If there's one thing NYCDA Executive Director Joe Lanteri knows how to do, it's make dreams come true. This was obvious at last night's New York City Dance Alliance Foundation Gala, "Destiny Rising," at The Joyce Theater. It was an evening of passionate performance by tons of crazy-talented dancers, many of whom grew up as self-proclaimed "NYCDA babies." We loved every minute of the evening, especially the touching moments when the foundation's college scholarship recipients spoke about all the doors NYCDA had opened for them (and it's particularly special since our sister publication, Dance Magazine, is a gold sponsor!). Check out some of our highlights below:

(via NYCDA Facebook)

Marymount Manhattan College Dance Company opened the show with a riveting piece, Under the Surface, choreographed by MMC's Dance Department Chair, Katie Langan. Each dancer was clad in a floor-length skirt and the visual effect was stunning—every développé, pirouette and jump sent the skirts flying through the air, catching the stage light in the process. When the piece ended, the audience was ready for more.

MMC in rehearsal. (via NYCDA Facebook)

NYCDA is all about providing opportunities for its dancers, and this mission was perfectly encapsulated by Inspire School of Dance from Naperville, IL, which made its professional stage debut—at the Joyce Theater, no less. The 14 girls—including 2014 NYCDA Teen Female Outstanding Dancer, Jacalyn Tatro—took the stage with confidence and gave a commanding performance.

Inspire Dance performing Love With Urgency (via NYCDA Facebook)

The evening continued with stellar performances from RIOULT Dance NY, The Francesca Harper Project, DS 2009 Cover Model Search winner Ida Saki and Austin Goodwin, New York City Ballet principal Robbie Fairchild, and the Point Park University Conservatory Dance Company. There were also tons of familiar faces gracing the stage, including 2015 CMS finalist Jordan Pelliteri, 2011 CMS winner Kaitlynn EdgarCorey Snide and the dynamic Mattie Love, who, at the 2012 NYCDA gala, gave a speech about how excited she was to start her dance journey at MMC—and last night, in a very full-circle moment, took the stage to thank Lanteri and NYCDA for opening countless doors in her career. It was the perfect cherry topper for a magical celebration of this incredible foundation.

“When I came here, I was like, ‘Have I ever danced before?’ There was so much to learn, I felt like I didn’t know anything.” —Zoey Anderson, junior, Marymount Manhattan College (Photo by Erin Baiano)

My first Friday night at New York University, two second-year dance majors had some of us freshmen follow them through SoHo to a tiny triangular street corner. There was nothing there but a one-story building that looked ready for a demolition crew. I didn’t know where we were or why. Then Savion Glover climbed onto the roof. He began tapping like a crazy man angry at his shoes—and my new classmates and I completely geeked out. Savion was jamming on a rooftop! For free! Just blocks from our school! Living in NYC was going to be awesome.

Some of the best college dance departments are located smack in the middle of the Big Apple, and for good reason. “If you want to immerse yourself in the center of the field, where the newest ideas about dance are being formed, where the best artists are practicing, where you can see a different show every night, NYC is the place to be,” says James Martin, an associate arts professor in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts dance department. But going to college for dance in NYC is kind of like the Disneyland version of being a professional dancer in the big city: It’s a larger-than-life experience and a much less risky option than arriving on 42nd Street with nothing but your resumé and dance shoes.

Not Your Normal Campus 

The first clues that NYC dance departments are unusual are the faces around the studio. These schools pluck the best of the best right out of the Big Apple dance scene: Allegra Kent teaches at Columbia University’s Barnard College; Joe Lanteri is on faculty at The Juilliard School; and the dancers in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program take class from a whole host of A-list instructors at The Ailey School. (Some students even have Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company members as their mentors, which means you might find Alicia Graf Mack hanging around the dorms!)

Yes, colleges everywhere bring in high-profile adjuncts and guest artists. But NYC schools can do it more often because those people live just a few subway stops away. “Last year, Larry Keigwin, Chase Brock, Pascal Rioult and Pam Tanowitz set work on us,” says Marymount Manhattan College junior Zoey Anderson. “These are big-time choreographers you want to know. We get to learn their movement and make a real connection with them.” Some schools, including NYU, invite entire NYC-based companies for weeklong teaching residencies. Students meet not just the director but also the dancers, and start to build a network of industry professionals. “Seeing what these companies go through on a daily basis better prepares students for professional life,” says Martin. “They know what’s going to be expected of them.”

And NYC’s resources don’t end there. Choreography and dance-writing courses might integrate local dance performances into the syllabus; dance-history classes can take students to museums or the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Through Juilliard’s Educational Outreach programs, junior Corey John Snide has honed his performing and teaching skills in public schools. “It’s not like I’m in a campus in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “Juilliard is my gateway to NYC.”

“I see as many performances as I can afford to. I’ve learned so much about what I like—and don’t like—and where I might want to dance in the future.” —Corey John Snide, junior, The Juilliard School (Photo by Erin Baiano)

Make Your Own Curriculum

In NYC, one of the best parts of going to school is leaving school. You can head to Broadway Dance Center to take the hip-hop classes your program doesn’t offer, or load up on ballet at Steps on Broadway. (Just try not to gawk when you end up next to Wendy Whelan at the barre.) “I’ve been able to keep up my ballroom dancing and to take classes with people like David Parsons so I can learn his style before it’s time to audition,” says Zoey. Some classes can even take the place of an audition: After taking choreographer Marinda Davis’ class at Peridance Capezio Center in 2011, Zoey performed with Davis in showcases around the city.

In addition to dancing, you can build your practical skill sets—and get an insider’s peek behind the scenes. NYC college students’ resumés might boast internships with The PULSE On Tour, American Ballet Theatre and Dance Spirit!

Intro to the Concrete Jungle

Moving to NYC can be overwhelming, even for people who love bright lights and bustling streets. But dancers who start off their big-city experiences in college have the support of a smaller community while they find their footing. “I’m so grateful to have a structured schedule set up for me, rather than just randomly picking up a class here and there,” says Zoey. A college dance department helps guide dancers so they know where to find rehearsal space, how to set up auditions and what resources are available.

Being a student also hooks you up with all-important student deals. “Our teachers always have extra free tickets to see Ailey,” says Ailey/Fordham sophomore Courtney Celeste Spears. “We also got to see Armitage Gone! Dance—and because it was through school, we met the choreographer, Karole Armitage.” College classes may force you to see shows you wouldn’t attend on your own—and possibly discover a company or new style you love.

The biggest perk for many dance majors is the chance to attend auditions while they’re still in school, rather than waiting until after graduation. Fordham students, for example, are allowed to use professional experiences as credit toward their degrees starting junior year. And Juilliard even helps dancers network so they can be invited to auditions. Corey made it to the final round for Newsies last year, but decided to focus on school instead.

The kinds of auditions students go for might change over the course of their four years. “Being here has opened my eyes to possibilities that I didn’t know about,” says Courtney. She’s not alone: The early exposure to NYC’s dance scene often leaves students with entirely different goals than the ones they arrived with as freshmen. “Growing up, it was always just, ‘I want to be famous,’ ” says Corey. “But I’ve realized I love teaching, and I want to use dance to help impoverished kids. 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.”

“I wanted to be in the middle of everything—see it all and be in it all—and surround myself with dancers who are just as driven as I am.” —Courtney Celeste Spears, sophomore, Ailey/Fordham BFA Program (Photo by Erin Baiano)

Is NYC Right for You? 

Despite the unique advantages of dancing in NYC, going to college there means sacrificing many of the typical cornerstones of campus life. If you’re looking for grassy quads, a big Greek culture or major sports teams to root for, NYC schools will be a disappointment.

And not every teenager is ready for the pressure or intense pace of day-to-day life in Manhattan. “Some students get overwhelmed and withdraw, and it’s something that wouldn’t have happened if they were in a different environment,” says NYU Tisch School of the Arts associate professor James Martin. “If you need more time to find your confidence—and many artists do—New York can be hard.”

It can also be distracting. Between the shopping, the nightlife and the entertainment, fun times are always just around the corner. Dancers have to resist the temptation to blow off classes or rehearsals for that party or film premiere.

For Courtney Celeste Spears, a sophomore in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program who came from a small town outside Baltimore, the hardest part was not letting the amount of competition in NYC intimidate her. “It’s easy to look at it and think, ‘The odds are not in my favor,’ ” she says. Or you can take the approach that she’s learned over the past year: “I use the competitiveness to help drive me more than I ever knew was possible.”

The Stats

Ailey/Fordham BFA Program

Degree offered: BFA in dance

Number of applicants: 422 in 2013

Number accepted: 55 admitted and 29 enrolled in 2013

Focus: Core classes include ballet, Horton and Graham-based modern.

Location: Lincoln Center and Ailey’s Hell’s Kitchen headquarters

Training ground: Six current members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater came through the BFA program.

Notable alumni: Courtney Henry of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Jacqueline Burnett of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Victoria Andrea Guajardo of MOMIX

 

Barnard College, Columbia University

Degrees offered: BA, minor or concentration in dance

Number of applicants: There is no separate dance department application or audition. 5,606 students applied to Barnard’s incoming class.

Number in department: 36 majors and 12 minors

Focus: Emphasizes the intellectual and cultural exploration of

dance in a liberal arts setting

Location: Morningside Heights

Sister theater: The department partners with Bill T. Jones’ New York Live Arts

Notable alumni: Michael Novak of Paul Taylor Dance Company, Jamie Scott of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Anna Schon of Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group

 

The Juilliard School

Degrees offered: BFA, diploma in dance

Number of applicants: 550–600

Number accepted: 24 (12 men, 12 women) per year

Focus: Aims to produce contemporary dancers by training them equally in ballet and modern

Location: Lincoln Center

Subsidized summer travel: The summer grants program offers funding for student-driven outreach programs—anywhere from Cleveland to Kenya.

Notable alumni: Billy Bell of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Spenser Theberge of Nederlands Dans Theater 1, Frances Chiaverini of Morphoses

 

Marymount Manhattan College

Degrees offered: BFA or BA in dance

Number of applicants: 400 on average

Number accepted: 160 admitted; 75 enroll on average

Focus: Because the school emphasizes versatility, daily offerings include ballet, modern and jazz classes, plus tap, pointe or improv twice a week.

Location: Upper East Side

Scholarship help: More than 85 percent of MMC students receive some form of financial assistance.

Notable alumni: Jacob Michael Warren of Pilobolus’ Shadowland, Abby Silva Gavezzoli of Parsons Dance

 

Pace University

Degree offered: BFA in commercial dance

Number of applicants: 207 in 2013

Number accepted: 57 admitted and 39 enrolled in 2013

Focus: Prepares dancers for professional work onstage, in television and in commercials

Location: Financial District

Showtime: Students have the opportunity to perform in over 50 departmental productions per year.

Notable alumni: Former Miss Teen USA Logan West; Miss Southern NY Madison Embrey; Megan Peterson of the Rockettes tour

 

Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

Degrees offered: BFA or MFA in dance

Number of applicants: 400–550 BFA candidates

Number accepted: 30

Focus: Trains students for careers in contemporary and classical dance

Location: Greenwich Village

In and out: The program is designed so undergrads can graduate in three years.

Notable alumni: Ian Robinson of Batsheva Dance Company, Christina Dooling of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Jenn Freeman of Tayeh Dance

You know what I love?

Smart dancers.

Do you know how you can become a smart[er] dancer?

Go to college!

I love dancers who make the decision to continue their education after high school. I know it's not for everyone—some dancers want to get their professional careers kicked off right away, and hey, any ambition is good ambition, right?

But it's the ones who choose to pursue a bachelor's (or master's!) degree—while still dancing!—that really impress me.

Dance Spirit's September Issue! Cover photo by Erin Baiano.

And with that, I proudly present to you...Dance Spirit's September issue! It's our annual Higher Ed Issue, and you should've received it in your mailbox by now. (If not, go snag it at your local Barnes & Noble. I'll wait.)

On the cover, meet three current college students who are making the grade in NYC: Corey John Snide, Courtney Celeste Spears and Zoey Anderson. All three grew up on the competition circuit, and now they're getting a glimpse of all life has to offer in the classroom, in the dorms, on the college stage and beyond. Corey's studying at The Juilliard School (impressive, I know), Courtney's enrolled in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program, and Zoey is a dance major at Marymount Manhattan College (all the way from her hometown in Utah!).

We are so proud of them and are thrilled to have their smarty-pants faces beaming on the cover. Click here to read their cover story, "University of NYC."

Also in this issue: 

  • Must-know details about six standout NYC college programs
  • "Am I Ready for College?" I don't know. But in this story, we break down five common challenges university-bound dancers face, and we'll help ease any fears you may have about heading to the dorms.
  • Emily Bernet, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, shares all the gritty details about her first year as a dance major at SMU. (She got bit by a poisonous spider, but don't worry about that. It's not a common college thing. Promise.)
  • Dance Spirit's annual Higher Ed Guide, with all the info you need on 145 top-notch college dance programs.

Go check it out and then let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter!

Study hard, dance hard, play hard and have the best school year ever!

Grace. Poise. Style. Sass. And those are just words to describe Elizabeth Burke’s stage presence. Start talking about her precise, clean sounds, her unexpected and sophisticated rhythms, and the way she finishes each movement, from toes to fingertips to smile, and you could go on for days. It’s easy to see why 18-year-old Elizabeth, a North Carolina native now in her first semester at NYC’s Marymount Manhattan College, has tappers across the country singing her praises.

Elizabeth is one of those rare performers who knew from Day 1 that they were meant to dance. When she was 5, her mom took her to see the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (NCYTE) perform at Durham’s Carolina Theatre. The moment the show was over Elizabeth turned to her mom and said, “I have to do that. Find out how.”

She started training with NCYTE director Gene Medler at age 6, and at 7 she auditioned for the group’s company. She got in—and stayed with NCYTE until graduating from high school this past June. Though she has also studied ballet, modern and jazz, Elizabeth was drawn to tap from the start. “The more I learned, the more people I studied with and the more I was around the artform, the more evident it became to me that tap was my second nature,” she says.

As a member of NCYTE, Elizabeth studied and performed around the country. The company hosts the North Carolina Rhythm Tap Festival each summer, in addition to traveling to other festivals, including Chicago Human Rhythm Project, the L.A. Tap Fest and Tap City in NYC. Elizabeth has also trained with many of the greats, including Dianne Walker, Brenda Bufalino, Derick Grant, Ayodele Casel, Jason Samuels Smith, Chloe Arnold, Jason Janas, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Michelle Dorrance (also an NCYTE alum), among others.

“I feel like I’ve tapped into all of their styles, and hopefully have developed my own as a hybrid,” Elizabeth says. “Someone once came up to me after a performance and said, ‘You’re a mix of Dianne Walker and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards.’ I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition. Dianne is the epitome of smooth and crystal clear and clean, and when she dances it’s effortless, elegant, flawless and beautiful, but doesn’t hit too hard. Dormeshia is a force to be reckoned with. It’s not that she hits hard all the time; she’s just such a powerful voice onstage. Everything she does has meaning behind it. I was honored to be compared to those two dancers.”

Medler, who’s been Elizabeth’s primary instructor for more than a decade, is also one of her biggest fans. “She’s a natural mover,” he says. “She’s very integrated—her entire body dances the rhythm—and that gives her a great deal of emotional directness. She keeps it real.” He remembers her drive being strong even as a child: “Once, we were doing a move in class and she got on the wrong foot,” he recalls. “She was really upset with herself, and I said, ‘Elizabeth, it’s okay, we’ll iron it out.’ She said, ‘But it’s a lost opportunity to express myself!’ She was 9 years old!”

Elizabeth also has a fan in Michelle Dorrance, who started as Elizabeth’s teacher and mentor and has become a friend and colleague. “I love watching and listening to Elizabeth dance,” Dorrance says. “She has excellent technical skill, speed and execution, as well as remarkable clarity and musicality. Her sense of musical expression and personal style while improvising and choreographing are so tasteful, so appealing, so refined and so incredibly rare at such a young age.”

Now a freshman at Marymount, planning to major in communication arts with a minor in arts management and to dance in her free time, Elizabeth certainly has her hands full. However, she never questioned the importance of a college degree: “Dianne Walker instilled that in me,” she says. After graduation, “I would love to choreograph, teach classes at various studios and tap festivals and maybe even run my own company someday. And I definitely want to keep performing.” She laughs, perhaps realizing that she’s proposed almost every career possible for a dancer. “Really, as long as I’ve got my tap shoes on, I’m going to be okay.”

Thanks to those shoes—and the support of her friends and mentors—the sky’s the limit for this new New Yorker. “She has a bright future,” Medler says. “She’s in love with dance, and that’s powerful. And she’s so interesting to watch—very inviting, and not just in the face, not just with the smile, but also with her body movements and how she phrases and creates moments and tells the story. Maybe that’s the way to sum  up Elizabeth: She’s a beautiful, passionate storyteller. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it, and how she says it is special.”

Fast Facts

Birthday: May 11, 1992

Favorite color: “I’ve got an allegiance to University of North Carolina’s ‘Carolina Blue,’ but that comes in second to red.”

Favorite food: “My dad’s banana pudding.”

Favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Favorite TV shows: “Law & Order: SVU” and “Grey’s Anatomy”

Favorite movie:Forrest Gump is one of my all-time faves. I’m leaving out tap-related stuff on purpose because it’d be too hard to choose!”

On her iPod: Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Little Brother, J. Cole. “I’m big into jazz and hip hop.”

Most memorable dance moment: moment in an 11-year chapter of “We were at Chicago Human Rhythm Project this past August, and Gene Medler was getting the JUBA! Award for everything he’s done for youth tap dance across the world. NCYTE performed at the tribute, Michelle Dorrance gave a beautiful speech and former company members performed one of Gene’s pieces. It was probably one of the most moving moments of my life, seeing Gene getting the recognition that he deserves for everything that he’s done for youth tap. That was my last performance with NCYTE, and it was a culminating my life.”

Most embarrassing onstage moment: “When I was around 8 years old, NCYTE had Savion Glover as a guest performer. I was doing a sand dance [a smooth, easy-going dance performed in a sand box], and I could see Savion backstage out of the corner of my eye. The edges of the sand box are raised to keep the sand in, and at the end of the dance we were supposed to hop over the boxes to get offstage. Instead of hopping, I tripped over the edge and fell on my butt! When I got offstage, Savion greeted me with a hug. It was embarrassing, but Savion gave me a hug, so it was all right.”

Advice for DS readers: “Stay true to yourself and be comfortable with who you are. But don’t ever be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take risks. Pushing yourself is important. Being nervous is a good thing.”

Texas Celebrates 60 Years of Dance

Last fall, Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX, kicked off an anniversary celebration that will continue throughout the school year. Six decades have passed since the institution became the first American university to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in ballet.

The festivities began last November with a gala concert that featured works by George Balanchine, Doris Humphrey, Jessica Lang and Robert Battle, plus those of a few faculty members. This spring, the school will host a number of guest artist residencies, and hold various performances, discussions and open-to-the-public events. For a comprehensive list of anniversary happenings, visit dance.tcu.edu.

Universities Present Annual Fall Choreography Showcases

Select students from Oklahoma City University, Marymount Manhattan College and Northwestern University had the chance to propose, create and publicly present dances at student choreography showcases held at each school last fall.

The Oklahoma City University Student Choreography Show Perfect 10 featured works by 17 dance performance seniors. John Bedford, dean of the university’s Ann Lacy School of American Dance & Arts Management, tells DS that students were required to develop routines that reflected the school’s focus on “dance for the entertainment industry.”

In NYC, Marymount Manhattan College held its annual Dancers at Work showcase, featuring the work of nine aspiring choreographers. The show was the culminating performance of workshops that met twice a week. Students chosen for the workshops were encouraged to experiment with the art of dance making, some for the first time.

At Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, the Fall Dance Concert 2009 featured the work of eight student choreographers. The show was produced by the dance department and The New Movement Project, a student dance group that works with graduating dance majors and faculty to select the pieces to be showcased.

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