Several of our favorite shows on Broadway right now are super kid-centric. (I'm looking at you, Annie and Matilda.) Besides being insanely jealous of the munchkins who are dominating the Great White Way before they’ve even finished middle school, I couldn’t be happier for the stars of these shows. (Talk about a dream come true!)
And this just in: They’re all friends with each other!
I can’t get over the photos from Annie star Lilla Crawford’s 12th birthday party this week. She had it at Cake Boss Café, the new NYC bakery inspired by reality show Cake Boss (yum!), and the invite list included the kid cast of Annie (including February 2013 “You Should Know” Maddie Rae DiPietro) and the stars of Matilda: The Musical: Bailey Ryon, Sophia Gennusa, Milly Shapiro and Oona Laurence. Check it out:
I have a confession: I miss “Dance Moms.” And these last two weeks of reunion shows with the moms (where are the kids?!) just aren’t cutting it. Luckily, I have a fun video of Chloe and Maddie’s visit with Dance Spirit to carry me through. Check it out:
The stars aligned back in 2013, when two young dancers walked into Tricia Miranda's class at International Dance Academy in Hollywood. Kaycee Rice, then 10, and Gabe De Guzman, then 12, plowed their way through an intricate hip-hop combo to Rihanna's "Right Now," showing dancers twice their age what it means to go full-out. Miranda, one of the industry's most sought-after choreographers, was captivated. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, these kids are aliens,' " Miranda says. "It's so rare to find a student who's mastered both performance and technique, and here I had two."
By now, you're probably familiar with photographer Jordan Matter's work—images of gorgeous dancers, sometimes mid-air, smack-dab in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Jeffrey Smith in Times Square (Jordan Matter, via dancersamongus.com)
Alexander Peters and Elizabeth Mateer in Philadelphia, PA (Jordan Matter, via dancersamongus.com)
A few years ago, Matter published a book with his dancer series called Dancers Among Us. It made the New York Times' Bestseller list—but Matter didn't stop there. He's followed up Dancers Among Us with projects like Circus Among Us and Athletes Among Us.
Recently, Matter's been adding to another series, similar to Dancers Among Us—just of the miniature variety. Introducing Matter's Tiny Dancers Among Us (!!!), full of the most #adorbz pint-sized dancers around. For example, there's Adina in L.A....
Yasss (Jordan Matter, via tinydancersamongus.com)
...and Samantha and Ariel waiting at LaGuardia Airport in NYC:
Totally what dancers do while waiting to board (Jordan Matter, via tinydancersamongus.com)
And I'm loving Dylan from Naperville, IL, who's super pumped about his sandwich.
Nom nom nom nom nom (Jodan Matter via tinydancersamongus.com)
Matter explains that his Tiny Dancer series is a tribute of sorts to his two own children, Hudson and Salish. He writes, "...I want [my children] to be free from self-consciousness, to discover the deep happiness that comes from a life filled with passion, and to find the serenity necessary to be truly present. These photographs communicate my dreams for them more powerfully than words: Relish moments large and small, recognize the beauty around you, and be alive!"
You can check out all of Matter's new series here. A quick note: If you're in public, just know that you're bound to let out a few "AWWWWWs" while scrolling through. You were warned.
When dancer Georgia Bernbaum was in fifth grade, she participated in a supply drive for the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, a homeless shelter near her Orlando, FL, home. “I started thinking about what it would be like to stay at the shelter, and all the things I’d miss,” she recalls. Then it dawned on her: “The kids don’t get to take dance lessons like I do.”
Fast-forward two years, and Georgia, now 12, is on her way to changing that. In the fall of 2014, she established the Dance Happy Project, which brings dance training to children at the Coalition’s Center for Women and Families. Every three months, Georgia—
a modern dance student at the Center for Contemporary Dance in Winter Park, FL—hires instructors to lead a series of classes on site. And with, on average, more than 200 kids staying at the Coalition each night, the Dance Happy Project is making a big impact.
Georgia’s project started on a much smaller scale: fulfilling a community-service requirement for her upcoming bat mitzvah. “My mom suggested I do something with dance, since that’s what I love,” Georgia says. But while her mom thought Georgia might simply try raising money for one of her dance studio’s nonprofit programs, Georgia had another idea. “I told my mom my plan was to bring dance classes to the homeless,” she says.
Georgia’s mom figured they wouldn’t be able to just walk into the Coalition and lead classes—and she was right. Luckily, the center already had an arts education initiative in place, Art by Coalition Children (ABCs), which recruited professional artists to teach community classes in disciplines like photography and sculpture. Dance, however, was missing from the roster. “They had different programs for art and music, but you need cameras for filmmaking and pencils for art,” Georgia says. “All you need to dance is yourself. And you can carry dance with you your whole life.”
(Photo by Lisbet Photography, courtesy Elizabeth Bernbaum)
Georgia knew she couldn’t teach the classes herself. She approached her dance studio’s artistic director, Dario J. Moore, for guidance. “He loved my idea,” Georgia says. (Moore has lots of experience teaching dance in public schools and in underserved areas.) Georgia formed a partnership with the studio, with Moore agreeing to provide instruction for the outreach classes.
October 3, 2014, marked the newly named Dance Happy Project’s first class at the Coalition. Twenty kids—plus Georgia—attended. “Everyone thought I was just another kid taking the class, but Dario introduced me as his boss lady!” Georgia says. “During the class, everyone got to make up their own dance, and I could see the kids having fun.”
The Next Steps
Georgia didn’t want to stop there. ABCs’ program leaders suggested the Dance Happy Project hold a series of four classes (one per week) four times a year. It was to be the center’s first ongoing ABCs program—if Georgia could sustain it. Though she had
received two grants to help pay the dance teachers, she knew she needed to raise more money to keep the project going.
The solution? On February 9, 2015, Georgia hosted a benefit concert featuring a silent auction and performances by nine local dance companies, including members of Orlando Ballet. It took months to prepare. “I wrote to more than 100 artists and asked if they’d be willing to donate a piece of art for the auction,” Georgia says. Thanks to her diligence, items up for auction included signed costume design sketches from Newsies and Wicked on Broadway, Disney’s Frozen on Ice and The Washington Ballet’s ALICE (in wonderland).
Proceeds from February’s fundraising event totaled more than $10,000, enough to continue the Dance Happy Project for at least five more years. Georgia also plans to hold another benefit concert next year. “She got a lot of requests to do it again—and many dancers who didn’t perform this time asked to be on next year’s program,” says Elizabeth Bernbaum, Georgia’s mom. “They all wanted to help.”
Georgia also has dreams of expansion. She hopes to bring the Dance Happy Project to local Boys & Girls Clubs, and to make sure it can continue after she goes to college. Ultimately, she’d like to replicate the program in other underserved communities across the country. “It can be pretty intimidating to ask people to participate and help,” she says. “But I learned not to be shy. You’ll always have more success when you just go straight for something you want.”
The life of a commercial hip-hop dancer can be exhausting—auditions, classes, long video shoots, international tours. But imagine doing all of that when you’re just 10 years old! Over the past few years, the hip-hop world has been inundated with pint-sized hip-hop phenoms. These days, dancers like 11-year-old Taylor Hatala can become YouTube sensations overnight, with millions of views and loyal followings of both children and adults (including, in Taylor’s case, Ellen DeGeneres). How are so many kids thriving in the very grown-up hip-hop world—and how are teachers catering to the younger students swarming their studios? DS talked to some of the industry’s top artists to get the scoop on what it means to be a hip-hop little.
Matt Tayao (center) is the director of mLkids, which gives younger hip-hop dancers an outlet. (Photo by Jino Abad, courtesy mLkids)
Gaining New Visibility
Hip hop, with its powerful, hard-hitting moves that are both fun and physical, has actually been a kid-friendly activity since its inception. “Kids have a lot of emotions, and hip hop really gives them a release,” explains choreographer Will “WilldaBeast” Adams.
But anti-dance stigmas used to keep many young hip-hoppers—especially young boys—out of the public eye. “When I was their age, I was dancing in my room to Michael Jackson…and hiding,” says Matt Tayao, director and choreographer of youth program mLkids. Adams, afraid of being bullied, didn’t start dancing seriously until the age of 18.
Luckily, things have changed in recent years. “Today, dance is everywhere—on dance shows, in movies and on social media,” Adams says. Thanks to the increased exposure, he explains, “dancing has become a cool thing for kids—including boys—to do.” Now, littles are less afraid to share their love of dance. And they have more outlets to show the world what they can do. Today’s 10-year-olds are filming their MJ routines, posting them to their YouTube channels and sharing them on Twitter.
It’s also now totally acceptable for the girls to hit as hard as the boys—forget those old “girls do ballet” stereotypes. Taylor has found a special connection with hip hop’s harder edge. “The music makes me feel really powerful,” she explains. “When we do choreography, sometimes we split into male and female groups, but they’re considered completely equal. I never feel like I’m treated differently.”
Taylor Hatala is just 11—but thanks to YouTube, she's already a star (Photo courtesy the Hatalas)
Keeping Things Kid-Appropriate
Because they want to work with the best dancers and choreographers in the industry, more and more young hip-hoppers are joining professional crews and taking classes geared toward adults. Taylor, for example, is the youngest dancer in Alexander Chung’s crew, NXG. But pro-level hip-hop choreography is frequently provocative. How do littles handle more-mature material?
Very cautiously. Taylor’s mother, Teresa, set ground rules early on for how Taylor would deal with age-inappropriate choreo, and vets all the artists Taylor works with. “It’s a combination of parenting and finding the right mentors,” Teresa says. “We make sure Taylor’s choreographers don’t put her in more mature pieces, and she knows not to repeat certain lyrics.”
Some choreographers have actually created separate crews for their younger students—like Adams’ “LilBeasts”—with choreography specifically designed for children. “I wanted these kids to experience working in a group, and to meet and hang out with other dancers their age,” Adams says. CEO and founder of Movement Lifestyle, Shaun Evaristo, also created mLkids, a separate hip-hop class designed for young dancers—including gifted 11-year-old Joshua “Red” Guerrero, who was featured in the Michael Jackson/Justin Timberlake music video “Love Never Felt So Good.”
Inspiring Their Mentors
It’s no surprise that many hip-hop littles have grown-up role models. (Charismatic Stephen “tWitch” Boss is one of the dancers most admired by young hip-hoppers.) But with more kids making it big in the commercial world, older dancers are also finding inspiration in the younger generation. “These kids are bringing things to the table that have never been done before,” Tayao says. “Their voices haven’t even dropped yet, and they’re already accomplishing unbelievable things.”
Veterans are getting a boost from littles’ optimism and energy, too. “Kids are making people dance full-out again,” Adams says. “They’re fearless. They can do anything.” And that enthusiasm is changing the face of the industry. “Not only are the dancers getting younger, but choreographers are making it big at a younger age, too,” Adams says.
Handling Pressure with Grace
Living in the spotlight can put a lot of pressure on younger dancers. Even at the age of 11, Joshua feels the need to prove himself in class. “If there aren’t a lot of other kids in a hip-hop class, I really have to step up my game,” he says. “You never want to get too proud of yourself.”
But with that pressure comes a lot of inspiration. “Every dance class, I’m encouraged by the other dancers to push harder,” Joshua says. Taylor agrees: “Yes, there’s more competition now, with dancers starting to train at age 5 instead of 15. But competition is just a tool you use to work harder.” And young hip-hop dancers’ hard work is driving the commercial world to bigger and better places.
Before a performance at the Reality Wanted Awards, which we'll see on "Raising Asia"
(photo by Adam Taylor)
Watch out, Beyoncé. There's an 8-year-old (soon to be 9!) triple threat blazing trails in the entertainment industry, and nothing can stop her.
You may remember Asia Monet Ray as a member of the Abby Lee Dance Company on "Dance Moms," or from her butt-kicking appearance on "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition." But starting this week, she's being reintroduced on Lifetime without the wrath of Abby and those Pittsburgh mommies. Asia's new show, "Raising Asia," premieres Tuesday at 10 pm EST, and if the trailer (see below) is any indication, we have 14 episodes—in seven weeks—of amazingness coming our way. Not only is she the cutest ever, but Asia's also got the wit, sass and determination it takes to be a superstar. I caught up with this pint-sized pirouetter to get the scoop on her new show.
What do you love most about "Raising Asia"?
It's awesome because I get to be with my family. I think it's the most time I've spent at my house in years! Everyone will see the work that goes into being a dancer, a singer and an actress—a triple threat, a mega star, a pop star! I'm really excited to see myself on TV again, even though we'll have to TiVo it, because the show's on past my bedtime. And everyone is going to love my little sister. She's really funny.
What was the craziest thing that happened on camera?
My dad and I were hanging out at a place that had mini golf and a go-kart raceway. We were racing, and I told him I was going to beat him. He ended up winning, but when the attendants yelled "Stop!" I accidentally pressed both the brakes and the go pedals, and I bumped right into a parked car. I was OK—I had my seat belt on. But I'm glad no one was in the parked car! That would have been bad, because I think I broke it.
Asia being Asia!
(photo via iamasiamonet.com)
Do you train at a studio?
My schedule is so hectic that I need to study privately. And I'm not competing. I work with choreographers who travel with me and can get me into a studio if we need it.
What's your favorite dance style?
Jazz and hip hop—I was born to be sassy and I can express myself in those styles. But I'm getting a little more used to lyrical.
What's your favorite food?
I love hamburger patties. I also love chicken, brown rice, edamame, miso soup and shaved ice from Icy-licious.
What's one accessory you can't live without?
Lip gloss—and a mirror.
Cats or Dogs?
Dogs, dogs, dogs! My mom will not let me have a dog, even though I've been asking for one basically since I was born. She says it will be too much work; we're already boarding a bird and a fish every time we travel, and we'd have to board the dog, too. I don't think a dog would want to watch me dance and sing all day—she'd want me to play with her, and she'd probably feel really left out and sad when I couldn't. If I ever get one, though, I'd like a teacup Morkie. And she'd have to be a girl dog, because I get too angry with boys—they make messes. I can dress up a girl dog and put nail polish on her little claws. I also like pugs and miniature bull dogs. I love their little front teeth that make them look so angry—but they're so cute!
Want more? Visit her new website iamasiamonet.com to see photos, read Asia's blog, purchase her upcoming debut album and find out where she'll be next.
Hannah as Olive Hoover (by Ballerini Cooley Studios)
Get ready, Broadway: There’s a new kid on the block!
This season on the Great White Way has been all about the oh-so-cute kids. Annie and Matilda are chock full of insanely talented munchkins—and other casts, including Kinky Boots and Motown: The Musical, have their own standout stars. But now, there’s a new triple-threat youngster in town, and she is so precious I can’t even handle it. She’s 9-year-old Hannah Nordberg, the star of Little Miss Sunshine, which opens off-Broadway next week at the Second Stage Theatre in NYC.
Hannah recently shot a backstage video, which may just be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. She tours her tutoring room (“Because we have to learn. We can’t just not do school!”), shows off her collection of princess outfits (jealous!) and her teeny fat suit, and demonstrates her “ba-donk-a-donk” choreography. “It’s like a tiger on the ground,” she says. “I named it Lisa, because I think that’s a sexy grandpa name.” Whatever you say, Hannah!
In conclusion, I want to be her best friend. I bet you will, too, after watching this: