If you've gotten your copy of our September issue, then you've definitely seen Kenneth Edwards' beautiful photo essay following Juilliard student (and 2013 CMS finalist!) Madi Hicks for a day. Hicks is a stunning dancer and Edwards an equally stunning photographer, so we here at Dance Spirit had a really (really) hard time picking our favorite images to print in the magazine. Which is why, as a special Saturday treat, we've compiled our favorite outtakes from the shoot. Take a look and prepare to be mesmerized by Hicks' elegant presence and Edwards' on-point photographic eye.
Spend one day observing the dance program at The Juilliard School, and it's obvious how hard the dancers have worked to get there. But even in a studio filled with insane talent, 20-year-old Madi Hicks stands out. A former title-winning comp kid (and 2013 Dance Spirit Cover Model Search finalist!), this junior dances 24/7, and packs as many dance composition classes into her schedule as possible. “I love, love, love to choreograph," she says. “I really want to have my own company some day." In the meantime, she's soaking up all that her elite school and NYC have to offer. So what's it like to attend one of the most prestigious conservatories in the nation? We followed Hicks for a day last spring to find out.
“The teachers really care about our futures and invest in us," says Hicks. “I get so much one-on-one help because the Juilliard dance program is so small. I wouldn't get that in a larger program."
I remember my audition for Juilliard like it was yesterday. I can tell you which leotard I wore, where I stood at the barre—and that I didn't make it past the first cut.
I bring this up for two reasons:
1. It's college admissions season, when high school seniors anxiously await envelopes containing options and decisions surrounding their future. It's a terrifying time of year, and one that can be extremely exciting and heart-wrenching at the same time.
Juilliard students Daphne Fernberger and Lorrin Brubaker in Lar Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty-Two. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
2. Juilliard's dance department celebrated another successful spring performance run this past weekend. Their sophomore, junior and senior dancers excelled in a repertory smorgasbord: Twyla Tharp's Baker's Dozen, Lar Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty-Two and Eliot Feld’s The Jig Is Up. It was easy to forget the dancers were students and not professionals the way they tackled Tharp's wiggly phrasing and Lubovitch's flowing, expansive movement.
Juilliard's Kristina Bentz in Eliot Feld’s The Jig Is Up.
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
On Friday night, Dance Spirit's very own September 2013 cover guy (and Juilliard junior) Corey John Snide shimmied his way through Feld's quirky mix of Irish-jig-meets-Soul Train-meets-flower-child choreography.
While watching The Jig Is Up, I remembered one of Corey's quotes from the feature: "College has given me options for how I can make a living and feel fulfilled artistically. I'm not just trying to kick my leg up to my face anymore." He captures exactly what college dance has to offer. It's the time to explore everything we love—and don't love—about dance. It's awesome.
Choosing a school, however, is not always as awesome, or easy. When I was rejected from Juilliard, I was definitely disappointed in myself. But as they say, hindsight is 20-20, and I know now my reasons for choosing to audition there in the first place weren't exactly grounded. I didn't know Juilliard's rich history; I'd never seen a performance there; and I had no idea of which company I dreamed of joining after graduation. I hadn't considered what I truly wanted out of a dance education, compared to what the school—or any school for that matter—actually offered.
All classic mistakes.
But Dance Spirit is here to help. Check out "University of NYC" to find out what school in The Big Apple is really like. "Streamline Your College Search" offers countless tips to help you target your dream dance program. And look in your April issue for "I Have No Idea What I Want to Do After High School!" where you'll hear from five professional dancers about how they chose their paths—some heading to college and others directly to a career.
Want more? Sign up for the DanceU101 monthly newsletter to get program news and the "Real Deal" from college dance students delivered right to your inbox.
When I find out there is a video on the internet featuring Jakob Karr that I somehow haven't seen, my day is immediately halted. Must. Watch. Jakob.
Choreographer Lauren Adams recently released a new project she had been working on (and hinting at heavily on Facebook!). A project including Jakob Karrrrrrr!
A shot from "Angel(s) on Fire"
But not just Jakob Karr. Also a whole handful of other awesome, strapping men: Jason Parsons (the bald, mysterious one), Joey Arrigo (the comp kid turned technical whiz), Corey Snide (the tapper who can also do everything else well, too), Austin Goodwin (the scruffy, captivating redhead) and Danny Tidwell (no intro needed, am I right?).
Adams directed and produced this piece, called "Angel(s) on Fire," and I keep watching it because there's so much to see. The video was filmed and edited by Allison Schultz, who does an incredible job shooting from crazy angles and layering the shots throughout the four-minute routine.
So yes, I have this love thing (from afar, of course) going on for Jakob, but I actually found myself most drawn to Corey Snide as I watched the "angels" in action. Corey, weren't you, like, just New York City Dance Alliance's Mini Oustanding Dancer? (You may also recognize Corey from our September 2013 cover—he's a Juilliard man now!)
The choreography seamlessly blends contemporary elements with tap-like movements, a boxing series and the guys playing with feathers.
Click here to watch "Angel(s) on Fire." I think you're going to like it.
Kyle Robinson (bottom row, left) and Brandon Cournay (top row, fourth from right) with their Juilliard class
Brandon Cournay and Kyle Robinson are pretty similar. They both grew up in small towns, moved to NYC to attend The Juilliard School, received their BFAs in Dance in 2009 and went on to have majorly successful dance careers. They also both learned early on that being a male dancer comes with a lot of stereotypes.
Brandon is gay. Kyle is straight. Even though that difference hasn’t changed the way they dance, it’s affected their lives as dancers. Their stories don’t represent every gay or straight male dancer, but they’re real. And Brandon and Kyle agreed to share them with DS.
"I'm Gay" —Brandon Cournay
Brandon for KEIGWIN + COMPANY (Matt Murphy)
As soon as I bought my first pair of Capezio jazz sneakers, I was hooked on dance. I was 10 years old, and I’d wear my dance shoes to school instead of tennis shoes. Yes, I was kind of a weird kid, but I’d found something to look forward to every day.
School was terrible for me. I was constantly being pushed into lockers, and kids would call me “gay” just because I was a dancer. I felt very alone. But I never tried to defend myself, and I didn’t tell anyone about the bullying—not even my parents. I was called gay so frequently I started to wonder, “Am I gay?” when I was still too young to comprehend what that actually meant. I didn’t know anyone in small-town Walled Lake, MI, who was gay and could have told me it was OK.
Every day at four o’clock, I found solace in dance class. I was lucky to go to a studio with a lot of boys. It was unspoken, but we knew we were all going through the same thing at school, and that bonded us.
For the last three years of high school, I had a girlfriend. It’s hard to explain: Looking back, I knew at that point that I was gay. But at the time, I didn’t realize it. I was too afraid and embarrassed to acknowledge it, even to myself.
My girlfriend and I were still dating when I started college at The Juilliard School in NYC. Suddenly, I was meeting people my age and older who were openly gay and totally cool with it. But I was confused through my whole freshman year. I was constantly worried I wasn’t acting straight enough. I was going crazy thinking, What do I do? What is this feeling?
Brandon, with his sister, in his first dance costume
I had a breakthrough when I went back to Michigan the summer after my freshman year. I was acting like a different person back home than I was at school, and I finally understood why. I realized and accepted who I was—a gay man. I felt like a new person, starting over at the age of 19. In a way, it was terrifying.
I never officially came out to my family or friends. There was no big announcement—I just stopped hiding it. When I talked about it with my mom, she just said, “I love you. You’re amazing.” To this day, I still haven’t come out to my extended family. I feel like I don’t have to. I know they know, but I don’t want it to define their perception of me.
After college, I stayed in NYC to audition for roles in both commercial and concert dance. I performed in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and did some gigs with Mark Morris. Then Larry Keigwin—who’d choreographed Runaway on my class during my senior year—emailed to say his company was doing Runaway again and he needed extra dancers. I took the job, and the next season I officially joined KEIGWIN + COMPANY. Larry’s work expands what it means to be a male dancer. For example, Mattress Suite features a love triangle between three men. This company feels like home. These dancers are my family.
As a whole, the dance community in NYC is an open one. But that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the stereotypes that come with being a gay male dancer. There’s this idea that we’re all promiscuous and flamboyant. Sure, some men act like that, but not all of them.
Brandon with his parents at his Juilliard graduation
When I go back home to Michigan, I’m still self-conscious about how I dress and act. I don’t wear skinny jeans to the mall. I’d rather put on a sweatshirt and “mom jeans” to avoid being called names. In August, I ran into someone from high school in my hometown. I said, “How are you?” and he said, “What’s up, homo?” That still hurts.
Luckily, experiences like that are rare these days. One of my closest friends, who’s straight, just visited me for my birthday, and I’m going to another friend’s wedding next week—my first gay wedding. My sister recently started a serious relationship, which sparked a conversation between my mom and me. She asked, “Why don’t you ever talk to me about your relationships?” I was like, “I didn’t think you wanted to know!” She surprised me. When I meet the right person, I’ll bring him home to meet my parents.
Overall, I don’t think being gay has affected me professionally in a negative way or a positive way. Gay or straight, we’re all just dancers.
"I'm Straight" —Kyle Robinson
Kyle Robinson (Tyler Golden/Oxygen Media)
I loved acting as a kid, especially musical theater, so when I was 10 my mom suggested I join my sister at the dance studio. My dad would’ve liked me to stick to baseball and football. But as soon as I took my first dance class, sports became secondary. It took about a year before my dad really started to understand and accept my dancing. By the time I stopped playing sports altogether to focus on dance, my parents had become my biggest fans.
When anyone gave me a hard time at school for being a dancer, I had ways of dealing with it. If someone called me names like “gay” or “fairy,” I’d say, “Is it gay that I’m hanging out with lots of hot girls after school?” That would shut them up.
I had my first girlfriend at 14—a dancer at my studio. But I’d never really given my sexuality much thought. My hometown, Duxbury, MA, was conservative. Things like that just weren’t discussed.
It wasn’t until starting college at The Juilliard School that I really thought about what it meant to be gay or straight. I felt surrounded by gay men. I think I was one of two straight men in my class and one of five in the division. I suddenly had friends who were questioning their sexualities or coming out for the first time.
Kyle (third from left) with his family
It felt like there was a big gay party I wasn’t invited to. I even wondered, “Am I gay because I dance? Or because I can admit that that’s a good-looking guy?” It didn’t take long to realize that, while I loved my male friends, I wasn’t interested in them in a romantic way. At first, I was uncomfortable changing in front of gay guys in the dressing room. But once I got to know the people I was dancing with, there was so much mutual respect that it wasn’t a problem. They knew I was straight, and we wouldn’t make a big deal out of each other’s sexualities.
I realized how far I’d come when some friends from home visited me in NYC. I brought them to a party with all my dancer friends. In the elevator, I warned them, “No matter what, don’t say anything like ‘homo’ or ‘fairy’ at this party.” We stepped off the elevator, and the first person we saw was one of my gay friends—this tall, gorgeous black man—wearing a tiara and running toward me screaming, “Kyyyle!” My friends from home were in shock. But I loved how out and free people were at Juilliard. I’m glad they didn’t feel the need to conceal it or feel guilty about it.
Still, I found myself hanging out with actors rather than dancers at school. There were more straight guys in that major, and we’d watch sports and meet girls together. I don’t think I realized exactly what I was doing, but there were definitely times I went out of my way to “prove” I was straight. The side effect was that I was a little promiscuous with the ladies.
Kyle (second from left) at the L.A. premiere of West Side Story
Since graduation, I’ve danced with Aszure & Artists and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, traveled with the first national tour of West Side Story and starred on the reality show “All the Right Moves” with Shaping Sound. I’ve seen how quickly people judge professional dancers. I’m told all the time I look more like a hockey player that a dancer, which I think stops people from automatically assuming I’m gay. Still, after I tell people what I do for a living, they’ll ask, “So are you gay or straight?” Nowadays it doesn’t hurt my feelings.
While filming “ATRM,” we had two straight guys (Teddy Forance and me) and two gay guys (Travis Wall and Nick Lazzarini) living in one house, and the producers had us talk about sexuality to no end. I’m pretty matter-of-fact about it, but I have to admit, discussing it constantly made me a little uncomfortable—mostly because it really wasn’t an issue for us. I loved living with those boys. Yes, Nick liked to get a little frisky with me; he’s definitely grabbed my butt once or twice. But a firm punch to the arm usually dissuades him from doing it again. I know he’s doing it in a playful way. And frankly, I find it flattering that he spends so much time throwing admiration my way.
My advice for any boy who loves to dance, regardless of whether he’s gay or straight, is to follow his passion. And definitely don’t let other people rain on your parade.
Remember that feeling you used to get on Christmas morning, as you ran downstairs to see what presents were waiting for you under the tree? That's how I felt walking into the Juilliard Dances Repertory concert last night. The annual showcase gives Juilliard's stable of dancers a chance to tackle well-known contemporary works. And every year, new faces have big breakout moments. Hence the Christmas-tree feeling: What phenomenal young dancers will surprise us this time around?
This year's lineup includes works by Jose Limón (The Waldstein Sonata), Nacho Duato (Gnawa) and Ohad Naharin (Secus). Three very big names—and three very different styles. It was wonderful to see Maddie Swenson, one of last year's Cover Model Search finalists, come into her own in Gnawa, and to discover the delightfully odd Kyle Scheurich (who reminds me of recent Juilliard alum Billy Barry—right down to his topknot) in Secus. But I left thinking less about individual dancers and more about the remarkable range all these young artists have. To be able to transform themselves into celestial innocents in the Limón, sensual mystics in the Duato and alien flashers (!) in the Naharin—how extraordinary is that?
It’s no secret that Kaitlynn Edgar is talented. Her hometown teachers saw Kaitlynn’s potential from the start, and competition directors and judges across the country have awarded her top honors at the regional and national levels. Clearly you saw her talent, too, because you came out in droves to cast your vote for Kaitlynn in this year’s Cover Model Search.
This summer, Kaitlynn danced a solo at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals—a performance signaling the end of her reign as National Outstanding Dancer. But Kaitlynn’s dance journey isn’t ending. It’s just beginning.
Since coming to NYC last April for the Cover Model Search competition, Kaitlynn has been on quite a journey. She auditioned for “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 8, making it all the way to the Green Mile round of competition. She attended prom, graduated high school and was accepted to The Juilliard School. She spent two weeks assisting teachers at NYCDA Nationals and she attended a Complexions Contemporary Ballet workshop led by co-artistic director Desmond Richardson. Now, Kaitlynn can add Dance Spirit cover girl to her impressive list of accomplishments.
We caught up with Kaitlynn as she wrapped up her busy, dance-filled summer and got ready to head to college.
Dance Spirit: You’ve grown up with NYCDA. What was it like going to Nationals for the last time?
Kaitlynn Edgar: It was the best two weeks ever. I became so close with the other Outstanding Dancers from the year before, and I got to spend some time with [fellow CMS finalist] Zoey! I performed my solo for the last time and gave up my title. It was sad, but I’m happy that someone else gets to have that experience now. I know I can always go back to NYCDA—I’m not going to lose my spot in that family.
DS: What was the Complexions workshop like?
KE: The workshop was in Detroit, where I’m from, and I was enrolled in the professional level. We worked a lot with Desmond Richardson, which was exciting. He ran most of our classes. It was just crazy being right next to him. At the end of the workshop, we performed actual Complexions pieces. It was my favorite performance I’ve ever done—my adrenaline was really going the whole time.
DS: What made you decide to attend Juilliard?
KE: It would be stupid for me to give up this opportunity. I’ll get top-notch training while I figure out what I want to do with my dance career. I’m so excited to be living in NYC.
DS: What can you tell us about auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance”?
KE: Being there is more fun than watching the show on TV! There’s a lot of waiting and a lot of anticipation, though. I didn’t get much feedback whenever I performed and I didn’t know if that was good or bad. When I did get to talk to the judges they told me I was one of the best dancers who auditioned that season—but I got cut the day of the Green Mile. The experience taught me not to give up. Maybe I just wasn’t a good fit for that season. I’m going to go back and audition again next year for sure.
DS: You got a lot of votes in the CMS competition. How’d you get the word out?
KE: My sisters and my studio were really supportive. My teacher promoted the competition by putting a piece of paper in our recital programs telling people to go online and vote, and my sisters created a Facebook event to get people to the website.
DS: Did you get any especially nice words of support?
KE: I can’t thank people enough. One person commented on my page and said, “It’s great to see someone so talented who can also give back and say thank you.” That made me so happy.
DS: How has your dancing changed since coming to NYC in April?
KE: Now that I know my path is leading me through Juilliard, my mindset has changed. I’m more focused on the Juilliard style of dancing, which is so complex. Juilliard dancers have fewer boundaries and work on a deeper level.
DS: What was your favorite part of the CMS experience?
KE: I loved getting closer with Maddie and Zoey. We’ll all be in college in NYC at the same time!
DS: What’s your advice to future CMS hopefuls?
KE: Work hard. Don’t be shy. Be very giving and accept help from others. Let yourself be inspired by the people around you. Stay open and dance with other people. And just go for it!
Why You Voted For Kaitlynn:
“There is a definite spark in Kaitlynn. The second she begins moving you can’t tear your eyes away from her.” —DS reader
“Kaitlynn embodies everything a dancer should be. Watching her dance is like watching a story unfold onstage. You don’t just see it with your eyes—you feel it with your heart.” —DS reader
“She has it all: beauty, artistry, passion, focus, work ethic, talent, technique and a desire to help others.” —DS reader
A Letter From Kaitlynn
I can't even put into words how honored and excited I am to be chosen as the Dance Spirit Cover Model Search winner! Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to vote—it means the world to me. Also, I would like to thank Maddie and Zoey for making the event such a beautiful experience and for being such an inspiration. This opportunity has allowed me to spread the passion I put into my dancing and share my love for the art with an audience that I never would have been able to reach otherwise. I hope this achievement inspires other dancers to follow their dreams even if they may seem impossible. Again, thank you so much and good luck to all of the future CMS finalists!
Out-of-this-world feet, magnetic stage presence, astonishing control: 19-year-old Maddie Swenson has gifts that should inspire all kinds of envy. The problem is, she’s just so adorable. Case in point: Half the time she looks like she can’t quite believe how talented she is. When she executes a flawless développé à la seconde, her wide eyes ask, Is that my leg, up by my ear? No way! Or, after blazing through a jazz routine, she’ll crack up, unable to come to terms with the fact that yes, that was her out there, killing it. If you feel any lingering twinges of jealousy, just wait until she flashes her beyond-contagious smile. (“But it took three years of braces!” she groans. “They called me Punky the Beaver all through elementary school.”) Yup—there’s no way not to love this girl.
The rising Juilliard sophomore is an alum of Northland School of Dance in her hometown of Champlin, MN. She was one of those competition kids who could easily have been a professional-track ballet dancer, but she felt more at home in jazz and musical theater classes. “I loved anything where I could be silly and fun,” she says, “and bonus points if I could make people laugh.” Not that she took her training lightly. At 16, realizing that she needed to bump her technique up a notch, she enrolled at the prestigious St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists—a not-so-convenient two-hour bus ride away from home—while continuing to dance at Northland. Thanks in part to the change, Maddie had a banner senior year: She was first runner-up for Senior Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals and then earned a coveted spot at Juilliard.
Maddie has been absorbing Juilliard’s diverse dance offerings like a sponge. During her freshman year alone, she rehearsed new pieces by third-year students, worked with guest choreographer Matthew Neenan and understudied Eliot Feld’s Skara Brae for the school’s spring dance concert—all on top of her rigorous daily class schedule. “It was a big transition for me to go from a jazz-focused competition studio to this place where everyone’s been doing modern and ballet their whole lives. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nerve-wracking,” she says. “But it’s been healthy for me. It’s really broadened my horizons. And I still can’t quite believe that I get to dance all day, every day!”
After Juilliard, Maddie hopes to dance on Broadway—or to follow in idol Joey Dowling’s footsteps and become a Radio City Rockette, fulfilling a lifelong dream. “But really,” she says, “as long as I’m out there performing, I know I’ll be happy.”
Birthday: December 25, 1991. She’s a Christmas baby!
Dance crush: New York City Dance Alliance executive director Joe Lanteri. “There’s something about him that makes me dance bigger. He knows so much, and he’s willing to share it all.”
Three words that describe your dance style: Expressive, energized, effortless. “Apparently I like the ‘e’s.”
Non-dance hobby: “I love designing clothes, especially dresses. My older sister and I want to run our own clothing business someday.”
Secret talent: “I have this weird thing—don’t judge—where I can make my ‘innie’ belly button an ‘outie.’ ”
Favorite food: “Anything my Grandma and Grandpa cook—especially Grandma’s heart-shaped waffles, and Grandpa’s baked carrots. He grows the carrots in his own garden.”
Do you have a boyfriend? “I do. We just celebrated our four-year anniversary! He’s a dancer from my hometown, and we’ve been dance partners since we were 10.”
What People are Saying About Maddie
Corrie Rolf Dunn, Maddie’s Teacher at Northland School of Dance: “She’s a very technical dancer—absolutely flawless technique—and her passion comes out in her dancing. She has always been a really hard worker. Maddie was in the studio seven days a week, and not just taking advanced classes. She’d take beginning classes, too, just to go over the basics. She never felt like she was too good to learn. She was also such an inspiration to our younger kids. When she left Minnesota, she was definitely missed.”
DS photographer Erin Baiano: “I was really taken with Maddie’s range. She’s got a beautiful facility and she can do everything from ballet to hip hop. She has meticulous lines—and those feet! One of her most intriguing qualities is what’s going on inside, just beneath the surface. She seemed quiet, but once she started moving she was electric.”
Joanna Numata, street jazz and hip-hop teacher at Broadway Dance Center: “She looks like she’s trained, but she has to let go of that when she’s taking hip hop. It’s really amazing when people have training because it helps them with everything. Use it when you need to and then let it go when you don’t.”