The year 2011 was filled with show-stopping onstage moments and exciting offstage drama. Whether you were captivated by New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns’ 32 fouettés in Swan Lake or danced along in your seat as Sutton Foster led the Broadway cast of Anything Goes through a series of time steps, there’s no doubt you were entertained. Here are the people who kept us on the edge of our seats in 2011.

—Alison Feller

In Ballet

  • Sarah Lane. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

    When Natalie Portman won the Best Actress Academy Award for her role as a twisted-but-talented ballerina in Black Swan, she neglected to thank her dance double, American Ballet Theatre’s Sarah Lane, in her acceptance speech. Later, Lane stood up to the movie industry by demanding credit for her work.

  • New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer danced the Sugar Plum Fairy role in the company’s Nutcracker, last year, and while most gave her a standing ovation, New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay remarked in his review that it looked as though she’d “eaten one sugar plum too many.” Ringer quickly became a role model for women everywhere when she went on “Oprah” this February to discuss the critique and proclaim that she thinks her body is just fine. So do we, Jenifer. Rock on!

  • As if Alexei Ratmansky wasn’t already the busiest man in ballet, he just extended his contract as American Ballet Theatre’s resident choreographer through 2023.

  • Company tours are a lot of work. This year Ballet Nacional de Cuba embarked on its first U.S. tour in five years, hitting four cities along the way.

  • American Ballet Theatre principal (and star!) David Hallberg became the first American dancer to enlist permanently with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet.

  • The Broadway production of Wonderland. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

    Everyone wanted to go down the rabbit hole: Productions of Alice in Wonderland popped up everywhere, from ballet stages (The Royal Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada and Royal Winnipeg Ballet all showed versions) to Broadway (Wonderland was short-lived, but the choreography by Marguerite Derricks was quirky and fun).

On Broadway

  • Apparently Harry Potter can sing and dance—or at least his real-life alter-ego can. Daniel Radcliffe drew massive crowds and rave reviews when he starred in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. No magic wand needed.

  • The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus.

    The Book of Mormon was easily the most controversial debut on Broadway this year. The show, penned by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone with Avenue Q co-writer Robert Lopez and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, may have offended some audiences, but it impressed the Tony Award voters and took home nine honors, including Best Musical.

On the Comp Scene

  • Joe Lanteri, executive director of New York City Dance Alliance, changed 44 young dancers’ lives this summer when he presented $2.8 million in college scholarships. Go get those diplomas!

  • Selecting the DS Cover Model Search finalists is never easy, but this year there were three dancers who stood out: Kaitlynn Edgar, Maddie Swenson and Zoey Anderson. All three hail from the competition circuit, and all three were wildly impressive.

On TV

  • Melanie Moore won the title of America’s Favorite Dancer on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 8 and landed on the cover of DS!

  • When Beyoncé revealed her baby bump at the MTV Video Music Awards, she proved she runs the world—and so do her choreographers, Frank Gatson, Sheryl Murakami and Jeffrey Page. The trio won the VMA for Best Choreography for Beyoncé’s “Run the World” video.

  • When Laurieann Gibson wasn’t throwing together award-winning choreography for Lady Gaga, she was starring on her own TV shows on E! and BET. We’re not necessarily on board with her screaming fits and harsh treatment of her dancers, but we do respect her moves.

  • Amanda and D'Angelo on "Live to Dance." Photo by Monty Brinton.

    Paula Abdul’s “Live to Dance” wasn’t a hit, but it introduced us to D’Angelo Castro and Amanda Carbajales, who became the show’s champions. These tiny dancers won us over with their personalities and technique.

  • Lil’ Buck may have been the coolest guy to get us talking this year. He starred in Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope” video and helped make jookin’ mainstream. His “Swan” performance alongside Yo Yo Ma? Breathtaking.

On the Big Screen

  • Natalie Portman accepts her Oscar for Best Actress. Photo by A.M.P.A.S.

    She may not have done all the dancing as Nina, but Natalie Portman’s Black Swan performance was definitely Oscar-worthy. Plus, she met Benjamin Millepied, her boyfriend-turned-fiancé and father to her child, Aleph, on set.

  • While no one can truly replace Kevin Bacon, Kenny Wormald proved that he’s a stud with smooth moves in this year’s remake of Footloose. Plus, his onscreen chemistry with costar Julianne Hough made us want to drag our own boyfriends to dance class.

  • In First Position, audiences get a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes action at the Youth America Grand Prix finals in NYC. The documentary and its stars—Michaela DePrince, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Miko and Jules Fogarty, Aran Bell and Rebecca Houseknecht—received rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In Modern Dance

  • Bill T. Jones + Dance Theater Workshop = New York Live Arts. We love a good collaboration.

  • When Judith Jamison retired as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Robert Battle was handed the reins to the prestigious modern company. We can’t wait to see what he does with the group in 2012.

Ringer with a Dancing Dreams student (photo via Dancing Dreams)

Pretty much every little girl dreams of taking ballet classes. But for children with disabilities, the path to the dance studio can be rocky.

That's where Dancing Dreams comes in. Founded in 2002 by Joann Ferrara, a pediatric physical therapist with a ballet background, the non-profit organization gives children with physical and medical challenges the opportunity to dance.

Each of the program's aspiring primas is assigned a "dance helper," a high school student who helps her during classes and performances. And while there's a voluntary contribution for classes, no child is ever turned away from Dancing Dreams because she can't afford to pay.

The original Dancing Dreams headquarters is in Queens, NY. But next Monday, they'll have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at their new Manhattan location, in the Museum of the City of New York. DS talked to New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer, who serves as Dancing Dreams' artistic consultant, about the expansion and what makes this program so special.

Dance Spirit: How did you get involved with Dancing Dreams?

Jenifer Ringer: I first saw one of their performances in 2007. I couldn't get over the joy that beamed out from the kids. They had such a light in their faces when they danced. And also the relationships they had with their helpers—it was really moving. Afterwards, I got to know Joann. We fell out of touch after a while, but a few years later, when I got that bad review in the New York Times, Joann contacted me again. It turned out the Dancing Dreams girls were really upset by the review, and they wrote all these letters in my defense. It was pretty amazing! At that point, Joann asked me if I'd be willing to participate in some of their classes, and of course I said yes.

DS: Why is the new Manhattan location an important step for the organization?

JR: This will be Dancing Dreams' first expansion from its original location. And that means one more group of girls will have access to dance. I think Joann wants to take the program nationwide. I hope someday there’ll be a Dancing Dreams school in every city in America.

DS: What are your most inspiring Dancing Dreams memories?

JR: I have two favorite memories. First, the last time I went out there, I taught the girls the opening movements of George Balanchine's Serenade, which is a gorgeous ballet. They learned those initial arm movements, and it was amazing to see them do it, the beauty of the way they carried their arms and heads—just the happiness shining out of them. It was as moving for me to watch them do it as would have been to see NYCB dancers perform it. The other memory I have is from their most recent performance, a couple of weeks ago. I got there early and went backstage to help the girls with their makeup and make some of their buns. It's the little things, like their excitement about the fact that they could pick out their own eyeshadow colors, that get to me. It was fun to share in their excitement.

DS: What makes this cause especially dear to you?

JR: I think for me, now that I’m older, I've come back to that idea of dancing just for the love of dance. So often we get caught up in making everything perfect, and you lose that sense of joy that everyone starts out with. Everyone should have the chance to experience the joy of moving to music, and it's really special to watch these girls get that opportunity. It’s a transformative thing. And that’s what’s so healing and inspiring about the program, not just for the girls but for everyone who’s involved with it.

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