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The passion that exudes from Iyanna Jackson when she performs is undeniable. Through powerful yet controlled movement, her emotion tells a story, and is deeply felt by audiences.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Iyanna began dancing in her hometown of Charlotte, NC, at just 2 years old with ballet and tap classes. Between ages 5 and 9, she took a break from formal training, but never lost her passion for the art. In fact, she could often be found making up her own dance routines with her friends at home.
At 10 years old she decided to give classes another try, and was introduced to a multitude of other styles, including jazz, hip hop and contemporary, at local studios like BB Dance Productions, Charlotte Performing Arts Academy and Miller Street Dance Academy. But it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows—the other dancers had been training during all of those years that she had been away, and she had some serious catching up to do. Thankfully, this didn't hold her back, but increased her determination to succeed. "It pushed me more than ever!"
Beyond her training delays, Iyanna had to build up the mental strength needed to deal with the issues that nearly every Black dancer faces in the industry. "As an African American in the dance field, when you show up to auditions and you're the only one there, you have to push 10 times harder," she says. "I went to an audition for an intensive and was approached by a girl who asked my name, and then proceeded to tell me how she was surprised I came to the audition, since many 'Blacks' don't usually come," Iyanna recalls. "That particular phrase really caused me to analyze just how biased people can be and how much a Black dancer could potentially be underestimated. I truly believe that had it been a hip-hop intensive, and not ballet, that 'surprised' feeling she had would not have been there."
For Iyanna, moments like these have served as motivators. "Without these hardships I've experienced, I know for certain that I wouldn't be where I am today," she says. But she relied heavily on her support system of friends, family and teachers to keep her feeling encouraged along the way.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
For inspiration, she also looked to examples of resilience and success, like Misty Copeland. "Knowing that Misty started dancing in her early teens and seeing where she is now is absolutely amazing," she says. In 2015, Jasmine Harper taught a master class at one of Iyanna's studios that further supported her faith in her dance dreams. "Everything Jasmine shared about her journey and how she was moving through this industry as a dancer of color was super-inspiring."
Currently enrolled in her second year at NYU Tisch School of the Arts (something she describes as a total dream), Iyanna's future goals include creating her own dance film, performing in an awards show and dancing on Broadway. "I grew up watching so many amazing Broadway shows, and one of my biggest fears used to be singing in front of people, so I'd love to overcome that," she says. With her history of overcoming hurdles, there's no doubt she will be ready to rise to the occasion and live out her dreams.
"Iyanna was a joy to have in class. Her work ethic and attention to detail was so appreciated. She would light up the studio with her unique personality. Not only was she determined, but she was so much fun to be around. She's very deserving of any recognition coming her way!"— Siara Fuller, artistic director of Charlotte Performing Arts Academy
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Fast Facts on Iyanna
Go-to dance power move: "An aerial into a needle"
Favorite Broadway shows: "The Lion King, Aladdin and Mean Girls"
Best advice she's ever received: "Don't be stuck on being perfect, because the more you try, the less you will be perfect." —Miss Denise, Iyanna's late dance instructor at Miller Street Dance Academy
Something you'll always find in her dance bag: "A long pair of socks"
Who she'd love to dance onstage with: "FKA twigs, Sabrina Claudio and Ravyn Lenae"
Hobbies outside of dance: "Making music, writing poems, cooking, baking, shopping, and playing basketball even though I'm really bad at it."
Choreographers she'd love to work with: "Andy Pellick and Travis Wall"
If she weren't a dancer, she'd be: "A chef!"Advice for DS readers: "Comparison is the biggest setback. The more you compare, the more you're trying to be something that you're not. It's OK to support and admire other people, but figure out who you are and don't beat yourself up so much. That's one of the biggest things that all dancers do. Know that it's OK not to have it 100 percent figured out right now. Just relax, take your time and go with the flow."
Iyanna is one of three cover model search finalists—learn more about the other finalists here!