Sarah Pippin (photo by Erin Baiano)

The National YoungArts Foundation offers a yearly award to talented young people in the visual, literary, design and performing arts fields. In 2016, that could be you!

Many of the dancers we know and love have been recognized by the YoungArts Foundation—in 2015 alone finalists included Sarah Pippin, one of our 2014 CMS finalists; honorable mentions included our 2013 CMS winner Hayden Hopkins, tap queen Devin Ruth and our comp crush (and one of the stars of our web series "The Road to Nationals") Jake Tribus; and merit winners included our other 2014 CMS finalist Alyssa Allen.

Whew! That's a lot of talent in one lineup. (Also, do we know how to pick them or what?) YoungArts will be accepting applicants from April to October, so you have plenty of time to polish your application. Dream of joining the ranks of Sarah, Ricky Ubeda and Desmond Richardson? Apply here!

Earlier this month, 170 standout high schoolers ventured to Miami to participate in National YoungArts Week. The group of YoungArts finalists—whittled down from roughly 11,000 applicants nationwide—included 21 dancers, and they were treated to master classes with artists like former New York City Ballet principal Phillip Neal (who's a YoungArts alum himself), Miami City Ballet director Lourdes Lopez and Montreal's RUBBERBANDance Group director Victor Quijada. Sounds pretty great, amirite?

Dance finalist Kaleb Sims from Jacksonville, FL (Pedro Portal, Courtesy YoungArts)

It gets better. Throughout the week, students are further adjudicated for a chance to win monetary awards (ranging from $1,000 to $10,000), and they're considered for nomination as 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts. Dance finalists are following in some pretty giant footsteps: Desmond Richardson, Ida Saki, American Ballet Theatre CEO Rachel Moore—even Ricky Ubeda!—were all YoungArts winners.

This year, two very familiar names joined the ranks as YoungArts alumni—Dance Spirit Cover Model Search winner Hayden Hopkins and finalist Sarah Pippin! Congrats, ladies!

Hayden Hopkins at YoungArts Week in Miami (Pedro Portal, Courtesy YoungArts)

For those of us not in Miami, YoungArts posts all finalists' performances on their YouTube channel. Check out Sarah and Hayden's solos below, and then click here to watch the others. And to get details about applying for next year, visit youngarts.org.

Here's Hayden:

Here's Sarah:

And here's a special gift for making it all the way through this blog—Ricky Ubeda's performance from the 2014 National YoungArts Week in Miami:

This just in: The three finalists for this year's Dance Spirit Cover Model Search competition have officially been notified, and they'll be coming to NYC next month for their big photo shoot (plus a Broadway show, a day of classes at Broadway Dance Center and so much more)!

We'll introduce the three finalists in the July/August issue, so be on the lookout. (A few hints: They're all teenagers, they're all crazy talented and they're all super smart.)

Didn't make the cut this year? That's OK! We're already prowling the dance scene for next year's finalists—and you could be one of them!

Entering is nice and easy. Here's what to do:

  • Click here.
  • Upload your best solo video. (You'll need to create an account if you don't have one already, but that only takes about two seconds. Like we said: eeeeeasy!)
  • Enter a brief description to go with your video. We want to know your name, age, dance studio and a bit about why you're so great. Your dancing will tell us the rest.

Last year's winner was Hayden Hopkins. Here's what she had to say about the CMS experience.

Our last three Cover Model Search winners: Megan Skalla, Hayden Hopkins and Kaitlynn Edgar. You could be next! (Photos by Nathan Sayers and Erin Baiano)

Good luck!

Imagine posting on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and getting thousands of “likes” and dozens of comments—in minutes. For Sophia Lucia, Hayden Hopkins, Mia Diaz and Ashi Ross, that’s what using social media is like every day. These four dancers have become internet sensations, thanks to their exceptional technique, winning personalities and eagerness to interact with their fans online. But is being “internet famous” really all it’s cracked up to be? Dance Spirit spoke to Sophia, Hayden, Mia and Ashi to get the scoop.

Mia (David Hofmann)

The Perks

The biggest benefit to online fame is definitely visibility. Having a devoted fan base and lots of easily accessible photos and videos online can lead to an array of opportunities, including professional jobs.

“People can Google my name and learn all about me,” says 12-year-old Mia, a Miami native who trains at Stars Dance Studio. At press time, Mia had more than 312,200 followers on Instagram, 29,900 followers on Twitter and 6,400 Facebook fans. “I’ve gotten job opportunities when people found me online and emailed to see if I was available—film and TV auditions, assisting jobs with choreographers, appearances at charity events.”

Sophia

Similarly, 11-year-old Sophia got the opportunity to perform on “So You Think You Can Dance Ukraine” after being spotted on YouTube. An alum of “Dance Moms” who trains primarily at San Diego Dance Centre, Sophia also uses her social media following—more than 433,800 Instagram followers, 54,800 Twitter followers and 58,900 Facebook fans—as a platform to promote her touring appearances and her California Kisses clothing line.

Ashi (Primal Studios)

For 14-year-old Ashi, an Australian who has appeared in professional productions of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, on the TV show “Dance Academy” and as a backup dancer on “Australia’s Got Talent,” social media fame has led to photo shoot opportunities, a Details Dancewear Australia sponsorship and an offer to attend International Ballet of Houston on scholarship next summer. Ashi currently has more than 148,600 followers on Instagram, 2,300 followers on Twitter and 6,100 Facebook fans.

Hayden

Social media is also a great place to network with fellow dancers. Sixteen-year-old Hayden learned the power of her network firsthand when she won Dance Spirit’s annual Cover Model Search in 2013 after using social media to get the word out about the competition. But beyond her CMS win and the other perks from her online fame—including dancewear sponsorships and teaching and travel opportunities—Hayden genuinely enjoys using social media as a social outlet. “I love that social media has allowed me to meet so many other dancers,” says Hayden, who has more than 99,600 Instagram followers, 8,600 Twitter followers and 11,900 Facebook fans. “People will come up to me at conventions and introduce themselves, which is really cool.”

 

Hayden

The Drawbacks

If the upside to putting yourself out there online is increased visibility, the downside is…increased visibility. Sharing pictures, videos and thoughts with thousands of people inevitably leads to a few negative responses. “People can be cruel,” Hayden acknowledges. “They’ll write things they’d never say to my face—comments about my body, about my costumes and about me.” How does she deal? “I try not to let it mean anything. Those people don’t actually know me.”

Sophia and Maddie Ziegler of "Dance Moms"

“Kids can hide behind a computer screen and bully others, and it makes me sad,” Sophia says. “When people do that on my photos, it hurts, and it makes my family hurt, too. I tell myself, Haters are gonna hate, and you have to deal with it—but I also want to prevent more bullying from happening.” To do her part, Sophia has started using her social media accounts to speak out against cyber-bullying.

Ashi

“When you’re in the public eye, you have to have a thick skin,” Mia says. “If there are rude comments on my pages, I delete them. I’d rather focus on the positive than on the negative.” Ashi agrees: “Sometimes people are mean and critical, but if I see a bad comment, I just delete it. If someone continuously writes rude things, I block him or her. What keeps me inspired and motivated is that I have so many followers who are supportive.”

 

 

Mia and her mom

The Bottom Line

It may be fun to be an internet celebrity, but it also takes work. Hayden, Sophia, Ashi and Mia all share new photos, videos and written posts at least once a day, every day. They do their social media postings themselves, or with a little help from their moms—especially Sophia and Mia, who, because they’re under 13, are required by the social networks to have parent-supervised accounts.

They have to consider what fans want to see and be thoughtful about how much of their private lives they share. “Some pictures don’t make the cut to go online,” Mia says. “You have to be careful about what you post because you don’t know who’s out there looking at it.” Sophia is vigilant about not sharing pictures with bad technique—“If my foot isn’t pointed, someone will comment on it,” she says—while Hayden tries not to post pictures where she looks too thin, also to avoid negative feedback.

Sophia and her duo partner, Gino

What gets the most “likes”? Dance pictures and videos are at the top of the list, but fans also want to see life outside the studio. “I share a lot of things going on in my life,” Sophia says. “Pictures of my family, my dogs, me hanging out with my friends—I’m a normal girl, and people like to see that.”

Interacting with fans is a big part of the job. Mia, Sophia, Hayden and Ashi take the time to reply to comments and share fan-made videos and images with the rest of their followers. They run contests, too. “I’ve done contests on Instagram to give away California Kisses outfits and autographed pictures,” Sophia says. “For my birthday, we asked fans to make an edit of me, and I picked my favorite to win a prize.” And, of course, there are the face-to-face interactions, from meeting followers casually at dance conventions (or while out shopping, which has happened to Ashi) to running workshops, appearing at events and video-chatting with fans.

Ashi and her dad

In the end, Sophia, Hayden, Mia and Ashi aren’t on social media to be famous—they’re on it because they enjoy it. “I love seeing other dancers’ pictures and sharing my own,” Hayden says.

Sophia agrees: “It’s fun to interact with my fans and my friends online, and it’s great to have a way both to give back—like trying to stop cyber-bullying—and to inspire other dancers to go for what they want in life,” she says. Mia also sees social media as a way to reach out: “I want to be known as a positive role model,” she says.

“I never thought I’d get as many followers as I have now,” Ashi says. “I’m really grateful for everyone who follows me.”

 

Hayden

FROM SELFIE TO SUPERSTAR

No one starts out with 100,000 social media followers—and very few people make it that far. So how did these four dancers become online sensations? While dedicated posting and quality content are important, it also takes a little luck to stand out from the crowd.

“I started my Instagram when I was 14,” Hayden says. “At the time, I already had dance videos on YouTube and had maxed out my friends on Facebook, so Instagram was another way for people to follow me.” She did a lot of in-person networking at conventions that year, meeting as many other dancers as she could. “I won a couple Nationals and started putting dance pictures online. I gained followers pretty quickly!”

Ashi

Ashi’s turning point came when she reached 10,000 followers. That was when Instagram started featuring her on its “Popular” page, putting her in front of even more avid dance fans. Her numbers went through the roof, bringing her to almost 140,000 followers for her year-old account.

TV helped launch Sophia into the internet stratosphere. “I was so happy to hit 10,000 followers in October 2012,” she says. “Then I did ‘Dance Moms,’ and my numbers just blew up.” More media appearances—including a performance on “Dancing with the Stars” in May 2013 following her Guinness World Record–breaking 55 pirouettes in March 2013—helped her online popularity continue to grow.

When Mia launched her Instagram account, she was already very popular on YouTube. After she won first overall Junior lyrical solo at Hall of Fame’s Boca Raton regionals in 2011, the competition posted a video of her winning routine, “Ave Maria,” on its site. The same video was shared on YouTube, where it became wildly successful and led to more videos and more fans. Joining Instagram was a natural next step, and it only took Mia a year to get to 100,000 followers.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT

Build your own online community by posting with some of social media’s most popular “theme day” hashtags:

#MusicMonday

Share songs you love with your followers.

#TiltTuesday

Post a photo of yourself rocking your best side tilt! (Just be sure to wear a tasteful outfit with this wide-legged pose.)

#TutuTuesday

Ballerinas unite to share gorgeous tutu pictures on this theme day—so add yours.

#WayBackWednesday, #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday

For these days, pull out pictures from an old recital or the first time you wore pointe shoes.

#FridayReads

For bookworms, here’s when you can tell your friends and fans about the best dance book (or Dance Spirit article!) you read recently.

Do you dream of posting gorgeous DIY dance photos online? These tips from one of the best professional dance photographers in the biz, Erin Baiano, will help you snap the perfect shot.

(courtesy Ashi Ross)

1, 2, 3, JUMP!

  • Capture movement by counting off. “The shooter and the subject have to coordinate timing,” Baiano says. “For a jump, you could count, ‘One, two, down on three, and jump!’ ” Use trial and error to find the right moment to snap.

  • Try different angles to add visual interest. Shoot from above or from below. “Don’t be afraid to move around until you get the best angle,” Baiano says.

  • Use natural light. For outdoor shots, Baiano suggests shooting at “the magic hour,” when the sun’s about to set. “The light at that time is soft and flattering,” she explains. Avoid shooting at noon. “When the light is directly overhead, your eyes will cast shadows and you’ll look like a raccoon!” If you’re indoors, try to pick a time and space with as much natural light as possible.

  • (courtesy Mia Diaz)

    Learn to love the flash. “You need flash more often than you think,” Baiano says. “If you’re backlit, use a flash. If it’s low light, you can be blurry without flash. If something doesn’t look right, even in daylight, try adding a flash. Just don’t use a flash when you’re taking a selfie or directing the camera at a mirror.” A flash too close to your face can make you look like a ghost, while a flash in the mirror will give off a glare.

  • Think about your environment. “If where you are is part of what’s exciting about the shot, include as much of the environment as you can,” Baiano says. When you’re at the beach or crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, your viewers will want to see the sights. If the picture is just about you—or if you’re in a very plain environment—fill the frame with your body, instead.

  • Keep it PG. Be aware of how much skin you’re showing and avoid doing overly sexual moves—especially if you’re young. Instagram and other social networks can close accounts with inappropriate content, and other users can report you.

  • (courtesy Hayden Hopkins)

    Have fun! You can express yourself in photography just as you express yourself in dance. It’s OK to be inspired by photos you like of other dancers, but put your own spin on them. “Learn from your mistakes and keep trying different things,” Baiano says. “The more pictures you take, the better you’ll get.”

Perfected the art of the perfect dance shot? We want to see! Email your picture to photo@dancemedia.com for a chance to be featured as Dance Spirit's Photo of the Day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

The new issue! Cover shot by Erin Baiano.

The funnest day in the Dance Spirit office every month is "new issue day." Even though we've just wrapped up months of working on a particular issue, it's still crazy exciting when we actually get our copies and get to hold them and gawk at them and bask in their new shininess.

The January 2014 issue arrived the other day and, in accordance with our little tradition, we all squealed and flipped through every page with an insane amount of excitement. This issue is an especially big deal because we've got some major dance celebrities on the cover: Sophia Lucia and Ashi Ross. They may be young and teeny-tiny, but these two girls collectively have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. They're kind of a big deal.

We got a little peek at why people are so obsessed with Sophia and Ashi during their cover shoot in NYC. Ashi flew in all the way from her home in Australia (crazy!) and Sophia took a cross-country flight from San Diego, where she lives. The two of them hit it off right away, striking cute, fun and silly poses for our photographer, Erin Baiano. They had about a billion outfits and pairs of shoes between the two of them (I was hugely jealous of Sophia's wacky leggings and Ashi's high-waisted shorts that tie in the back) and, best of all, we got to shoot them on the hottest of hot pink backgrounds (a personal dream come true).

Ashi on the left, Sophia on the right, awesome across the board. Photos by Erin Baiano.

As always, there's lots for your viewing and reading enjoyment:

  • Click here to read this month's cover story about Sophia, Ashi, Mia Diaz and Hayden Hopkins—four of the most-followed dancers on the internet.
  • Click here for an entire album of exclusive outtakes from Ashi and Sophia's photo shoot.
  • Click here to watch a behind-the-scenes video from the shoot, and to get social media tips from the girls.
  • After you've done all that, click here to let us know what you think about the issue! Maybe we'll print your comment in Dance Spirit.

The January issue is available now online, and will be at your local Barnes & Noble and favorite dance retail stores on December 31.

Happy reading!

Cover Model Search winner Hayden Hopkins on our October 2013 cover!

Each year, Dance Spirit features some major celebrities on our covers. Recently, we've had Mia Michaels, Simrin Player, the founding members of Shaping Sound, Jakob Karr and all 10 of Beyoncé's backup dancers.

In the midst of all the heavy-hitters, we also feature one not-yet-but-sure-to-be famous dancer: you!

We think you've got what it takes to command the cover of Dance Spirit. So why not go for it?

This is your last chance to enter the 2014 Cover Model Search competition—the deadline is December 31! All you have to do is click here, spend two seconds creating an account, and then upload your best solo video to the Cover Model Search competition. If we love you, we'll be in touch.

Not convinced yet? That's crazy. Here are some thoughts from last year's winner, Hayden Hopkins:

"My favorite part of the experience was the professional photo shoot with the other finalists. We had so much fun with hair and makeup and in wardrobe."

Yup, if you're picked as a finalist, we fly you to NYC in the spring, take you to a Broadway show and to dance classes at the famous Broadway Dance Center, and get you in front of a professional dance photographer for a super-fun photo shoot.

"Since being featured in DS, I've been contacted by so many dancers who tell me they've been inspired by me and can relate to my story. I've also been recognized by choreographers who have seen me dance before, but told me that since reading my article, they've gained more insight to my personality."

See? You can inspire people and become famous.

"Don't be intimidated to enter. All the past winners have been very different, so you never know what the editors will be looking for. Submit something you're proud of and that shows versatility and great technique."

What she said.

Good luck!

Hayden Hopkins (by Nathan Sayers)

Each year, the Dance Spirit editors go on and on about how difficult it is narrowing a field of hundreds down to just three finalists in the annual Cover Model Search. And that’s true—it’s a lofty task that we’re perhaps a bit too passionate about. There are heated discussions, voting sessions and emotional email exchanges weighing the pros and cons of every entrant.

This year, though, there was no debate over one CMS contestant: Hayden Hopkins. When we watched her video, we all knew this girl was coming to NYC as a finalist. And when we turned the voting over to you to pick a winner, you clearly agreed she was worthy of the top spot. Earning more than half the total votes, here she is, gracing the cover of this issue as your latest CMS winner.

After squealing in excitement when she found out she’d won the contest, Hayden filled us in on what she’s been up to since we saw her in April.

Dance Spirit: How did it feel to find out you’d won the Cover Model Search?

Hayden Hopkins: I was walking into a ballet class at Pacific Northwest Ballet School when I saw that Alison Feller, the editor in chief of Dance Spirit, had called me—and I knew she was calling to tell me the results. I tried to concentrate on what seemed like the longest class ever. Then, immediately afterward, I ran to a quiet corner and called her back. When she told me she was calling to congratulate me on becoming the 2013 Cover Model Search winner, I felt total excitement and a sense of relief. I wanted to leap around Seattle Center! It’s a memory I will keep with me forever.

DS: How did you get so many votes?

HH: I really took advantage of social media. I posted on my Twitter and Instagram, asking people to help spread the word, and I started a “voteforhayden” Instagram account that gained a good following. I also wrote a more personal open letter on my Facebook page explaining how much it would mean to win. I worked with a T-shirt business and had “#voteforhayden” tank tops made. I had picture cards printed with the Dance Spirit voting website on them, and I handed them out to dancers I met at Nationals in Las Vegas. Any time I met someone new or took a picture with someone, I asked them to vote. I really just put myself out there and tried to be honest and sincere.

 

Hayden Hopkins (by Nathan Sayers)

DS: What have you been up to since we last heard from you?

HH: I was a part of the Dancers Against Cancer campaign and performed in a piece choreographed by Mark Meismer at the KARtv Dance Awards and Benefit Show. I celebrated my 16th birthday in July, and I’m excited to start driving lessons when I can find the time. I worked with Emily Shock and Nicki Loud on some solo choreography and choreographed a solo for myself. I also attended West Coast Dance Explosion Nationals, where I won first place for teen solos and danced for the last time as the 2012 National Teen Elite Dancer—a title I was so proud to have. I competed at Starpower Finals in Las Vegas and won first place senior solo. Plus, I was able to choreograph a dance solo for my 9-year-old sister, who’s a rhythmic gymnast. She placed in the Top 3 at West Coast Dance Explosion Nationals! I think that was one of

the best moments for me, seeing her happy and feeling good about how she did.

DS: How have you grown as a dancer since the CMS trip?

HH: It was my first time in NYC. For so long I’ve thought that’s where I should be when I’m older—and the city was even better than I expected! Being able to go backstage at a Broadway show and take classes at Broadway Dance Center really opened my eyes. There’s so much about dance I need to learn and there are so many directions I could take my career. Now I’m really thinking about my future and trying to surround myself with good people. I’m focusing on what works for me instead of following a path that will give me instant recognition. I’ve always been told there’s no time limit on my talent and I shouldn’t be in a rush to grow up. I’m finally starting to see what that means. After the CMS trip my dreams are a little closer to reality.

DS: What’s your advice for future CMS hopefuls?

HH: Send in your best video—one that shows not just great technique but also an honest performance. You don’t have to be with a power studio or have your solo done by a well-known choreographer. Send in something you’re proud of and want to share with others. If you don’t get picked the first time, don’t get discouraged—keep posting videos!

DS: What’s next for you?

Hayden Hopkins (by Nathan Sayers)

HH: I’m working with Tilt Dancewear on some new designs for their upcoming line, and I was approached by a convention about joining their staff as an apprentice choreographer and traveling with them for the 2013–14 season. I also have plans to assist a few choreographers, and hope to learn more about what I do and don’t want to do in the future. I’ll be doing online school again this year so I can travel more, and I’m looking into programs that offer college scholarships. I hope to attend New York University after high school.

I know I want to dance in the future, but I also want to expose myself to other art forms. I love fashion and creative people. I want to see the world and I hope dance will allow me to do that. But right now, my focus is making the right choices for myself while still making connections in the dance world.

I want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who supported me during this journey. Every vote and bit of encouragement has helped me achieve this goal, and for that I am so grateful. I hope other dancers in situations like mine were able to read my story and realize they don't have to give up on their dreams of dancing.

The Cover Model Search experience has been unforgettable, and I'm happy to have shared it with the other finalists, Alexa Luke and Madi Hicks.

To my family, thank you for the continued love—especially my mom, who sacrifices so much to allow me to dance. Thank you to my dance teacher, Kirsten, for the support over the years. And a huge thank you to the Dance Spirit editors, photographer Nathan Sayers and make-up artist Tonya Noland, all of whom made the trip so special for me. I'm so happy I had the opportunity to share my passion for dance.

Love,

Hayden

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