“You’ll never dance again.” Those four small, terrifying words would change Alyssa Ness forever. She was 14 and dominating the competition scene, placing in the Top 10 at every Nationals she attended, even winning the mini and teen titles at West Coast Dance Explosion. But suddenly, she found herself with two torn ligaments in her ankle. She knew it was bad, but never dancing again? That was unfathomable. Luckily, a second doctor had a less ominous diagnosis: She’d need surgery, tons of physical therapy and a year without dance.
Now 17, Alyssa says that year away from the studio and the stage altered her outlook on dance. “Being out for so long made me appreciate dancing so much more,” Alyssa says. “Before my injury, I was caught up with winning titles and being the best, but now I dance because I truly love it.” And when you see her onstage, that’s more than apparent. With impeccable musicality and Gumby-like limbs—plus a drive and focus well beyond her years—Alyssa has all the ingredients for success.
Born and raised in Ramsey, MN, Alyssa began taking classes at Northland School of Dance when she was just 2 years old. “They were the only school that took dancers that young,” she says. But NSOD turned out to be—and is still—a great home for her. She started with tap and ballet, adding jazz, lyrical and ballroom classes later on. She credits NSOD studio owners Corrie Rolf Dunn and Teresa Rolf as her dance mentors: “They know me better than I know myself,” she says. In addition to taking classes at NSOD, Alyssa commutes more than an hour each way to high school at the prestigious Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists.
Now, whether she’s taking class or tearing up the stage, Alyssa makes one thing clear: You will watch her. The hours spent honing her technique have clearly paid off. Her ability to highlight even the smallest nuances of the music guarantee you won’t take your eyes off her.
So what’s next for this captivating performer? While she plans to audition for the dance programs at The Juilliard School and Marymount Manhattan College in NYC, her injury and recovery process have inspired her to pursue a degree in physical therapy. But no matter what, Alyssa will keep dancing. “I love that I can inspire myself and others through dance,” she says. “It’s such a beautiful thing.”
Birthday: March 19, 1995
Most-played on her iPod: “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé
Something people don’t know about her: “I have a chin phobia. I don’t like when people touch my chin or their own chin. One time my ballet teacher adjusted my chin and
I flailed my arms, almost hitting her in the face.”
Favorite foods: Red velvet cake and cookies-and-cream ice cream
Dance crush: Travis Wall
Three words that describe her dancing: “Genuine, technical, captivating”
Favorite dance movies: Burlesque and Center Stage
Favorite actor: Jim Carrey
Favorite dancer of all time: Commercial and contemporary dancer Chaz Buzan
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT ALYSSA:
James Kinney, musical theater instructor at Broadway Dance Center: “She attacks choreography from such a pure place in her body and understands
it immediately. Alyssa is ferocious in her movement.”
Teresa Rolf, Alyssa’s teacher at Northland School of Dance: “Alyssa is a dance teacher’s dream. People describe Alyssa as talented, hard-working, exquisite, humble and an excellent role model. I appreciate her dedication and the wonderful example she sets for the younger students. She takes nothing for granted and proves over and over again that you can be a brilliant dancer and remain humble. Alyssa is not only a good dancer, she’s a good person.”
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.
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Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.
Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."
Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?