was your summer?

KJ: My summer was full of nonstop dancing! I kicked it off in June by attending Artist Simply Human (ASH) Nationals in Florida, which was fun and exhausting. From there, I went to California where I booked a job as a dancer in a Sia music video featuring Maddie Ziegler. I also booked a promotional video for CLI Studios with Teddy Forrance. I attended the Buildabeast Experience 2016 in Pomona, CA, but had to slip out for one day to go shoot with Teddy. Three hours after Buildabeast ended, I went directly into rehearsal with Suga N' Spice to prepare for our video "Basement Party." Two days after Buildabeast, I took a plane to San Francisco for the Joffrey Ballet School summer intensive with Josie Walsh. That about sums it up!

NLG: How did you campaign during the CMS voting process? Did you have any special strategies?

KJ: During the CMS voting process, I used my Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter accounts as well as the accounts of my mom, friends and family to get the word out. I sent emails and text messages to all the contacts in my phone and my mom’s phone. My mom’s job sent out an email to all the employees. When I attended ASH I asked any and everyone that I encountered to vote for me. I reached out to the choreographers that know and love me, asking them to support me, and they did by posting to their social media accounts. I campaigned for votes at my doctor and dental offices, from my classmates at Joffrey and my neighbors. I reached out to the convention owners in which I served as an assistant, both past and present, for support and they all posted my picture and the link to vote on their convention page. I belong to several dance crews and I solicited votes from all my team member and each director posted to the crew’s social media outlets. The studio I attended in [my hometown of] Frederick, MD, also supported and posted the information on their social media and studio website. I gave the magazines I received from Dance Spirit to family and friends who used it as a tool to campaign for votes. My grandmother shared the information with her church members and I put my cousins to work, asking them to campaign for me with their college friends.

NLG: What was your favorite part of the CMS experience?

KJ: I absolutely enjoyed the entire process but my favorite part was seeing the Broadway show Finding Neverland. It was nothing short of incredible! The cast members made the entire experience feel like actual magic. In fact we even got to see a little bit of how that magic worked backstage after the show with some of the cast members. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

NLG: How have you grown since the CMS trip and what are you looking forward to next year?

KJ: Having to campaign gave me so much more courage to approach people and just be me. I’ve opened up more as young girls, especially young girls of color, are now reaching out to me asking me questions about how to become a better dancer. I’m so honored that they see me as a source of information and inspiration.

NLG: Do you have any words of wisdom for future CMS hopefuls?

KJ: Always believe in yourself, keep training and never give up on your dreams or the desires of your heart. And lastly don’t worry about the things you can’t control but don’t let them control you.

Dear Readers,

It is with a very grateful heart that I say thank you to everyone that took the time out of their very busy day to vote and support me on this amazing journey. To the amazing staff at Dance Spirit magazine and the sponsors Sugar and Bruno, thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime.  I enjoyed meeting each of you. I sincerely enjoyed meeting and spending time with Briar and Tatiana—we clicked immediately.  I’m looking forward to continuing my friendship with these two amazing dancers. And lastly to my mom, thank you for all that you do and all the sacrifices you make for me.  I would not be where I am if it were not for you. I love you.

From my heart,

Kerrynton Jones

Briar's your 2016 CMS winner! (Photo by Erin Baiano)

As soon as 17-year-old Briar Nolet hit her first pose (a stunning full layout, no big deal) at her NYC photo shoot, the Dance Spirit staff knew she would go far as a Cover Model Search finalist. Her presence is simply magnetic. So it’s no surprise Briar’s fierce talent, combined with her mature spirit and acting chops, completely stole our hearts—and yours. In addition to her already loyal fans, Briar’s gained plenty of new admirers in the process, and loyal they are, too: Voters loved seeing Briar as a finalist and voiced their support on social media every step of the way. One reader commented, “She’s a strong and independent girl who could rule the dance world” (we agree) and another said, “All of her moves seem effortless. She’s now my role model.”

Since coming to NYC, Briar has been busy filming “The Next Step,” a Canadian dance show in which she plays the sassy Richelle, and performing with her cast mates on their latest world tour. Ultimately, though, this Canadian has her sights set on a full-blown Tinseltown takeover: Briar hopes to expand her acting resumé and work toward attending the University of California, Los Angeles, for the following academic year. DS caught up with her to get more details.

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

Dance Spirit: So what have you been up to these past few months?

Briar Nolet: I’ve mainly been filming Season 5 of “The Next Step.” In August, we went on a Canadian tour and right now we’re headed to Europe, Australia and New Zealand for three months on another world tour. I’m so excited to visit Australia—I’ve never been!

DS: What was your favorite part of the CMS process?

BN: The photo shoot was awesome and I had

so much fun on the trip to NYC. Kerrynton and Tatiana are amazing—we’ve even been able

to keep in touch! We got so close over those three days and they really inspired me because we’re all so different. The whole trip was a growing experience—that was the best part.

DS: You put on a really strong campaign. Did you have any strategies during the voting process?

BN: I asked a lot of my friends and family members to share about the contest and kept them updated with what was happening. I also posted on social media often to keep people up to date and remind them that voting was still open.

DS: What are your goals for this upcoming year?

BN: Definitely to keep acting, so I’m finding some other opportunities in that area, like movies or shows. Next year, my big goal is to attend UCLA.

DS: Do you have any advice for other CMS hopefuls?

BN: Train a lot. And always do your best to keep a positive mind-set. It’s the best way to think about everything, even if you think something’s impossible. It’s definitely not if you just put your mind to it.

Briar's Letter to Readers

Dear readers,

Wow! Did this really happen? It’s been a dream of mine for so many years to be featured in Dance Spirit and finally the day has come! I’m speechless about how grateful I am for this opportunity.

Many thanks to everyone associated with DS for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and to all of my family, friends and fans for their continuous support. Goals are everything, but you can’t get anywhere without the support of your friends and loved ones.

I love you all!

Briar

 

Seventeen-year-old Briar Nolet has all the qualities we’ve come to expect from a top-tier contemporary dancer: stunning control, impressive strength, seamless fluidity. But it’s her emotional maturity that truly stands out. “Dance is a way of expressing myself without having to speak,” she says. “I fully expose my soul onstage.”

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

It makes sense that Briar approaches choreography like a seasoned actress—because she is one. She’s practically grown up on the set of the teen drama “The Next Step,” a Canadian TV series following a group of studio dancers and their competition stories. Briar has played the feisty and fiercely determined Richelle since she was 14, and recently finished up a live stage tour with the cast throughout Canada and Europe. For the past 10 years, Briar’s also trained and competed with Oakville’s Canadian Dance Company, under the direction of Allain and Dawn Lupien. She’s studied everything from jazz to ballet to tap to hip hop—and she’s become known for her daredevil acrobatic moves, which she credits to a stint in gymnastics before she discovered dance. “I love acro—doing flips out of turns, things like that,” Briar says. “I’m constantly throwing my body around, trying to figure out new moves.” That versatility has earned Briar a lot of success on the comp circuit. She’s placed first overall at Showstopper in the Junior, Teen and Senior categories, and earned first runner-up at the American Dance Awards last year with her Travis Wall–choreographed solo “Day Drift.” But while she’s happy that her visibility on the scene has made her a role model for younger comp kids, she knows the titles aren’t everything. “It’s not about the winning at all,” she says. “It’s more about dancing for myself, sharing the love onstage and inspiring people to follow their dreams.”

Currently homeschooled, Briar plans to head to college—hopefully her dream school, the University of California, Los Angeles—once she finishes her high school coursework, and she wants to keep up her acting career through movies and TV shows. But she’s not hanging up her dancing shoes anytime soon: She also aspires to join a professional company. “Dance is like water to me,” she says. “I’ve always lived with it, and I always plan to.”

“Briar is chameleonlike: She turns like a professional ballerina and tumbles like an Olympic gymnast. You’re simply mesmerized by her gorgeous lines and incredible dynamics. She’s also always the camera’s favorite person in the room.”

—Allain Lupien, co-owner/director of Canadian Dance Company

Fast Facts

Birthday: December 27, 1998

One thing she can’t live without: “My phone. Wait, what am I saying? My family and friends, for sure.”

Favorite dance memory: “Doing a contemporary trio with Myles Erlick and Devon Brown last year. The dance itself, and dancing with them, was absolutely incredible.”

Guilty pleasure: “Candy is my weakness. It’s terrible.”

One thing no one knows about her: “I’m a baking fanatic. Even on tour, if we have kitchens in our hotel room, I’ll go to the grocery store and find something to make.”

Favorite foods: “I’m such a carb girl, so pasta and bread.”

Favorite quote: “My mom sends me quotes throughout the week when I’m not with her, and she finds amazing ones. My favorite right now is, ‘To make a difference in someone’s life, you don’t have to be wise, rich or beautiful—you just have to be there when they need you.’ ”

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