Katie performing a solo routine. Photo courtesy The Dance Zone.
At 16, Katie Wolfe’s life revolves around competitions and conventions. When she isn’t competing in her hometown of Las Vegas, she’s traveling to competitions around the country with her studio, The Dance Zone, or taking extra dance classes to hone her technique.
Katie knows what she wants—a professional dance career—and she’s making some big sacrifices to achieve it. She even made the controversial decision to homeschool this year instead of continuing to attend her local public high school. Read on to learn how Katie navigates the fast-moving comp scene while keeping up with her schoolwork and non-dance friends. —Ashley Rivers
A Day in the Life
While most of my friends wake up and head straight to school, an average day for me starts with my job, babysitting from 7 am until 8:30 am. Then I come home to begin my schoolwork. This year I started online schooling, which I love. I have seven classes and I meet with my teacher in person on Thursdays.
Up until the middle of last year, I went to a public school where I was in all honors classes. But on top of my dance schedule—I’m at the studio from 2:30 to 8 pm on weekdays and from 8 or 9 am to 3 pm on Saturdays—school was just way too much stress for me. My parents could see how hard I was working to keep up, so they agreed to let me try homeschooling. I’m still getting all the credits I need to go to college and I plan to graduate this June, a year early.
Katie relaxing with girlfriends in Tahoe, CA. Photo courtesy Susan Wolfe.
The biggest challenge about online school is making yourself actually do the work every day. It takes a lot of self-motivation, but I’m pretty good about it. And since I have dance, I really don’t miss the social scene at school.
At The Dance Zone, we take ballet every day no matter what, even though we don’t compete ballet pieces. It’s the base of all dance technique, so it lays the foundation for everything we do. We take a lot of jazz, too, plus some hip hop and tap. I love competing and the rush that comes with it, but I also enjoy taking classes at my studio because that’s when I’m growing the most.
In class, my peers inspire and push me every day. If we see someone taking risks in a combination, that inspires us to take even more risks ourselves. And then we get so much out of just a simple class combination. Most of us plan to make dancing a career, so we save the joking and laughing for outside the classroom. It’s a really positive, supportive atmosphere, and we always try to set a good example for the new, younger dancers on the team.
The Heat Is On
Every fall, our studio brings in guest choreographers like Jacki Ford, Joey Dowling or Andy Pellick, who teach us most of our competition dances for that year. For each routine, the choreographer will come in and teach the piece in one or two days—about five hours total. Then it’s up to us to spend the year cleaning and perfecting the routine. When we work with a choreographer for the first time, sometimes we’ll have to practice for months to perfect his or her style. After we learn the piece, we take notes or write down counts so that we can remember them later in rehearsals. That’s the hardest part—perfecting our timing and style so that we match each other. But we practice so much that by the time we get onstage, it’s in our bodies—we can’t forget it.
Our dance teachers do all of the casting before the choreographers arrive. At the beginning of every year, we fill out a form saying whether we want a solo or if we’d be interested in a duo or trio. Then they watch and see who looks best together and make their decisions.
There’s never any drama. Our teachers are really good about fixing any issues that come up right away and not making a big deal about it. Everyone is super-positive and very kind.
In all, I’ll probably compete eight or nine dances this year—a solo and trio in addition to group numbers. I think competing a solo is a lot less stressful than a group number.
Competing with a group takes much more preparation: going to lots of rehearsals and making sure everyone has all the costume pieces and looks the same. And if you mess up on a group dance, it’s harder to hide. With solos, there’s less to worry about. I mostly practice my solo on my own, and then occasionally work one-on-one with a teacher. And if I mess up, I can wing it or improvise—which I’ve done multiple times!
Dancing in a group routine at NYCDA National with her studio, The Dance Zone. Photo by ProPix/NYCDA.
I think we all get a little nervous before the first time we compete a number onstage. By the time we get offstage, though, we already know if we did a good job or not. We can just feel the energy. But awards all depend on what the judges are looking for. When we do win, it’s exciting. But really, that’s the same feeling I get just by being onstage performing—losing yourself in the adrenaline and the moment. When we don’t place the way we wanted to, we might get a little upset. But the way we feel about our performance is just as important. No matter what happens, we let it go and start fresh in classes the next day.
My schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time for a social life, but dance is totally worth it to me. I’m always with my dance friends—we’re like a big family. And on weekends, I can hang out with school friends that I’ve known my whole life. This year, I even got to go to a homecoming dance. There are times when my newer friends or people that I’ve just met don’t understand how serious I am about dance. They may say, “You have to dance again?” or “Why can’t you hang out today?” Sometimes I wish I could do more, but I’m not going to miss class, rehearsal or a competition just to hang out. I’m so focused on my career and my future. Most of the time, I’d rather just go to dance.
I’ll only be 17 when I graduate, so I’m not yet sure what I’ll do next. My long-term goal is to join a contemporary ballet company. It would also be fun to dance on a cruise ship or maybe even be a Radio City Rockette. Right now, my parents are helping me look into colleges.
When it’s time to stop competing, I think I’ll always miss it. But I’ll still be dancing. And I’ll be excited for the new challenge of dancing professionally!
From the excitement of travel to rubbing shoulders with your dance idols, the life of a convention assistant is a whirlwind—and an exciting goal for lots of young dancers. The position has its glamorous moments, but it's also a ton of hard work. Curious about what it takes to earn one of these coveted spots, and what's involved once you do? Dance Spirit spoke with choreographers and assistants to find out what it takes to make it to the stage.
Breaking news, Broadway babies! The Cats revival casting has finally been announced—and it's a fabulous who's who list of major dance celebs.
The London Cats revival (courtesy DKC/O&M)
Leading the way is the amazing Ricky Ubeda as Mr. Mistoffelees. The "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 11 winner is no Great White Way newbie: He made his official Broadway debut last year, when he joined the ensemble of On The Town. But it is his first time playing a major role—and showing off his singing chops solo!
The list also includes other On The Town alums: New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin as Victoria (aka the super graceful "white cat"), and Jess LeProtto (also of Newsies and "So You Think You Can Dance") as the mischievous Mungojerrie.
Other highlights? Shonica Gooden—fresh off her Hamilton run—will play Rumpleteazer; New York City Dance Alliance all-star Kolton Krouse will make his Broadway debut as Tumblebrutus; and fellow NYCDA kid Corey Snide, a Juilliard grad who was one of Billy Elliot's Billys, will play Coricopat.
One thing's for certain: This cast of A-list dancers + Andy Blankenbuehler's choreo is sure to = Broadway gold. The production officially opens July 31. Get your tickets now, and check out the full casting list here.
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 Edgar, Corey 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.
Not only do our friends at New York City Dance Alliance know how to have competitions and conventions, but they know how to have a top-notch celebration, too. Last night's 2015 "Bright Lights Shining Stars" gala was the perfect example of everything we love about NYCDA.
Debbie Allen making us feel all the feels. What a career and what a performer (photo Eduardo Patino, courtesy NYCDA)
Debbie Allen was the recipient of this year's NYCDAF Ambassador for the Arts Award, and NYCDA's scholarship recipients (as well as a whole slew of insanely awesome guest performers) paid tribute to Allen's incredible career through song, dance and the sweetest speeches. It was a night filled with love, dance and so much goodness. Watching all the deserving young dancers receive their scholarships is heart-warming, to say the least, and really shows what NYCDA is all about. Below are some of DS's highlights:
Chloe Arnold's Syncopated Ladies wowed us with their high-energy opening number set to some of our fav Beyoncé tracks.
Kolton Krouse performed a solo that was both technically stunning and artistically captivating. He was then presented with the Adele Astaire College Scholarship, by New York City Ballet principal and An American in Paris star, Robert Fairchild. Pretty much the definition of a win-win, we'd say.
Kolton Krouse's stellar solo (photo Eduardo Patino, courtesy NYCDA)
A super special moment was when Allen's daughter, Vivian Nixon, surprised her mom by appearing onstage as Anita from West Side Story, a role Allen was known for absolutely rocking back in the day. You could practically feel the mother-daughter pride and love.
Allen's daughter, Vivian Nixon, channeling her mom and being all kinds of fabulous (photo Eduardo Patino, courtesy NYCDA)
And to close the show, the always-impressive girls from Westchester Dance Academy (a couple of whom you'll see modeling in our upcoming November issue—hey girls!) owned the stage for a beautifully choreographed (and danced) routine to Avicii's "Long Road Home."
WDA girls absolutely #owning it (photo Eduardo Patino, courtesy NYCDA)
Holy sequins and aerials, Batman: New York City Dance Alliance knows how to put on a GALA. (Or two!)
NYCDA just finished up its week-long NYC Nationals with a pair of stupendous gala nights, celebrating the Mini, Junior, Teen and Senior Outstanding Dancers. And I'm still kind of recovering from the onslaught of talent.
First of all, let's congratulate the National Outstanding Dancer winners, shall we?
National Mini Outstanding Dancers
National Junior Outstanding Dancers
National Teen Outstanding Dancers
National Senior Outstanding Dancers
The wonderful Teen and Senior National ODs (via NYCDA)
Notice any familiar names in there? I bet you do—because a lot of these amazing artists are old Dance Spirit friends! We're so excited that Jasmine (who pulled off 32 fouettés on pointe in a group number—more on that later) is back as Junior OD after her reign as Mini a few years back, and we're thrilled to see Brady add a NYCDA title to his already impressive resumé. Huge congrats also go to Sarah and Jake, the heroes of our web series The Road to Nationals! Those besties are going to have sooooo much fun on the road with NYCDA this year. I'd say their new titles are the perfect excuse to (re–)binge-watch R2N, which follows their 2014 NYCDA journey.
Sarah was also a 2014 Cover Model Search finalist! NBD. (photo by Erin Baiano)
As fun as it is to see talented individuals honored, my favorite part of NYCDA Nationals is the Critics' Choice competition, which highlights outstanding group numbers. Those proceedings are all the more exciting because DS sponsors the Mini and Junior Critics' Choice winners, and our friends at Dance Magazine sponsor the Teen and Senior champs.
I'm glad that we just hand out the trophies, though, and don't have to judge the darn thing, because the field is consistently stellar. And this year was no exception. Tempe Dance Academy earned National Senior CC with "I'm So Sorry," in which 2014 National Senior OD Kolton Krouse got pummeled by a group of glamorous ladies. (Don't cry for Kolton, though: He's going to Juilliard next year!) Westlake School for the Performing Arts repped #teamballet and earned the Teen CC award with its beautifully classical "Paquita"—featuring Jasmine's fantabulous fouettés, which were sprinkled with doubles and finished with a triple, naturally. (I'd like to remind everyone that she's 12. TWELVE.) The ladies of Westchester Dance Academy also showed off beautiful classical technique in "When the Last Angel Falls," which won Mini CC. And the crowd favorite of the year (the decade? the century?), Performance Edge 2's "Hello"—which put a pitch-perfect tap spin on the hilarious opening song from The Book of Mormon—took home the Junior CC award.
Look at those legs! (via NYCDA)
I'd also like to give a shoutout to Jordan Pelliteri, the 2014 National Senior OD, who relinquished her title last night with one final solo—a smoldering little number complete with her signature jaw-dropping, is-she-maybe-a-contortionist extensions. Jordan is also one of this year's Cover Model Search finalists (love, love, LOVE that the National Senior OD title was passed from one CMS finalist to another), so if you want to see her pretty face on our October cover, go vote for her now!
It's always wonderful to feel the warm NYCDA family love at the closing galas. And nothing embodied the organization's spirit of support and friendship better than this year's oh-so-happy Senior Outstanding Dancer number, choreographed by the great Suzi Taylor. So I'll close with an excerpt from that. See you next season, NYCDA!
Dance Spirit's January cover girl, Sophia Lucia, on the red carpet before the Dance Awards in NYC (photo via @sophialucia5678)
Chock full of utterly amazing dance talent, silly jokes and wild choreography, the 2014 Dance Awards closed out its NYC event last night at the Hammerstein Ballroom. The three-and-a-half-hour celebration really had it all—from spectacular Mini performances to archival footage of a young, tap dancing Gil Stroming to awards for seemingly every category known to dancerkind. The Dance Spirit editors certainly had a blast. Here are my top five highlights of the evening:
1. The Mini and Junior Male Best Dancers. Mini Brady Farrar from Stars Dance Studio stole my heart with his solo "You." And later in the evening, Junior winner Findlay McConnell from Elite Danceworx (the big winner of the night!) brought the house down with his performance of "Dance with Me." Seriously, you need to watch these guys, stat.
And here's Findlay (the picture is a little blurry, but just know his facial expressions are perfect):
2. DanceMakers of Atlanta's "Take Me Out." This routine was fierce at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals a week ago, and it was even fiercer onstage last night. These teens aren't only amazing performers, but each dancer also brings something of herself to the choreography—all while maintaining perfect synchronicity with her peers. Moreover, these girls are versatile, going from style to style with ease. Case in point? Senior Brianne Sellars won the title of Best Dancer for her contemporary solo "Movement"—a total departure from the hard-hitting moves in "Take Me Out." Here's Brianne in "Movement," which also earned a 1st runner up title for Senior Female Outstanding dancer at NYCDA Nationals:
3. Dance Town's "Ballroom Girls." These Minis can sure move those hips! I can hear Mary Murphy screaming in the distance as she hands out Hot Tamale Train tickets. Watch these little firecrackers go:
4. Sophia Lucia's "All This to Say." Dance Spirit's January cover girl—who was crowned Junior Female Best Dancer—did not disappoint last night. With extensions, emotions and moves like these (choreographed by none other than Stacey Tookey), it's pretty easy to see why she's insta-famous. One thing we can all take away from this rising star's stellar performance? Wearing two shoes—or none at all!—can help mask a serious case of one-sidedness, unlike the one-shoe approach in this clip:
5. The Kenny Wormald as
Kevin Bacon Ren McCormick–inspired opening number. Gosh darn it, I just love a good Footloose throwback. And what's better than one Footloose number? Two! Mandy Moore and Nick Lazzarini's crowd-pumping choreography for both the opening and closing routines left the night on such a high note. Take a look at the Footloose footage from the 2014 Dance Awards in Las Vegas. It will surely motivate you to tackle the rest of your day.
The Tony Awards (airing this Sunday night!) recognize a lot of Broadway talent: actors, directors, sound designers, lighting designers, writers, composers, and our favorites, choreographers. But we all know that the true muscle behind every amazing musical is the dancers. And they rarely get Tony nominations. (Unless they happen to be the fabulous Karine Plantadit, who earned a best featured actress nomination in 2010 for her dance-heavy role in Come Fly Away.)
Enter the Fred & Adele Astaire Awards. Each June, the Astaire Awards recognize Broadway's best of the best—in jazz, tap, or character shoes. The 2014 ceremony was held last night in NYC, and the star-studded event didn't disappoint. Here are the best moments from the oh-so-dancey evening:
Jared Grimes in After Midnight (photo by Matthew Murphy)
1. Jared Grimes' performance. Grimes currently stars in After Midnight. He opened the show with a display of his signature lightning-fast tapping and hip-hop swag fusion that later earned him the Astaire Award for best male dancer. (After Midnight was the big winner of the entire evening: Plantadit and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards tied for best female dancer, and lanky Englishman Warren Carlyle won the award for best choreography. Seriously, go see this show!)
2. Angel Inniss' stellar layouts in her jazzy solo "Mr. Paganini." Man, can this senior dancer from Spotlight Studio of Dance in Maryland work a stage! Angel took home the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Adele Astaire College Scholarship. Congrats, Angel!
3. The presentation of the Outstanding Contribution to Dance Education Award to Luigi, the father of jazz dance (and the father of "5,6,7,8"!), and presentation of the Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award to Patricia Birch. You know Patricia Birch for this choreography:
Greased Lightning! John Travolta and company in Grease
And this choreography:
Steve Martin and Gilda Radner cut a rug in “Dancing in the Dark” on “Saturday Night Live”
Of course, these are just two small snippets of this choreographer's CV, and Patricia Birch hasn't stopped moving (to quote Luigi) or choreographing. Her work can currently be seen on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." Which brings us to top moment 4:
4. Legendary actor (and star of "Boardwalk Empire") Steve Buscemi making a surprise appearance to pay tribute to Patricia Birch for her work on the show. Best of all? We got to see a stage rendition of one of the acts from "Boardwalk." Take a look at the number in this clip from the show, and see if you can find our gal Chloe Arnold. Spoiler alert: Jared Grimes also performs!
5. Nancy Chippendale's Dance Studio tappers big finale. These teen dancers—there were more than 45 onstage!—from North Andover, MA, sure know how to stay in formation, while flapping and tapping in perfect unison. Their number "Glam" was the perfect finish to a truly glamorous event.
Let's hope Sunday's Tony Awards (8 pm on CBS) includes at least half this much dancing!