No two dancers' career paths are exactly alike...which is actually pretty great! Equally great: New kinds of opportunities are constantly cropping up in the dance world, along with new skills necessary to book them. (Did anyone really know how to make a self-tape before 2020?) But in an industry that seems to quick-change faster than you did at your last recital, how can you be certain which skills will be the most important for you to have on your unique dance journey? The short answer: You can't. Luckily, though, with the right foundation, you can feel confident in any environment, whatever road you dance down.
Enter Marymount Manhattan College, a liberal arts school in the heart of NYC. From Broadway to ballet to the big screen, if you can dream of doing it, Marymount's BA and BFA dance programs provide the tool kit you'll need to get there.
Dance Spirit caught up with four Marymount Manhattan alumni to hear how the diversity of their training has helped them navigate postgrad life.
Samantha Butts (front left) in rehearsal with the Rockettes
Hailing from a competition-dance background in Columbus, OH, Samantha Butts knew she wanted a career in dance, especially one in NYC. "I wanted to explore Broadway, as well as contemporary and concert work, but also get a strong education," she shares. "Doing my research, I discovered Marymount and knew it was the perfect place to prepare for all of those avenues."
Settling on a modern dance concentration while also taking classes in ballet, jazz, contemporary, and commercial jazz, Butts was surprised not only by the amount of dancing, but of learning about dance, as well. "I went into school thinking that it was going to be all physical. But Marymount exposed me to so much of the history and background of dance that I hadn't even considered before." Particularly, Butts' professors challenged her to communicate as strongly with words as with her movement. "I had always hated public speaking, but I came to realize that being able to speak up, explain your movement and communicate how it feels is so important as a professional," she says.
Aside from dancing every day, Butts had the opportunity to flex other creative muscles. "I got to take graphic design and fashion classes, which I loved connecting to my favorite dance brands, and eventually led to me designing my own dance website," she explains.
When it came to her senior year, Butts still wasn't dead-set on a specific career path, but she was confident she had the tools necessary to succeed in dance. "I was exposed to so many different styles, ideas and people at Marymount. It was overwhelming at times, but by the end, I was confidently audition-ready," she says. After auditioning for several different opportunities, Butts performed as a Radio City Rockette in the 2019 Christmas season. When the pandemic hit, she took up teaching virtually and at her hometown dance studio, and has since expanded her teaching to include dance cardio with Body by Simone. "I never thought I would develop such a love for teaching," she says. "But Marymount gave me all of these tools, like knowing my anatomy, how to present myself professionally and how to communicate concepts, and navigate outside my comfort zone. All the boxes I needed were ticked to feel prepared to step into something totally new."
Martha Graham Dance Company member Jacob Larsen transferred to Marymount Manhattan after completing a year at community college, and immediately immersed himself in the college's vibrant student body. "Marymount is the best place to meet a ton of dancers, but you also meet actors, students working in production and costumes, future physical therapists—all these people who also have one foot in the dance world," he says. "I was enamored with NYC, and the people around me made me fall even more in love with dance."
For his ballet concentration, Larsen took classes in men's technique and partnering, but soon also found himself gravitating towards extra modern technique classes. "Learning the history behind dance, I was fascinated by modern-dance pioneers like Martha Graham," Larsen explains. "I loved how she wasn't afraid to make bold statements and break the rules." After graduating in 2015, Larsen attended Springboard Danse Montréal, where he performed works by Alexander Ekman and Banning Bouldin. Then, he was accepted into Graham 2, and joined Graham's main company a year later. "Graham technique is extremely physical and challenging," Larsen says. "But Marymount helped me develop such a strong technical foundation and awareness of my own body. As I like to say, anatomy is forever!"
What else is on his dance bucket list? Larsen envisions anything from Broadway to touring to performing with a pop star, in part because he's seen his fellow alumni succeed at all of the above. "Marymount is a very close-knit community on the Upper East Side," he says. "But once you leave, you realize, 'Oh, my gosh, there are MMC alumni all over, doing every kind of job.' "
Growing up in League City, TX, Lauryn Hayes trained in ballet, jazz, contemporary and hip hop, and spent summers dancing at The Ailey School in NYC. "It was my dream to move to NYC and dance, and I wanted a college program where I could get really great ballet training as well as dive into modern and other styles," she says. "It was that curiosity that brought me to Marymount." At school, Hayes immediately felt like a small fish in a big pond. "Marymount's program was humbling at first," she says. "All my classmates and I were probably the best back at their home studio, but the intensity of training and exposure to so many different dance styles at Marymount is definitely a big wake-up call to what dancing on a professional level is like."
Hayes started off with a jazz concentration in the BFA program, but by her junior year, she had switched to ballet, as well as added a second major, in business. Marymount Manhattan's dance curriculum revealed other new interests, as well. "It was such a happy accident that certain academic dance courses are required," Hayes says. "In Cultural History of Dance and Critical Approaches to Dance, I discovered my love for cultural anthropology and the politics of art."
After graduating earlier this year, Hayes is already #BookedAndBusy, thanks to the connections she made in school—but not in the ways you'd think. "The jobs I've had so far have actually all come from professors I didn't necessarily take from at Marymount, but still had the chance to learn from and network with, since it's such a tight-knit community," Hayes explains. Those opportunities have included joining Andrea Miller's renowned company, Gallim, for a two-month commission at Lincoln Center, as well as dancing in Deep Blue Sea, a work by Bill T. Jones, which just wrapped up a run at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC. "My professors at Marymount were constantly pushing me and were invested in my success," Hayes shares. "Performing in such an iconic NYC venue as Lincoln Center with three of them in the front row cheering me on was a full-circle moment."
Moving forward, Hayes hopes to further explore all of the doors that Marymount opened up for her. "I really enjoy modern and postmodern dance, and also academia," she says. "Down the road, I would love to become a professor of African-American studies or gender studies, alongside my dancing."
Lexi Garcia backstage at Hamilton, with Lin-Manuel Miranda
Florida native Lexi Garcia still vividly remembers the first time she walked into Marymount Manhattan for her BFA dance audition. "From taking in the beautiful campus to the professors leading my audition, the energy and encouragement felt completely aligned with what I wanted out of my college experience," she recounts. What Garcia didn't quite expect was for Marymount to completely flip her idea of technique on its head. "Coming from a competition background, I quickly realized I had to rewire my brain to focus on longevity," she says. "If I wanted to dance professionally, I couldn't just crank my leg up or jam my turnout. My training at Marymount was a lesson in working with and celebrating what I've got." The ultimate payoff of rebuilding her technique on a college level, according to Garcia, was consistency. "When you truly understand your technique, there's no more 'good' and 'bad' turn days. You know that whenever a choreographer asks for something, you're able to deliver."
Although Garcia pursued the modern concentration at Marymount Manhattan, after graduating in only three years, she was happy to discover how her training equipped her to grand-jeté in a new direction: musical theater. "When I started going to open calls, I realized it was a very similar environment to all of the times I worked with guest choreographers in school," she explains. "Your adrenaline is pumping, and you want to impress everyone in the room and stay open to whatever they're throwing at you. Knowing I had done that before definitely helped my confidence."
After contracts with Norwegian Cruise Lines and regional theaters, Garcia got the call she'd been dreaming of. "I had auditioned for the Philip cast of Hamilton 's North American tour before, but they explained that someone in the Broadway cast was pregnant and they needed a replacement," she says. In 2017, she made her Broadway debut.
Nowadays, Garcia is passing on all of the valuable lessons she's learned to her students at East Coast Performing Arts, while plotting yet another career switch-up, this time as a performer at Disney World in Orlando, FL. "My family lives in Florida, and it's my dream to be able to perform for them and be a part of such a magical place for entertainment," she says.
Overall, Garcia's time at Marymount planted seeds of insight that she's continued to develop across the span of her dance journey. "When I first came to Marymount, I had this perspective of making everything happen all by myself," Garcia says. "But Marymount introduced me to the ideas of community and balance. I realized that if I'm going to survive in this industry, I need other people to help keep me going, and at Marymount, I found those people."
Angyil's list of battle wins is so long, you'd be forgiven for assuming she's been a hip hopper her whole life. But back when she was a tiny dancer, Angyil actually started out with ballet classes in Kansas City, Missouri. Read on to find out how she transformed into a three-time world champion freestyler and "World of Dance" alumna—and catch her in Washington, DC, October 22, where she'll be competing in the Red Bull Dance Your Style National Pre-Finals, and, if she wins, in the Finals on October 23.
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Dance Spirit: How did you come to dance?
Angyil: I originally was in a bunch of different after-school activities: the robotics team, the debate team, all of these teams. And then dance became an activity at my school. I fell in love, and went on to a performing arts school where I studied ballet, jazz, Graham modern, tap.
DS: Was hip hop on your radar at all at that time? Or were you really focused on concert dance?
Angyil: I would only do hip hop as a cultural thing with my family, at backyard barbecues.
DS: How did you end up at The Ailey School?
Angyil: A lot of the Ailey teachers would come to Kansas City every summer. At the end of the intensive, they picked students who they thought had a promising future. I was one of the students picked to fly to New York and train there.
DS: What happened next?
Angyil: I was tired of putting my hair in a bun. I know that sounds crazy. I appreciated the discipline of concert dance, but felt like I couldn't be free—like I couldn't allow my body to move however my muscles wanted to move. Music also played a big role. I wanted to hear music that resonated with my soul, with my mood and personality. Ballet definitely taught me a lot when it comes to discipline and training. But I decided to just go with hip hop, which felt the closest to my authentic self.
DS: What was hardest about transitioning from concert dance to street dance?
Angyil: The people that I trained with were like, 'Your posture is way too proper. You need to break your posture.' I didn't know what that meant or what I was supposed to do. That, and my feet were always turned out.
DS: What do the two worlds of dance—concert and street—have in common?
Angyil: Performance. It's still about performance at the end of the day, regardless of whether it's on the street or another everyday place, or in a theater. You're still responsible for turning it on and performing your best.
DS: What do you wish classically trained dancers knew about hip hop?
Angyil: I don't think ballet dancers realize how structured and serious hip hop can be. The focus is a bit different, but it's to the same level. Just like there's vocabulary in the ballet world, there are names for everything in hip hop as well. There's freedom in the display, but structure behind it. Just because you're smiling and look like you're enjoying yourself doesn't mean you're not working extremely hard at a move.
DS: What advice do you have for young dancers looking to have a multifaceted career like yours?
Angyil: Don't allow someone to put you in a box and tell you that you should only do this or that. If you love dance, research and study as many genres of dance as possible. Read books. Go to the places where these dances and styles were created. Get a mentor and spend time with them. And once you've learned a lot, don't be afraid to experiment.
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Janelle Ginestra's mind lives way outside of the box. You've probably seen her in some of your favorite dance class videos, touring the world dancing next to P!nk and J.Lo, or on the stages of the world's most watched award shows. And if not, there's still a good chance you've seen her somewhere on the big screen. Her uniqueness is evident in her movement, personality, choreography choices, and creative visual concepts that give you a glimpse into her eccentric imagination. (Seriously, her YouTube channel will have you mesmerized for hours!)
As a dancer, choreographer, and creative director, she's been making legendary moves and leaving her mark in the dance world, choreographing for top artists like Halsey, J. Balvin, and JoJo, to name a few.
If you've ever taken one of Janelle's classes, you know that you've gotta walk in with an open mind. You never know what to expect. It's a mystery every student looks forward to. But the one thing you'll definitely get every time is a push, and that just might stem from her love for fitness. Now a super-fierce fitness instructor, her out-of-the-box approach to dance continues through her strength and cardio program with a dancy focus on self-love, confidence, and fun: Naughty Girl Fitness!
Be sure to follow her on Instagram and TikTok @JanelleGinestra for content that's sure to inspire you to get up and get moving.—Nyamekye Smith
To Teenage Janelle,
Your teenage years will bring big life changes—a new stepdad, a stepbrother and stepsisters, a new place to live in a different town, so you dance. You dance in your garage that has a wall of mirrors. It is your studio. It is where you dance with friends and create choreography for a local artist. You are trusting your instincts and doing what you love. In fifteen years, you will turn your garage into a studio where you'll dance with friends and choreograph pieces for artists. So, keep dancing. Dance is your happy place. It feeds your soul and is the essence of your being.
Janelle, you are built differently than most of your friends. I wish you knew the biceps you are trying to hide are so beautiful. One day you will love your biceps, so embrace them. They are part of your strong and fit body, and one day you will combine your love of fitness with dance and create a passion project that becomes your business. You will call it Naughty Girl Fitness because even though "naughty" literally means "behaving badly," it is you not behaving badly, but being your unique, fun self.
Janelle as a tweencourtesy Ginestra
Janelle, listen carefully to what I am going to tell you. Everything seems like such a big deal to you right now. Your life is easy, so please, girl, stop being so dramatic! I promise you things are going to get way more complicated. Life is going to bring you bigger and deeper issues. So, just enjoy being a teenager, and try to be nicer to your parents.
I am going to end this letter with one last piece of advice that I want you to remember every day: "Life is a gift!" In fact, these words will be tattooed in Italian on the left side of your ribs by your heart as a permanent reminder.
From Grownup Janelle
With laser-sharp focus and dynamite dynamics no matter the style, Gabrielle Rembert is ready to take the industry by storm. At just 5' 2", the 17-year-old takes up space and commands attention through her movement like a seasoned pro.
A West Orange, NJ, native, Gabby first began dancing at her mother's studio, now called Concepts Dance Academy, and quickly realized she wanted to dance professionally. These days, Gabby commutes into NYC almost every day to train with Steps Youth Program, Broadway Dance Center's Children and Teen Program, and Move|NYC|. Gabby has performed on "Good Morning America" and at the Rockefeller Center Christmas–tree lighting, and even assisted choreographer Charles Smith at the 2018 Brooklynettes auditions.
This season, Gabby's looking forward to touring with Revel Dance Convention as an assistant, as well as her fifth year in the Tremaine Performance Company. According to Gabby, balancing high school with a stacked lineup of training and touring has always been difficult, but she "wouldn't trade it for the world," especially because she knows she's on her way to achieving her dreams: "In five or so years, I see myself graduating from USC, and hopefully either touring with a pop artist, in a professional contemporary company, or in Hamilton on Broadway."
Gabrielle RembertPhoto by Matt KarasCourtesy of MOVE|NYC|
Birthday: December 22nd, 2003
Hometown: West Orange, NJ
Dance studios: Steps Youth Program, Broadway Dance Center Children and Teen Program, Move|NYC|, Concept Dance Academy
Two words to describe her dancing: Dynamic, powerful,
Favorite thing about dance: "Being able to entertain others and make them feel something with the movement that I share."
Favorite styles: Jazz, hip hop, contemporary, ballroom
Favorite teachers: Keenan Cooks, Charles Smith, Lisa Harvie, Miles Keeney, Gwen Potter, Nijawwon Matthews, Maleek Washington
Favorite performance: "My recital at Concepts Dance Academy in June 2020. It was super-special, since it was the studio's first one since COVID-19, and I hadn't done a recital in years."
Advice for other dancers: "Chanel DaSilva, co-director of Move|NYC|, always says 'Nothing to prove, only to share.' If you walk into the room with a sharing heart and kind attitude, doors will open for you, and people will invite you in and want to work with you. Another thing I would tell dancers is to speak your goals into existence."
Dream artist collaboration: "I'd love to dance for Beyoncé—you can't go wrong with her."
Favorite TV show: "Law and Order SVU"
Favorite food: Mac and cheese
Nondance hobbies: Photography, painting, drawing
Place she'd love to visit: Hawaii
Dream dance mentor: Frank Hatchett
Most common dance correction she gets: "Keeping my shoulders down, and articulating my feet"
Dance Spirit and Limelight Teamwear are excited to announce our 2021 Future Star winners! Every year, DS partners with competitions to recognize dancers with stellar talent, stage presence, and ability, and this year's standouts delivered to the max. Each of these fabulous up-and-comers received a beautiful jacket from Limelight to help them shine their brightest. "We believe that high-quality team wear gives dancers a boost of confidence and comfort, both of which are so important to have dancers performing their best," Limelight says. "We're delighted to support the growth of the up-and-coming leaders in this industry."
Meet the 2021 Future Star winners—and see them modeling their Limelight swag below.
Get Shot By Brian Photography & Cinema, Inc., Courtesy National Dance Showcase
Stage Lights Dance Academy, Newark, DE
National Dance Showcase National Finals, Atlantic City, NJ
Centre Pointe Performing Arts, White Marsh, MD
Groove Nationals, Myrtle Beach, SC
Team Creative Production, Courtesy Starbound
Michelle's Dance Xplosion, Castro Valley, CA
Starbound Nationals, Lake Tahoe, NV
Courtesy Starpower World Dance Pageant
D&J's Dynamite Dance, Manchester, MD
Starpower World Dance Pageant Nationals, Secaucus, NJ
Joe Duarte, Courtesy Roland
Atti2des Dance Company, Fort Myers, FL
Artists Simply Human Nationals, Orlando, FL
Evolve Photo, UT, Courtesy NYCDA
Westlake School for the Performing Arts, Daly City, CA
New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, New York, NY
Angelia Jansen, Courtesy Tobler
The Dance Studio 2, Clovis, CA
Velocity Nationals, Las Vegas, NV
Daniel Hubbard, Courtesy Spirit of Dance Awards
Starr's Studio of Dance, Kent, CT
Spirit of Dance Awards Nationals, Hyannis, MA
Turn Out Dance Academy, Waynesville, OH
That's Entertainment Midwest Nationals, Sandusky, OH
Want to snag some new looks for your team? Limelight's specialists can outfit your troupe with sizes from child 4 to adult XXL and in styles that never discontinue. To learn more, visit limelightteamwear.com or connect with @limelightteamwear on Instagram.