Joey Haro’s never been easy to categorize. His parents are Cuban, but he looks ethnically diverse enough that he was called back for both the Jets and the Sharks, the rival gangs in the long-awaited Broadway revival of West Side Story. Plus, his boyish good looks contradict the maturity with which he carries himself in conversation and as a dancer.
Then there’s his wide-ranging talent. The 21-year-old is vocally adept enough to be cast for his ability to belt out high notes; a versatile enough dancer to execute hip-hop and musical theater moves with equal conviction; and a strong enough actor that he can now handle his star role as Chino in West Side Story, which requires him to kill the leading man each night.
But while Haro’s rise to prominence has been meteoric, it’s been far from effortless—or conventional—and it all started with a leap of faith. Two years ago, after his sophomore year of college, he decided to make a risky decision (one that’s ended less happily for other dancers): Haro left Florida State University to move to NYC to train and pursue his dream of being a professional triple threat.
Joey didn’t initially strive to excel at so many things. During his childhood, he only saw himself as an actor. It wasn’t until middle school, when he watched a video of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, that everything changed. “Suddenly music enhanced the acting, and dancing was another expression of the emotions,” he says.
His natural talent led him to stay in that world. He auditioned for the musical theater department at Miami’s New World School of the Arts and was accepted. There he honed his dancing and singing, along with acting.
“Growing up at a performing arts school helped you do just that—grow,” says Joey. “It was a safe space to figure out who you were with teachers who pushed you to your creative limits.”
Throughout high school and two years of college, Haro became a serious triple threat. With all this training in tow, within weeks of arriving in New York, he was cast as a swing in a regional production of the off-Broadway hit Altar Boyz—but it required a move to Chicago.
Haro went on for several parts during his time in the Windy City, but his life as a swing remained inconsistent. Sometimes he would be on for a month straight, only to do nothing but sit around the next. Plus, after seven months the show folded, and Haro experienced another professional reality: unemployment.
“I was sitting on the couch one day, and my phone rang,” he recalls of his return to New York. “People in the industry joke, ‘Pick it up, it might be Broadway!’” It wasn’t Broadway yet, but it was off-Broadway. The New York production of Altar Boyz needed a vacation swing, and Haro nabbed the job.
Since he already knew the show, he required little rehearsal and kept auditioning for other roles. His agent let him know a vacation swing was needed for Hairspray, so he switched from the pop dance of Altar Boyz to Jerry Mitchell’s ’60s style and nailed the audition. Even before he made his off-Broadway debut, he found out he was to start performances on Broadway in two weeks!
The ride didn’t stop there. While he was walking to the Hairspray theater for his final dress rehearsal, he opened an e-mail from his agent where he found the words, “YOU ARE CHINO.” After months of auditions for West Side Story, he could breath a sigh of relief.
All that Haro has known so far is the uncertain life of a swing. With West Side Story, he’ll have the chance to develop a character in a classic with lyrics by Sondheim, the artist who inspired his love of the craft.
“It’s the stuff you dream about,” Joey admits. “I’m not going to be the replacement anymore! To think that I’m 21 years old, I would be a senior in college, and I just came here on a gut instinct, and everything fell right into place. It’s absurd!”
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!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
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.