The Start of Something Big
Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier's The Little Mermaid (ErikTomasson)
11 pros on what first inspired them to dance:
Yuan Yuan Tan
Principal at San Francisco Ballet
“My inspiration is Natalia Makarova. I used to watch tapes of her performing over and over and marvel at her port de bras.”
Comfort Fedoke (Kelsey McNeal/FOX)
“From the time Janet Jackson’s ‘Pleasure Principle’ music video came out, I was all about Janet.Then I saw *NSYNC in concert and got super hyped. At my first talent show in seventh grade, I performed to *NSYNC’s ‘It’s Gonna Be Me.’ I did all of the members’ parts—and wore the diamond-studded bandana, the blue jersey and the baggy pants. I was a one-woman show.”
Robert Fairchild (Paul Kolnik)
Principal at New York City Ballet
“The first time I saw a video of Gene Kelly dancing, I had a revelation. From then on, I knew performing was what I had to do.”
Billy Bell (Erin Baiano)
Founder of Lunge Dance Collective and dancer with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
“I’ve always been driven by challenges. If people tell me I can’t do something, I’ll try my hardest to prove them wrong. At age 10, I watched a breakdancing show and instantly knew that was my next challenge. At 11, I enrolled in a boys-only hip-hop class. My dance instructors convinced me my hip hop would be better if I took jazz too. Then they said my rhythm would improve if I took tap, and then that ballet would help my coordination. By the time I was 12 I was doing West African and Latin dance—anything and everything I could get my hands on.”
Nick Lazzarini (Tyler Golden/Oxygen Media)
Co-founder of Shaping Sound
“My mom put me into a recreation center dance program when I was 4. I ended up loving it. After I’d done a couple weeks of the rec center program, my kindergarten teacher asked if anybody could dance in our Christmas show. I put my hand up, like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a dancer.’ I told my mom when I got home from school, and she panicked and was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘Mom, I got this.’ In the show, I was a giant dancing robot, and my mom says I actually pulled it off really well.”
Ghrai DeVore (Eduardo Patino)
Member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
“Dance has always been a part of my life because of my mother, who was a member of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater in Chicago. I was inspired by the lights and the fame, but also by the integrity and honor of the dancer’s life. The ability to move someone from the stage—even if it’s just one person—is why I do what I do.”
Beckanne Sisk (Luke Isley)
Demi-soloist at Ballet West
“My older sister got me into ballet. I would go to the studio to watch her. I remember she had a starring role in a ballet to the music from Legends of the Fall, and I wanted to be just like her. My mom finally took me in to audition when I was 4, but I couldn’t reach the barre. I was devastated. By the next year, though, I was tall enough!”
Commercial dancer and “So You Think You Can Dance” alum
“I saw classical ballet on TV when I was 1 1/2, and I was immediately hooked. None of the dance studios in my area had classes for children younger than 3, so I just watched ballet on TV whenever I could. When I finally turned 3, my mom bribed me. She said if I ‘went potty’ in the toilet I could start dancing. It must have worked, because I’ve been dancing ever since. Thank goodness for classical ballet and toilets, I guess!”
Phil Tayag (Josh Jose)
Member of The Jabbawockeez
“I’ve always been fascinated by dance. My parents are Filipino, and our culture is all about the arts. When I was 4 or 5, my mom got a kick out of my Michael Jackson impersonation—any time we had a family gathering she would make me dance. Later I watched my older cousins breakdance. When I was 9, I got into my first b-boy crew. Ever since then, I’ve been in crews, battling and performing.”
Bailey Buntain (ABC FAMILY/ANDREW ECCLES)
Dancer/actress on “Bunheads”
“My mom signed me up for dance classes because I was shy as a child. She thought dance would bring me out of my shell. Little did she know it would turn into a complete obsession!
For me, the initial draw was that it was a new way of expressing myself. Later I was inspired by classic movies with Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers—and my all-time favorite, Vera-Ellen. She is a goddess!”
Madd Chadd (Courtesy LXD Ventures)
Chadd “Madd Chadd” Smith
“Growing up, I didn’t dance at all. I wouldn’t even go to school dances because I was uncomfortable. Then, my senior year of high school, I saw one of my neighbors doing windmills and was like, ‘Whoa—I want to learn how to do that!’ But b-boying and popping were just hobbies until I saw Boppin Andre dance at a party in college and everything changed. He had me questioning whether what I was seeing was real. From that point on, I practiced robotic popping 24/7.”
We asked DS’s Facebook fans what inspired them to start dancing. Here are some of our favorite responses!
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.