Right now, "inclusive" seems to be the word on every dancewear manufacturer's lips. Aurora Tights, by contrast, has been talking about—and, more importantly, doing something about—inclusivity for several years now. Aurora was founded by two competitive figure skaters and a former competition kid (all women of color) when the trio were in a sorority together at the University of Maryland, College Park.
True Colors<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzkwMjY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Njc5MTUyN30.BA6FxDg0i2TnliV68KKgp30Ezw8W-1XITsvJeGP_8RE/img.jpg?width=980" id="1bd13" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0762ba0dbd9370db2bf755df356f9924" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Royalette Dance Team from Bishop O'Connell High School, Parker's alma mater, will be partnering with Aurora tights for their 2020-21 season (Courtesy Chrissy Salvador)<p>Just like any other dancer, young Sydney Parker spent a lot of time looking critically at herself in the mirror. Eventually, it wasn't just alignment issues that stuck out to her. "I started to notice how often the makeup and clothes—especially the tights—that were picked for competitions didn't suit my skin," she recalls. Told by coaches and teachers that uniformity was more important than anything else, she tried to shrug off her discomfort and self-consciousness.</p><p>That is, until she was a college student, sharing her experiences with eventual fellow co-founders Jasmine Snead and Imani Rickerby. Having all felt excluded in strikingly similar ways because of their deeper skin color, the three women decided then and there that, in Parker's words, "this has got to stop." They began by dyeing premanufactured tights themselves and gathering focus groups to find out how to best meet dancers' needs. In January 2018, <a href="https://www.auroratights.com/" target="_blank">Aurora Tights</a> was officially born, and their reach has only expanded ever since.</p>
Made in the Shade<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk4ODg1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjI4MDI5M30.wVthKdgmVMlJSorBdaCe0GdoyXjnXhZUWKs0PjkVEPw/img.jpg?width=980" id="38f01" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e9e497846b63876df0179ff290989a1b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Aurora tights come in both child and adult sizes and 5 carefully crafted shades
(TAYO Jr., Courtesy Aurora Tights)<p>What makes Aurora's tights stand out (in a good way) is the sheer amount of work that went into perfecting <a href="https://www.auroratights.com/pages/our-shades" target="_blank">the five shades: Diamond, Candice, Amber, True, and Lily.</a> "While a lot of brands might offer variety, most have a greenish or gray undertone," says Parker. In order to create a truly flattering product for every dancer from children to adults, Parker and her co-founders tried out literally thousands of samples on their friends, family, and fellow artist-athletes. They eventually developed an innovative waistband that doesn't cut off a dancer's curves, and a shimmering finish that enhances the natural beauty of the dancer's complexion. </p><p><a href="https://www.auroratights.com/pages/our-shades" target="_blank">Each of the five shades</a> is named after a different woman who's inspired the founders over the years. Candess Correll, the namesake of the "Candice" shade, was the trio's classmate at U of M and is now a veteran member and captain of the Washington Football Team's cheer squad. It's safe to say that as much as Candess inspired <a href="https://www.auroratights.com/" target="_blank">Aurora Tights,</a> the tights now inspire her in return: "I love all their athleticwear too, but I'm especially passionate about the tights, because I felt a difference in my confidence when I started wearing them. When I put them on, I feel that I really do fit in this industry as a dancer."</p>
Tights Can Change the Game<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hXQlNNynRDY" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>Increased confidence is just the beginning. <a href="https://www.auroratights.com/" target="_blank">Aurora Tights</a> is already making the dance world a better place, especially for dancers of color. "We're on a mission to increase access pipelines and raise retention rates for Black and Brown dancers," Parker says. With that in mind, the company sponsored and hosted the inaugural Perform in Color Showcase last month. The virtual event raised $13,000 in scholarships for artist-athletes of color, while also providing a high-profile performance opportunity for young dancers of color.</p><p>More than anything, Parker's hope is that feeling beautiful and strong will make it easier for dancers of color to stick with their passion, despite the systemic racism and implicit bias that force far too many young artists offstage. "I think sometimes in the competition world, we're more likely to think about everybody as the same, and to <em>want</em> everybody to be the same," Parker says. "I hope that <a href="https://www.auroratights.com/" target="_blank">Aurora Tights</a> is part of dance starting to embrace the diversity that ultimately makes for stronger teams."</p>
After navigating Nationals online and attending summer intensives via Zoom, many students are now diving into their first all-virtual college-application season. Enter Dancewave Through College and Beyond's college fair, which is going digital for a two-weekend event October 16–18 and 23–25, open to dancers ages 14–18.
Dancers at DTCB's 2019 college audition (Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave)
National Dance Showcase Judges Discuss Diversity in the Competition World—and How NDS is Pushing For a More Inclusive Future
As conversations about racial justice have continued across the country, members of the dance world have focused inwards and reflected on how we can all do better. The close-knit competition and convention community is no different. Dance Spirit had the chance to talk to five judges from National Dance Showcase, as well as one of its founders, Sonia Pennington, about issues they've seen in the comp world—and hear all about how NDS is leading the way to a more inclusive future.
Dance Spirit: What problems relating to issues of diversity and inclusion have you seen in the competition world?<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U2JRxV2lF8M" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><strong>Elizabeth Troxler, NDS judge: </strong>There's this idea that dancers must be "technically perfect" to win awards. But when you watch people dancing professionally, you look at the dancer as a whole. We need to do that in the competition world too. We need to be able to say, "I can appreciate you, even if your foot doesn't stretch all the way, because you're bringing such a presence to the movement." The idea that being able to do a triple pirouette is the only thing that makes a good dancer is a lie. It's kind of important, but not really.</p><p><strong></strong><strong>Jay Staten, NDS judge: </strong>I think that the competition world is built in a way that doesn't necessarily reflect what the dance world really is. You thrive in the competition world by spending more money, so if you don't spend as much, you lose out. </p><p>Many competitions judge with similar point criteria, where technique has the heaviest weight in your score. But to have technique, you have to spend money. Musicality, on the other hand, can be natural to a dancer. But someone who doesn't have technique, even if they have musicality, won't win against a super technical performer. I think that's an issue.</p><p><strong>Vanessa Baker, NDS judge:</strong> It may sound superficial, but it's important to me—costuming. For the longest time, I had to spray-paint costumes, or have dancers dance bare-legged and barefoot. It can be very obvious when there are costumes that have illusions or cutouts and there's a "flesh color" fabric, but that "flesh color" isn't right for all dancers. It can make dancers feel very isolated. </p><p><strong>JS:</strong> In the same vein of costuming, I will often feel offended by how studios choose to depict dances from different genres. Like, it's a hip-hop dance, and suddenly all the white dancers are wearing cornrows. Or, it's ballet, and they're doing the Chinese dance from <em>The Nutcracker</em>, and suddenly all of the dancers have chopsticks in their hair. Sometimes I will have to say, "I can't judge this, because this is offensive."</p>
DS : How do you think National Dance Showcase has cultivated a more inclusive culture?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDMwMzc5Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MTAwMzI1OX0.2Qh6Vueqq3o1nPs0VymBP7Ffo5_4z8iTSMRpRas9PRg/img.jpg?width=980" id="80762" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="72925bb977c74a223b73bf9efb93528b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
(Brian Bailey, Courtesy National Dance Showcase)<p><strong>Sonia Pennington, NDS co-founder: </strong>It's just who we are; how <a href="https://www.nationaldanceshowcase.com/" target="_blank">NDS</a> was formed. I think because of my Blackness, inclusivity became an inherent part of the organization. We are a tapestry of "difference," and incorporating a multitude of perspectives leads to inclusion. It also gives voice and sight to those that aren't always seen or heard.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> <a href="https://www.nationaldanceshowcase.com/" target="_blank">NDS </a>makes their programs accessible. And if you want to include everyone, it needs to be accessible. If you're promoting the culture of dancers flying from state to state, from entry to entry, it clearly is not accessible. So, it depends on what you're here for. If you're here to make money, that's one thing. If you're here to create an inclusive community, that's another thing.</p><p><strong>Christopher Jackson, NDS judge:</strong> Accommodation is the other part of it. <a href="https://www.nationaldanceshowcase.com/" target="_blank">NDS </a>is accessible <em>and</em> accommodating. A lot of competitions are set in their ways—your piece is three minutes long, you stop at three minutes, and if you go over, you get deducted.<a href="https://www.nationaldanceshowcase.com/" target="_blank"> NDS</a> realizes that at the end of the day, we're not taking out livers and kidneys. It's a dance competition. We're trying to have a good time.</p><p><strong>Sue McCarrol, NDS judge:</strong> I think <a href="https://www.nationaldanceshowcase.com/" target="_blank">NDS</a> does a really good job of keeping perspective. By keeping that perspective, they put a lot of effort into making sure everyone feels recognized. Not in a way where it feels like, "Oh, we tossed this award out to you so everyone feels recognized." But in a real way, a carefully thought about way. </p><p><strong>CJ: </strong>One of the things I love most that <a href="https://www.nationaldanceshowcase.com/" target="_blank">NDS</a> does is the "Backstage Award," which celebrates those dancers who are respectful to other students in dressing rooms, who are respectful to the staff. To me, that award is a big deal, because it's important for students to know that it's not just about how you act onstage, but it's how you act backstage—that's what keeps the job, in the real world. </p><p><strong>SP: </strong>One of the biggest things we are interested in investing in is representation. Especially when you're trying to be inclusive and diverse, representation is key, so that as a dancer of color, you're going into a competition and seeing judges that look like you.</p>
DS : What do you think it means to dancers of color, to see themselves represented on a judging panel?<p><strong></strong><strong>JS:</strong> It changes their dancing from being something that they like to something that they can spend their life doing. It's completely life changing. I'm from Washington, DC, so all my teachers were Black. But if I hadn't had Black teachers, I probably wouldn't be on this Zoom call right now, because I wouldn't have seen myself in dance. It's the difference between thinking you can walk on water, and knowing you can walk on water, because you saw someone else do it.</p><p><strong>ET:</strong> On the panel, we honor each other. We learn from each other. I love that we have the opportunity to represent that to younger generations. Because if we, the judges, are having a great time together and honoring each other's work, they see that they can do that within their own communities. I'm honored to be a part of that. </p>
DS : What advice would you give dancers who don’t feel well represented or who feel isolated in the competition and convention world?<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/SULu71Wf6hk" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><strong></strong><strong>VB:</strong> Keep going. You have to keep going. You may be the only one, but you can be a trailblazer. And you won't be the only one for very long.</p><p><strong>JS: </strong>You have to do the research. Just like you're going to look for the company that makes gluten-free cookies, you have to look for the competition that has judges of color. Dance is cultural. And I know at <a href="https://www.nationaldanceshowcase.com/" target="_blank">NDS,</a> there will be at least one person who understands what I'm trying to do. I don't think judges are really thinking "You're Black; no points for you." I just think that some things don't translate well if you're from different cultural backgrounds. </p><p>Be selective. Dance so strongly affects your psyche, because you have people commenting on what you look like. And you don't want to give everybody that power.</p><p><strong>CJ</strong>: You have to use the space for what it is. Competitions are performance spaces, really. In your studio, you probably get to perform twice a year—once at the Christmas show and once at the recital in June. But competitions are performance opportunities. If you look at it like that and not just as a trophy, you're getting the best out of it. </p><strong>SM</strong>: Remember that it's just one person's opinion in one moment in time in one place in the world. Look inside yourself and see how you feel about what you put onstage.
DS: Do you have any advice for other competitions working to become more inclusive?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDMwNDA1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDUxMjE4Nn0.l_15nwgyypj64wtI8pRNKXc-Otg1xRqJ_ZSKVk4rNJM/img.jpg?width=980" id="131b3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f6295578d82f2042483685ff76719943" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><strong></strong><strong>SP:</strong> You said it—make changes. In this day and age, to have a staff that looks exactly the same is unacceptable. You cannot say that you are open to inclusion and diversity if you have no representation. And I don't mean you get the token hip-hop judge, or the token tap judge. You find professional ballerinas of color. You find professional modern dancers of color. You show the gamut of what is out there.</p><p>Underrepresentation is a problem because you're not giving young dancers the ability to look out and see themselves in 10 years, or 15 years, or 20 years. As a leader of a competition, I think it's so important for the dancers to know that the world is so much bigger than what they look like. You are able to conquer any dream, aspiration, or goal no matter what, especially if you know that you are embraced, supported, accepted and "seen"! As a community of professional artists investing in the next generation that is so beautifully diverse, we must be committed to setting the example for the world to follow.</p>
You've got your mother's eyes, your smile is just like your dad's, and it's uncanny how much you look like photos of that great-great aunt you've never met. But where did you get your distinctive port de bras from? What are the origins of your signature tap sound? Chances are, your technique and style can be traced back to a dance icon or two. We asked five dancers at the top of their craft to explore their dance family trees, uncovering connections to the legendary dance artists who've shaped their careers.
Megan Fairchild in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering (Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB)
Megan Fairchild, New York City Ballet<p><strong>Rooted to: Melissa Hayden, George Balanchine, Willam F. Christensen</strong></p><p>Physical powerhouse <a href="https://www.nycballet.com/discover/meet-our-dancers/principal-dancers/megan-fairchild/" target="_blank">Megan Fairchild</a> exudes strength and grace as a principal at New York City Ballet, where she performs a diverse repertoire: classics by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and newer works by Alexei Ratmansky and Justin Peck. Born in Salt Lake City, UT, Fairchild trained in Utah at Dance Concepts and at the Ballet West Conservatory (now Ballet West Academy), where her teachers helped to hone her craft and shape her into the incredible dancer (and teacher!) she is today.</p><p><span></span><strong>Tracing It Back: </strong></p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong></strong><strong></strong><strong>Maureen Laird, </strong>Fairchild's teacher at the Ballet West Conservatory. Laird studied with famed NYCB ballerina Melissa Hayden. "Maureen never spoke about her training as far as I can remember, so I'm actually amazed to hear she trained with Melissa Hayden!" Fairchild says. She still thinks about a correction Laird gave her once: "She said, 'Well if you can do it like that, why not <em>always</em> do it that way? Don't take so long to get to that final pulled-up version of the position. Do it right when you arrive!' " Fairchild says. "I give that correction to my own students all the time. Work to your fullest potential from the get go!"</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Sharee Lane</strong>, another of Fairchild's influential teachers at Ballet West Conservatory. Lane was a soloist at Ballet West from 1970–1979, under the direction of Willam F. Christensen and Bruce Marks. In the 80s, she privately taught and coached John Travolta for his role in the iconic dance film <em>Staying Alive</em>.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Deborah Dobson</strong>, also a mentor to Fairchild at Ballet West Conservatory. Dobson trained at San Francisco Ballet School and the School of American Ballet and later danced with American Ballet Theatre, as well as in Europe. She helped connect Fairchild to the Balanchine legacy. "In my last years in Utah, she gave me a lot of Balanchine training," Fairchild says.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Bené Arnold</strong>, who rehearsed the young Fairchild for <em>The Nutcracker</em> at Ballet West. The beloved Arnold was involved in the founding of Ballet West, where she was a ballet mistress from 1963–1975. She performed character roles in many Ballet West productions and also danced with San Francisco Ballet. "She had a major impact on me learning to tell a story as I danced," Fairchild says. "I heard the most stories from Bené Arnold. You really can't study your ballet roots unless your teachers talk about them, or you think to ask them. So it was fun to have vivid images of Bené's career painted in our imaginations."</p><p><strong>Why It Matters: </strong>"Learning about your teacher's roots helps you appreciate every correction they give you," Fairchild says. "It helps you feel connected to legends like Mr. B, which makes you feel authentic in your efforts and your approach to their work."</p>
Natasha Diamond-Walker in Martha Graham's Ecstasies (David Bazemore, courtesy Martha Graham Dance Company)
Natasha Diamond-Walker, Martha Graham Dance Company<p><strong>Rooted to: Lester Horton, Debbie Allen, Arthur Mitchell, Martha Graham, Fred Astaire</strong></p><p>Natasha Diamond-Walker has been a soloist with the <a href="https://marthagraham.org/dancers/" target="_blank">Martha Graham Dance Company</a> for the past seven years, carrying on Graham's legacy through her roles in repertory classics: <em>Appalachian Spring</em>, <em>Cave of the Heart</em>, <em>Clytemnestra</em>, <em>Lamentation</em>. As a company member, she's also been able to work with today's top contemporary choreographers. But her dance family tree is rooted in the icons who made modern dance what it is today.</p><p><strong>Tracing It Back:</strong><span></span></p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><span></span><strong>Karen McDonald</strong>, Diamond-Walker's childhood teacher. The director of Los Angeles Unified School District Gifted/Talented Program Conservatory of Fine Arts at Cal State Los Angeles, McDonald is the director of Debbie Allen Dance Academy. A Broadway dancer before returning to L.A. to teach, McDonald studied at Dance Theater of Harlem with legendary mentors and teachers like George Faison, Donald McKayle, Don Martin, Janet Collins, Arthur Mitchell, and Karel Shook, among others. "She was the most instrumental person in my process because I really identified with her as being a tall black woman, with an Ailey-esque style of movement," Diamond-Walker says. "She was super inspirational for me."<br></p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Don Martin</strong>, Diamond-Walker's teacher at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA). Martin studied under icon Lester Horton, who taught the likes of Janet Collins, Carmen de Lavallade, and Alvin Ailey. "He was really instrumental because he not only taught me the Horton technique, but also about theatricality and how it speaks to dancing," Diamond-Walker says.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Ka-Ron Brown-Lehman</strong>, Diamond-Walker's mentor. Formerly artistic director of the LACHSA dance department (2001–2006), she was once a well-known TV dance artist, performing with Fred Astaire, Liza Minelli, and Diana Ross.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Francisco Martinez</strong>, Walker's teacher at the Ailey/Fordham University BFA program. Currently a dance professor at The Juilliard School, Martinez trained at the National Ballet School in Spain, at the Maria de Avila Dance School, and with Victor Ullate, who was a principal in Maurice Béjart's ballet company.</p><p><strong>Why It Matters: </strong>Thinking about her connections to the past is important in Diamond-Walker's professional career. At Graham, she's enjoyed working with those who worked directly with Martha Graham, such as Elizabeth Auclair, Janet Eilber, Terese Capucilli, and Christine Dakin. "These women embody different parts of Graham's legacy," Diamond-Walker says. "They all have different interpretations of her work, but because of my experience with each of them, I feel deeply connected to Graham."</p>
Sarah Reich (Jeff Xander, courtesy Reich)
Sarah Reich, tap dancer<p><strong>Rooted to: The Nicholas Brothers, Jason Samuels Smith, Dianne Walker, Harold "Stumpy" Cromer</strong></p><p>The versatile dancer and choreographer <a href="https://www.instagram.com/sourtaps/?hl=en" target="_blank">Sarah Reich</a> has performed and taught all over the world. She grew up dancing alongside tap dance legends—by the time she was 12, she was participating in tap jams with Gregory Hines—and those legends, in turn, lifted up the legacies of the dancers who preceded them. "Just like storytelling, tap dance is often passed down from person to person," Reich says. "But as in the game telephone, certain things end up changed."</p><p><strong>Tracing It Back:</strong></p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong></strong><strong>Cyd Glover</strong>, Reich's tap teacher at the Hawthorne Dance Academy. As a young dancer, Glover performed alongside Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Savion Glover in the famous tap musical <em>Black and Blue</em>, choreographed by tap greats Henry LeTang, Cholly Atkins, Frankie Manning, and Fayard Nicholas.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Paul and Arlene Kennedy</strong>, who taught Reich at Universal Dance Design in L.A. Paul and Arlene trained countless tap dancers, including Derick K. Grant, Sumbry-Edwards, and Josette and Joseph Wiggan. Originally from Boston, Paul grew up dancing in his mother's studio—and his mother, Mildred Kennedy Bradic, was Dianne Walker's teacher.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Jason Samuels Smith</strong>, whose classes Reich took at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in L.A. "With Cyd I liked tap; with Paul Kennedy, I loved it; with Jason, I fell in love with it," Reich says. The renowned Smith has a diverse training and performance resumé, and his lineage connects Reich to a long line of famous dancers, including Frank Hatchett, Katherine Dunham, and the Nicholas Brothers.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Harold "Stumpy" Cromer</strong>, who became a mentor to Reich. The former vaudeville dancer and comedian used to tap on roller skates, and performed on stages with Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald.</p><p><strong>Why It Matters: </strong>In addition to studying with tap masters, Reich has learned to appreciate her history through archival footage and learning dances of the past. "We have to keep, and we are keeping, these artists' names and legacies alive," she says. "I think it's really beautiful that we get to feel what it's like to dance like them. When you tap someone else's choreography, you're getting into their body and mind."</p>
Sharron Lynn poses in front of the marquis for The Lion King on Broadway (courtesy Lynn)
Sharron Lynn, performer in "The Lion King" on Broadway<p><strong>Rooted to: Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Garth Fagan</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.sharronlynn.com/" target="_blank">Sharron Lynn</a> toured with <em>The Lion King </em>for four years before joining the Broadway cast almost two years ago. The Miami native was previously a member of Ailey II. She has an appreciation for the ways her teachers not only taught technique, but also prepared her for the workforce and the life of a dancer.</p><p><strong>Tracing It Back:</strong><span></span></p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><span></span><strong>Peter London</strong> was Lynn's most influential teacher at the New World School of the Arts in Miami. A former principal dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company, London helped Lynn bridge the gap from student to professional, encouraging her to spend her summers in NYC at The Ailey School's summer intensives.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Fred Benjamin</strong>, former chairman of the jazz department and faculty advisor at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, served as a profound inspiration for Lynn when she studied with him as a professional division student. Benjamin helped Lynn learn to color her movement—and to move from the heart. </p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Ruthlyn Salomons</strong>, the resident dance supervisor of <em>The Lion King </em>on Broadway, taught Lynn the show. Salomons learned the choreography directly from its creator, Garth Fagan.</p><p><strong>Why It Matters: </strong>"To know your history is to know your power," says Lynn. "You honor the work of those who come before you, and you're able to pull from that and use it as a driving force for your own work. Knowing the shoulders we stand on gives us more height, more leverage."</p>
Martha Nichols, commercial dancer<p><strong>Rooted to: </strong>Frank Hatchett, Katherine Dunham, Debbie Allen, Madonna</p><p>Most of the world first noticed <a href="https://www.dancemagazine.com/martha-nichols-2646033409.html" target="_blank">Martha Nichols</a>' ferocious yet graceful dancing on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lus4OvkxqwA" target="_blank">Season 2 of "So You Think You Can Dance."</a> She has been featured in films like <em>La La Land </em>and <em>The Greatest Showman</em>, and she's also performed with Christina Aguilera, toured with Rihanna, and was even an assistant choreographer for Madonna. Her versatility can be attributed to the teachers she worked with and the masters who came before them.</p><p><strong>Tracing It Back:</strong><span></span></p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><span></span><strong>Christy Curtis</strong>, now the owner of CC & Co. Dance Complex, where Nichols trained as a student, nurtured Nichols' love of dance and introduced her to guest teachers and master classes, and the convention and competition world. Curtis studied with jazz icon Frank Hatchett, who partnered with Maurice Hines (Gregory Hines' brother) to open the studio that would go on to be Broadway Dance Center. And Hatchett trained with Syvilla Fort, a protégé of the legendary Katherine Dunham.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Mandy Moore</strong> worked with Nichols on "SYTYCD" and <em>La La Land</em>. "She taught me almost everything I know about working on camera and how to be a professional in that space and as an artist and dancer," Nichols says. "Mandy has had the biggest hand in how I am the way that I am." Moore studied dance at the Summit School of Dance in Breckenridge under the school's founder, Kim DelGrosso. (DelGrosso is now co-owner of Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, where she trained Julianne and Derek Hough, among many others.)</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Tessandra Chavez</strong> helped Nichols recalibrate her rehearsal approach when she first moved to L.A. Chavez has mentored and taught countless TV dance stars, and worked alongside Debbie Allen at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy as head of jazz dance.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;"><strong>Wade Robson</strong> worked with Nichols on "SYTYCD," and brought her into his Vegas Cirque du Soleil show <em>Criss Angel Believe</em>. Robson also choreographed extensively for Britney Spears and *NSYNC. "He redefined dancing full out," Nichols says. "I thought I was doing it until I worked with him!"</p><p><strong>Why It Matters: </strong>Nichols is currently choreographing a musical about the life of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman in Congress. As part of her research process, she's been studying musical theater greats of the past—including Michael Kidd, Marge and Gower Champion, and Jerome Robbins—to fully understand the history of musical choreography. "You cannot effectively navigate where you want to go if you don't understand where you're coming from," Nichols says.</p>
College Reunion, Dancer Edition: Three Cover Stars Reflect on How College Launched Their Pro Careers
Today, Zoey Anderson, Corey John Snide, and I are all professional dancers thriving in the industry. But we were once anxious, excited young college students in NYC, hoping to make it big. The three of us graced the September 2013 Dance Spirit Higher Ed Issue cover together. Anderson graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in 2015, the same year Snide graduated from The Juilliard School; I completed the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program in 2016. Recently, we reconnected to talk about how we've grown over the years.
What are some of the highlights of your careers so far?<p>Zoey Anderson: I'm currently a dancer with Parsons Dance. One of my favorite highlights has been teaching. We typically teach more than we perform, and being able to give back and see the world while dancing is honestly like therapy.</p><p>Corey John Snide: I was so grateful for the opportunity to work with Andy Blankenbuehler on the filming of <em>Cats</em>—I packed my bags and moved to London for six months. I was also the dance captain for <em>Carousel</em> on Broadway. And I'm currently in <em>West Side Story</em> on Broadway. The true highlight is, always, just dancing.</p><p>Courtney Celeste Spears: I joined Ailey II right out of college and am currently a company member with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It still feels like a dream. But one of my most special highlights has been starting my own company, ArtSea Dance, which brings dance education to dancers based in the Caribbean—specifically the Bahamas, where my family lives. Giving back has brought everything full circle.</p>
Courtney Celeste Spears today (NYC Dance Project, courtesy Spears)
What was that original cover story like for you back in 2013?<p>ZA: I personally grew up idolizing <em>Dance Spirit</em> magazine. Having the opportunity to actually be on the cover gave me a huge sense of confidence, and validation that Marymount was the right choice for me.</p><p>CJS: It felt like a true celebration. Having the opportunity to represent Juilliard for that shoot was honestly such a moment to celebrate.</p><p>CCS: I still can't believe it happened. Choosing the right school can be so stressful, but representing Fordham on that cover made every difficult moment feel so worth it.</p>
What are the most valuable things you learned from your college experiences?<p>CJS: How to pull information out of the context in which it was originally given, apply it, and use it to stand on my own two feet. With my career on Broadway, I've worked with concert dancers like Justin Peck, and my concert dance training has applied in so many ways.</p><p>ZA: College opened my eyes to a love of learning. It's more than just dance. You're getting a deeper understanding of your body and the history of the form. College helped me find myself within my dancing.</p><p>CCS: I learned how to fall in love with working hard. It was difficult to juggle dance and academics, but I found that as time went on, I started to really appreciate the structure. Working at that level became my new normal.</p>
Corey John Snide today (Andy Henderson, courtesy Snide)
When it comes to college, is there anything you would've done differently?<p>ZA: I wish I'd focused more on enjoying the small moments and the journey. Instead of comparing myself to others, I should've been learning that I'm an individual.</p><p>CJS: I would've taken the pressure off a little. I always wanted more, and sometimes that would take its toll on me, physically and mentally. It's important to enjoy just being at college, to join a club that isn't a dance club, or to get involved in something within your community. While planning ahead, I sometimes missed out on the present.</p><p>CCS: I would've networked more. I worked with so many choreographers as a student and didn't get contact information for any of them. Start building those connections while you're in school. That way, when you've graduated and are looking for work, you have people you can call.</p>
Zoey Anderon in David Parson's "Caught" (Travis McGee, courtesy Anderson)