Fall means many things: stepping on really crunchy leaves (so satisfying, right?), piling on legwarmers and cozy warm-ups (check out our favorites in the October issue of DS!) and the return of the beloved pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks.

But this picture-perfect season—my personal favorite, if only for the McIntosh apples—also means the return of one very special annual event: New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Bright Lights, Shining Stars.

This year, the foundation is honoring mega-star Catherine Zeta-Jones, a longtime supporter of the arts and, of course, a performer herself! (Was she not to-die-for as Velma in the film version of Chicago?)

Not only will CZJ be there—surely wearing something spectacular—but there will also be performances by Charlotte D'Amboise, tiny tapper Luke Spring and Bring It On: The Musical's Adrienne Warren (loooove her).

The show will be held Sunday, September 29, at NYU's Skirball Center in NYC beginning at 7:30 pm. (But get there early for the red carpet entrances!)

Click here to get 25% off select seats.

See you there!

...and all that jazz.

Here at DS, there's nothing we like better than a good gala. Actually, scratch that: There's nothing we like better than a good gala for an especially great cause.

The New York City Dance Alliance Foundation hosted its fourth annual Destiny Rising show last night to benefit the organization's pretty incredible college scholarship program. We would've watched paint dry if we knew it'd help NYCDA's super-talented kids achieve their college dreams. But we were treated to a world-class show instead—hosted by Complexions co-founder and fabulous dancer-about-town Desmond Richardson, no less.

Here's the great thing about the Destiny Rising gala: Every year, it features performances not only by professional companies filled with college graduates, but also by college dance groups. Over the course of the evening, the show offers dance students different visions of their futures—and all of them involve higher ed.

Last night was no exception. Are you dreaming of joining Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater? Southern Methodist University graduate Jamal White, now a member of  Ailey II, blazed through a powerful solo choreographed by Ailey II director Troy Powell. Hoping to keep performing innovative contemporary works in college? The Dean College Dancers showed that's definitely possible in Strange Invisible Perfume, a tribal-style showcase for its versatile performers. Obsessed with the ingenious dance-gymnastics blend of groups like Pilobolus Dance Theater? Alison Chase/Performance—led by Chase, a former Pilobolus director, and made up of very well-educated dancers—displayed superhuman feats of strength in Chase's Tsu-Ku-Tsu. Hoping to keep up your serious ballet training while you get a degree? The women of Mercyhurst University Ballet Theatre, who are doing just that, showed off strong pointe work in Terra Firma.

Long story short? Thanks to organizations like NYCDA Foundation, more and more talented dancers are choosing to go to college. And last night proved that that decision pretty much always pays off.

Here at DS, our love for all-things New York City Dance Alliance is no secret. We live for the competition's annual Nationals gala, we're in the audience cheering (possibly the loudest...) at each of the NYCDA Foundation's yearly shows and we have no shame telling the world about our crushes on Joe Lanteri (those blazers! that hair!).

A shot from last year's Destiny Rising show. Who's that girl right up front? It's our former Cover Model Search winner and February 2014 cover girl, Ida Saki, of course! (Photo courtesy NYCDAF)

The New York City Dance Alliance Foundation was created a few years ago to provide scholarships to college-bound dancers—love that!—and has awarded $8.4 million to date so dancers can attend top schools such as University of the Arts, Marymount Manhattan College and Pace University.

Destiny Rising is a benefit performance, so your ticket money goes to good use (reminder, comp kids: these scholarships could be yours!), plus you get to see a stellar show boasting serious star power (NYCDA faculty favorites Joey Dowling and Andy Pellick will both be performing, plus the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company and tons of NYCDA alums).

We'll be there—the show is Monday, April 21, at 7:30 pm at The Joyce Theater in NYC—and we hope you will be, too. Click here to purchase your [very affordable] tickets.

Want more in the meantime? Here's a recap from the 2012 show.

College is the best. I think everyone should go to college.

Yes, dancers, that means you, too!

I know it's a tough decision: Do I start my dance career straight out of high school or enroll at a conservatory or university to continue studying for a while?

I can't make that decision for you, but I can tell you that the four years I spent dancing in college were four of the best years of my life. There's nothing like waking up (at the "early" hour of 9 am), going to a few classes, eating lunch on the picture-perfect campus quad and spending the night in the studio with my best dancing friends.

So, clearly, I support any cause that encourages dancers to embark on the college experience—causes like the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation.

Zoey Anderson was awarded a handful of scholarships after competing at New York City Dance Alliance—and now she's thriving at Marymount Manhattan! (Photo by ProPix/New York City Dance Alliance)

Over the past few years, the NYCDA Foundation has provided millions of dollars in scholarships to dancers so they can attend top schools like University of the Arts, Marymount Manhattan College and Pace University.

On April 22, the foundation is holding a performance in NYC called Destiny Rising to raise money for more scholarships (reminder: those scholarships could be yours, comp kids), and the lineup of performers and choreographers is top-notch.

Choreographers include Jon Bond, Adrienne Canterna, Jessica Lang, Andy Pellick, Cindy Salgado and more. Plus, there will be guest performances by members of New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and the Bad Boys of Dance, to name just a few.

The Dance Spirit editors will be there (our sister mag, Dance Magazine, is one of the sponsors), taking in the talent and supporting dancers in search of a college degree.

Click here to get your tickets. (They're only $25!) See you then!

Last night I attended the second annual Bright Lights, Shining Stars gala benefiting the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation. We were told the event would be star-studded—and it sure was.

While DS managing editor Rachel Zar was positively giddy about standing in the lobby next to a Real Housewife (Ramona Singer), I was more excited to see some familiar faces in the crowd, like former Cover Model Search winner (and one of my favorite dancers of all-time) Ida Saki, Joey Dowling, Andy Blankenbuehler and Jakob Karr.

As always, I do my best thinking in list form, so here are 5 Reasons Bright Lights, Shining Stars Was a Hit:

1. It helped kids go to college. Since its inception just two years ago, the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation has awarded more than $5 million in college scholarships to more than 100 dancers. This is huge. Many dancers aren't sure if they want to go to college (do it!), and some aren't in a financial position to attend. NYCDAF helps with that, and it's so incredible to watch executive director Joe Lanteri bring a talented young dancer onstage and tell her she's getting a full ride into the life of higher education (hello, Montana Michniak). Lives change, and we get to watch it happen. It's awesome. (You heard me when I said go to college, right? Great.) It's especially fun for us because our sister publication, Dance Magazine, is one of the foundation's gold sponsors!

I only teared up once last night, and it was when Utah comp kid Mattie Love spoke to the audience, thanking everyone for coming and for helping her get to college. Thanks to the foundation, she just took her first class as a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College. Too cool. And congratulations, Mattie! We hope you have a rockin' first year.

2. It was like Dance Spirit's competition issue come to life! Logan Epstein! Noelle Meers! Alexia Meyer! Alyssa Ness! Hannah Seiden! Teeny tiny Kayla Mak! All the cool kids you read about after Nationals each year were onstage performing as NYCDAF scholarship recipients. They danced choreography by Andy Pellick and you could tell they were loving every minute of the stress-free performance. No judges! No scores! No pressure.

3. Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Natalia Alonso, will you be my best friend? The two pieces by Complexions—Testament and On Holiday—were so stunning and were definitely my favorites of the evening.

4. Julie Kent! Julie Kent is the epitome of a prima ballerina. She's lithe and lovely and sweet spoken in a way that makes me hold my breath a little while she's talking. The American Ballet Theatre principal delivered a wonderful speech about honoree Mikhail Baryshnikov, talking about how he hand-picked her to be in the film Dancers and, ultimately, to join ABT. I especially loved one quote that she shared with the crowd from Mr. Baryshnikov himself: "It's not what you did, but how you did it." Kind of makes you want to go do something really full-out doesn't it?

5. Misha and Liza. It's hard to imagine a cooler duo, isn't it? The standing ovation when these two got onstage lasted longer than Kim Kardashian's marriage (sorry, had to go there). So Mikhail Baryshnikov (affectionately known in the dance world as simply "Misha") was awarded NYCDAF's Ambassador of the Arts award, and Liza Minnelli got to hand it over to him. She was so sweet talking up her friend, and she referred to Misha as "my honey," which just about made me melt. She called him "the greatest ballet dancer the world has ever known." Misha, upon receiving the award, was humble and without a speech. He did, however, imply that he would like his next honor to be Czar of the Arts. We're on board.

All in all it was a fun, heartwarming night at NYU's Skirball Center for the Arts. Congratulations, Mikhail Baryshnikov, on your fancy new title and thank you for the endless inspiration.

Every now and then, one of my non-dance friends will see a picture (or, better yet here in NYC: a real-life sighting) of Mikhail Baryshnikov, and she'll say, "It's the guy from Sex and the City!"

I mean yeah, OK. But also, it's Mikhail Baryshnikov! Only one of the greatest dancers of all-time. He did play a coolly seductive Aleksandr Petrovsky, though.

Whether people recognize him as Carrie Bradshaw's Paris-bound love on TV or they realize he's one of the dance world's major heavy-hitters, Baryshnikov is a legend worth knowing. I'll never forget the first time I saw him in person at a New York City Ballet gala. It was the first time I was ever starstruck and I just stood there staring at him, secretly hoping he'd burst into spontaneous choreography in the middle of the David Koch Theater lobby.

Now, you can get your own glimpse at stardom on Wednesday, September 5: I know exactly where Mikhail Baryshnikov will be that night—and where you should be, too.

Next Wednesday, the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation will feature two dance dynamos at its annual "Bright Lights Shining Stars" gala. Mikhail Baryshnikov is the night's guest of honor, and he'll be presented with the NYCDAF Ambassador for the Arts Award. Handing over the trophy? Baryshnikov's longtime friend Liza Minnelli!

The lineup for the rest of the night is star-studded and spectacular, including guest performances by American Ballet Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, New York City Ballet and more.

Like I said, I'll be there. Mikhail Baryshnikov will be there. Liza will be there. And you should make your way there, too.

Click here to snag a 25% off discount on your ticket. The show starts at 7:30 pm at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in NYC.

Hope to see you there!

Last night I got all dressed up—er, stayed in my nicer-than-normal work attire, actually—to attend the 30th annual Fred and Adele Astaire Awards at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

Now, awards shows are usually fun because you get little glimpses of dancers: those performing backup at the MTV Video Music Awards, the ones in the opening act at the Academy Awards, and maybe a dancer or two making moves at the Grammys. But the Astaire Awards are all about dancers and choreographers.

So naturally, between the people watching (Newsies choreographer Christopher Gattelli! New York City Dance Alliance executive director Joe Lanteri! "Smash" choreographer Josh Bergasse! A real housewife!) and the performances (oh, Fosse, Fosse, Fosse—which is fun to say, as presenter Chita Rivera pointed out), this evening was oh-so-entertaining.

Here are a few of my favorite moments from last night's Astaire Awards:

  • Luke Spring. This kid is dynamite, and you're going to see much more of him in upcoming issues of Dance Spirit. Promise. Little Luke is just 9 years old, but he's got a smile the size of Jupiter and the fastest tapping feet I've seen in a long time. Luke isn't just a good tap dancer for his age—Luke is good. Period. He opened the show with a solo performance and the crowd was in awe. Luke is going to be a star. In fact, he already kind of is.
  • The New York City Dance Alliance boys performing "Seize the Day" from Newsies. This season's huge Broadway hit scored a whopping 11 nominations last night (though, sadly, no wins). Naturally it would have been nice if the cast could be there to perform—but the show must go on, and Newsies had a show of its own last night. Leave it to choreographer Christopher Gattelli and NYCDA head honcho Joe Lanteri to save the day. Joe put out a call for young men and Christopher brought them in—a crew of 14–18 year olds from all over the country—for a two-day "Newsies bootcamp." The result? A show-stopping performance from the rising generation of dancers. Considering they had just learned the piece, these young men pulled it off exceptionally well.
  • The Fosse veterans swiveling their hips to "Dancin' Man," "I Gotcha" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." I will never get sick of that sultry style, and getting to see the iconic moves performed by dancers who trained directly under Bob Fosse is pretty special. Bravo!
  • Chita Rivera presenting the Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award to Liza Minnelli. It was so endearing hearing the wonderful stories everyone shared about the fabulous Ms. Minnelli. Close friends Tony Danza, Marvin Hamlisch and Mikhail Baryshnikov (!!!) joined Chita onstage to talk about what a wonderful performer and friend Liza is. It was heartwarming and, frankly, pretty awesome.

Here's the full list of last night's winners:

Outstanding Female Dancer in a Broadway Musical: Lisa Nicole Wilkerson (Porgy & Bess)

Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Musical: Leslie Odom, Jr. (Leap of Faith)

Outstanding Choreographer for a Broadway Musical: Ron Brown (Leap of Faith)

Outstanding Feature Film Choreography: The Artist

Outstanding Dance Documentary: Pina

Congratulations to all!

Last night, DS assistant/fashion editor Michael Anne Bailey and I got all decked out —I wore jeans, actually, but she was decked out and looked super cute — to attend the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Destiny Rising show at The Joyce Theater in NYC.

In honor of NYCDAF's first anniversary, last night's show boasted a star-studded roundup of choreographers and performers, many of whom are New York City Dance Alliance faculty and alumni (including New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild and Houston Ballet's Melissa Hough and Garrett Smith).

The people watching in the audience was, as with any NYCDA event, spectacular. But the real action happened onstage, and Michael and I are here to recap all the fun for you...

Alison: ‪OK, so last night we went to the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Destiny Rising show at The Joyce. How would you describe the night in one word?

Michael: ‪Progress. The foundation is really taking groundbreaking steps that will help young dancers get the training and education they need to be successful — not just in their 20s, but for the rest of their lives.‬

Alison: Totally. One of my favorite parts of the night was actually the video they played recapping some of the amazing scholarship opportunities NYCDAF has presented to dancers since its inception.‬

Michael: ‪I loved that, too! I actually got emotional watching it — I know the scholarships will change lives. We talk about the importance of formal education in DS all the time, but to hear Susan Jaffe speak‬ about how a lack of education initially held her back after an extremely successful dance career, really brought the issue home.

Alison: Yes! I love that she admitted that. And we got to hear from Corey Snide, who was the first-ever Astaire Award scholarship recipient. He's a freshman at The Juilliard School now, and he's flourishing there, thanks to NYCDAF.

Michael: ‪Let's talk about the dancing. Did you have a favorite number?

Alison: Catherine Hurlin!‬ I have always loved watching Catherine, and last night she performed a variation from Flames of Paris. She was just so sweet and easy to watch. That girl is a star, and I'm so glad she's getting awesome training at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre.

Michael: ‪She was my husband's favorite! He kept talking about her performance all the way home

Alison: Here's the thing:‬ There were a ton of contemporary numbers last night. Lots of instrumental music. When Catherine came out in her bright-white tutu and flashed that giant smile of hers, it was just fun. It was a nice change of pace.

Michael: ‪I couldn't agree more. I was blown away by Melissa Hough and Garrett Smith from Houston Ballet. And when I realized that Garrett had choreographed the piece, I couldn't believe it! Her technique, passion, and dedication to the piece were unmatched.

Alison: I absolutely agree. Melissa Hough is another one of my favorites — all of my favorite dancers right now are ballet dancers who grew up on the comp scene. Go figure.‬

Michael: And it's so fun to see a ballerina in bare feet every once in awhile. Melissa Hough is so versatile, which I definitely think comes from growing up on the comp scene.‬

Alison: Camille A. Brown's piece was fantastic, too. She's hilarious, and even my boyfriend got into her solo.

Michael: I loved loved loved Camille A. Brown's piece. I had never seen her perform and was absolutely wowed. She draws you in like a true entertainer.

Alison: ‪What was particularly amazing about her performance was that we couldn't see her face the entire time, but she was still so expressive. Her hat was down over her eyes, but she didn't need to connect with the audience visually. Her movement spoke volumes. She's a really unique performer.

Michael: ‪I've never seen anything like it. And I would die to see it again!‬

Alison: ‪So can we talk about how incredible our former Cover Model Search finalists were last night? Two of my favorite performers of the night: Ida Saki and Zoey Anderson. Those girls are insane.

Michael: ‪YES!!! It's so fun to see how much they've grown since attending Tisch (Ida) and Marymount Manhattan (Zoey). Zoey danced in a number with probably 30 other girls and I only watched her. Zoey has always been an outstanding performer, but now her movement quality and technique are becoming more and more flawless.

Alison: ‪Zoey is gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. And Marymount is working for her. She's grown a ton since we saw her for the CMS. I didn't love the number Ida was in, sadly — it just wasn't my style, and I wanted the show to kick off with something a little more upbeat — but the choreography really played to Ida's strengths.‬

Michael: ‪I agree. I'm a bit bored with most of the contemporary pieces I'm seeing lately. Everything is starting to look the same: the music, the choreography, the performance quality.‬

Alison: ‪Absolutely. Dear choreographers: We get it. We see what you're doing. We're ready for large group jazz numbers now! Love, DS

Michael: ‪Ha ha, just something new and innovative, please! I'm ready to be wowed again, and I know these choreographers are talented enough to do it! That said, I left last night with an even greater respect for the NYCDAF, Joe Lanteri and the dance community in general — young dancers are in good hands!‬

Alison: ‪Yes, at each event Joe's passion for the arts truly comes through. He knows each NYCDA kid by name, and that blows my mind. He knows which studio they're from, what the name of their solo is and where they're thinking about going to college. He's so invested in their futures, and as an audience member, it's a total pleasure to witness.

Michael: ‪I couldn't agree more. What a wonderful night it was.‬

Alison: ‪Have I mentioned I have a huge dance crush on Joe Lanteri? No? It's clear though, right?‬

Michael: ‪Ha ha, yes, Alison, we know. But I'm pretty sure it's a general Dance Spirit crush.

Alison: ‪On that note, thank you, Joe, for a wonderful night, and thank you Michael for being a great show-seeing partner.‬

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