The Cougarettes Take Prague
The Cougarettes at Prague Castle
While most college dance teams spent the summer taking a much-needed break, the 20 members of the Brigham Young University Cougarettes did just the opposite. The 2012 National Dance Alliance National Champions received an anonymous—and very generous—donation that allowed the team to travel to the Czech Republic and compete at this year’s New Prague Dance Festival. Kaitlyn Swenson, a four-year member of the Cougarettes and a BYU senior, documented the team’s experience for DS. —Alison Feller
Friday, June 29
We arrived at Salt Lake City International Airport to see “Welcome BYU Cougarettes” displayed on a large screen over the check-in counter. Despite it being 6 am, each of my 19 teammates walked into the airport with a smile. We flew to NYC and then on to Prague, Czech Republic.
Saturday, June 30
Kaitlyn (right) with teammate Megan Gee Phillips on the Charles Bridge in Prague
Our first day in Prague! We took a tour of the city’s Old Town, and I fell in love with the historic center of the city and the quaint buildings. As we explored the winding cobblestone streets I felt like pinching myself: After dreaming of Prague for almost a year, we’re finally here.
Sunday, July 1
This morning we woke up tired, but excited to see where we’d be competing. Nová Scéna, the concert hall, held a stage larger than any I’d ever been on. We had a brief rehearsal to space our numbers: a contemporary piece, a jazz routine, a lyrical number, our team dance from NDA College Nationals and our first-place hip-hop routine from NDA.
Monday, July 2
Today we started early with classes led by teachers from the Czech Republic. There were dancers from all over the world in each class.
In character before the hip-hop routine
Jiri Horak from the National Theatre Ballet taught an incredible ballet class. Each time we did a lunge he would say “like Swan Lake” and the pianist would break into music from Swan Lake. Next we took hip hop with Tomas Protivinsky, which was challenging but fun. Finally, in the theater makeup class, we learned ways to create different characters onstage.
After a break for lunch we returned to the theater to prepare for the evening competition. The festival officially opened with a pas de deux performed by dancers from the National Theatre Ballet. The NPDF director, David Pospísˇil, welcomed us, and then we went backstage to get ready for our first number.
As we took the stage, the hot lights flashed on and the energy was tangible. In one section, we do fouetté turns in silence, which made the crowd erupt in cheers. As soon as we finished, we ran up six flights of stairs to our changing area to prepare for our next number. Again when we executed our turns, the crowd went wild, and even other dancers backstage applauded. It felt good to be recognized by our fellow competitors.
While we rehearsed our third routine backstage, we were approached by dancers from Turkey who said they were excited to see us. Their youngest dancer kept clapping her hands, screaming, “I love USA!”
The Cougarettes performing Come Thou Fount
As we began our final number of the night, the audience fell silent when we appeared dressed all in white. This routine, “Come Thou Fount,” is special to us because it represents our religious beliefs.
Tuesday, July 3
Today, we took classes all morning and then competed in the evening. It was exhausting, but rewarding.
Wednesday, July 4
We had today off, so we explored. We visited Karlsˇtejn Castle and the historic Prague Castle. At night, NPDF hosted a dinner cruise along the Vltava River.
Thursday, July 5
Kaitlyn (right) and Victoria Heaton holding the Grand Prix and Most Friendly trophies
We’re all exhausted, but as we took the stage for our final performance, it was like we were breathing and moving as one. We closed the evening with our hip-hop routine. We had so much fun dancing that number, knowing it was our last time this year being together as a team.
Afterward, we joined the other dancers in the auditorium for the awards ceremony. We felt honored when we received the “Most Friendly” award, which is voted on by all dancers.
Finally, it was time for the most prestigious award: the “Grand Prix.” We were ecstatic to hear BYU announced. We hugged and cried while the entire audience cheered for us. We felt overwhelming support from the other dancers as we held up our hands in hearts and “I Love You” symbols to show our appreciation. After celebrating onstage, we attended the dinner gala and celebration party where we ate delicious food and danced the night away with our new international friends.
Journeying to Prague was a wonderful adventure that showed how dance truly functions as a universal language. We were able to communicate by sharing the one thing we have in common: a love for dance in all its forms.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.