Each and every month in 2020, we Dance Spirit editors selected a 2021 Cover Model Search semifinalist. And as 2020 came to a close (and we truly thought it never would), we selected our December winner, rounding out our 12 fabulous 2021 Cover Model Search semifinalists.
Here's the exciting part: That means that one of the 12 gorgeous, ultra-talented dancers below will be our next Cover Model Search winner, and our first-ever CMS all-digital cover star!
But we need your help to pick our 2021 CMS winner. Which of the 12 semifinalists do *you* think should make our top three? Check out the videos below, and let us know your pick. (And then be sure to kickstart your own Cover Model Search dreams by entering next year's contest—which is already underway!)
"Who are you when you're voguing fem?" asks the choreographer and dancer Omari Wiles, father of the House of Oricci and founder of the dance company Les Ballet Afrik. "What energy is shaping your story?" In voguing, personal expression is the goal, and vogue fem one way to achieve it.
This flamboyant dance form has experienced a recent wave of mainstream visibility, thanks to the critically acclaimed TV drama "Pose," the hit HBO Max's competition show "Legendary" and, now, the proliferation of TikTok videos centered on voguing.
<p>But the origins of voguing reach back decades, to the Harlem ballroom scene in the 1970s and '80s (with deeper roots in the 1960s). Communities primarily made up of queer people of color created family units called "houses," which often borrowed names from fashion brands—Gucci, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Saint Laurent and others. Voguing as a performance-competition hybrid developed in imitation of fashion shows and magazines and soon became a core communal feature of the scene.</p><p>Voguing was also an outlet for participants to subvert gender norms and celebrate their gender identities. "Trans women are the people who created those moves by thinking about femininity in performance," says Sydney Baloue, a vogue dancer, ballroom scholar, and a producer and writer on "Legendary." "Everyone else went from there."</p><p>Baloue points to pioneers like Paris Dupree, who created and popularized an early form of voguing, originally called "Pop, Dip and Spin" and now referred to as the "Old Way," which emphasizes clean lines and sharp poses. Ballroom icons like Willi Ninja expanded the form to incorporate more flexibility and gymnastics in what became known as the "New Way." And in the early 1990s, innovators like Ashley Icon and Mystery Dior amplified the theatricality of a feminine style of vogue, including more virtuosic components that inform today's popular voguing style known as vogue fem.</p>
<p><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJg4ES51Yts" target="_blank">Vogue fem is composed of five elements</a>, and each adds a distinct dynamic:</p><p><strong>Catwalk:</strong> Imagine a runway. Now walk down it with all the confidence you've got. "My favorite element is catwalk," Wiles says. He arches his back, sits into his hips, walks on the balls of his feet and uses his hands to compel the audience. "You can tell an amazing story and show amazing strength," he says. "For me, catwalk is the language."</p><p><strong>Duckwalk:</strong> The duckwalk is a bouncing shuffle in a squatting position while the hands continue to tap the shoulders. Keep the back upright and arched to maintain balance. Though it can feel a bit awkward at first, duckwalks are an opportunity to bring attitude and personality to your performance with playful or sultry facial expressions.</p><p><strong>Hand performance: </strong>The flurry of arms that twirl like windmills is one of the most defining components of vogue fem. Leiomy Maldonado, one of today's most well-known and celebrated vogue performers, and a judge on "Legendary," has counseled that "the most important thing about hand performance is wrists. You want to have lots of mobility."</p><p><strong>Floor performance:</strong> Voguing is, in many ways, about getting down to the floor and up again in the most seamless and creative ways possible. Once down, floor performance comprises rolls, splayed legs and other inventive leg work to create a swirl of dramatic activity.</p><p><strong>Spins and dips:</strong> One of the most exciting elements of vogue fem is the sudden, one-legged fall. "A lot of people out there have been calling it a 'death drop,'" Maldonado says. "That is a no-no. It's called a 'dip.'" It's also a move that should only be attempted by advanced voguers. If you're new to the form, start with a first-position grand plié, then fold one leg to the ground, lie back on the floor and stretch out the other leg. It's an elegant, safer alternative to the thrilling collapse that Maldonado helped make famous, and which she has called the "period" at the end of a voguing sentence.</p>
<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYzODcxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzcwOTU0NH0.l1GLmCZYJCcDyUiNmIljGj9iRks_1F_Fjje1yGPgqSo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8ce6f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="75fea19dcfb11530c90f4196f5dbde21" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Omari Wiles vogues in front of an audience. He stares the camera down, crouched towards the floor, one arm extended in front of him. He wears black socks, black ripped jeans, and a black leather jacket. His close-cropped afro is dyed teal." data-width="1000" data-height="664" />
<p>Together, the five elements provide the structure of vogue performance, and help create clear categories for evaluation—since voguing is still a form of competition. Each element is both a technique and a tool for personal expression. "We have to interpret those five elements the best we can," Wiles says. "We all look so different doing it."</p><p>Dancers must embrace that difference. "What is it that you personally have to give?" asks Baloue. "That's the basis of ballroom. That's what makes it special – a hyper-expression of individuality that speaks to whatever is unique about you." He points out that these values stem from the fact that "voguing is an improvisational dance, part of Black social dance culture that emphasizes individuality and uniqueness."</p><p>More than just moves, though, voguing's history emphasizes validating the identities of everyone in the ballroom. For dancers learning the form today, that history is vital. "Those wanting to learn this way of speaking need to respect and understand why we move this way—all the insecurities and the limitations that were put on the community that didn't allow us to respect ourselves," Wiles says. "This is the way we were able to have a voice."</p><p>In particular, vogue fem allowed trans women to embody their femininity, though many cis women and cis men now embrace the form as an outlet to express their femininity as well. "Being feminine is the language," Wiles says. "Being flamboyant is what you have to speak for people to understand your story."</p>
<p>Other styles of vogue allow for the expression of different gender identities. Baloue recently made history as the first trans man to win a vogue competition at the famed Latex Ball, in the category of Old Way performance. In that style, he finds the freedom to ask, "Where can I go in terms of masculinity that's unique to my identity as a trans man?"</p><p>Understanding the history and evolution of vogue means gaining access to more forms of expression. The glossy version of voguing found today in Nike ads, the world of "Pose," under the flashing lights of "Legendary," or even in 10-second homemade clips on TikTok, is just a small taste of a vibrant grassroots community that has been thriving for decades. Voguing is at its most powerful when the dance serves as an entry point to learn more about the culture.</p><p>"You'll never get the real deal," Wiles says of TV and social media versions of voguing. But, he adds, they can "encourage you to get out there and explore and educate yourself. We've given you this sampler—and now we want you to go out and experience it for yourself."</p>
The Juilliard graduate, who recently made her choreographic debut, created Blooming in Motion as a fun, educational way to highlight 20 dance legends that have brought vibrance to the dance world. Perfect for Black History Month and beyond!
We got a chance to chat with Pickens (and her dog, Broadway!) about how the idea came to be from seed to soil to full-on sprout.
An Early Love for the Arts
<p>Outside of dance, Pickens' appreciation for the arts was fueled by her early fascination with animation and sketching.</p><p>For her, one of the biggest takeaways stemming from this project is the newfound knowledge she's gained on each dance legend. "I wish I would've known more about Janet Collins when I was a little girl, or in college, when I didn't see that representation because I was always in these predominantly Eurocentric environments," she says.</p><p>Growing up with a book like this would've allowed Pickens to be less inclined to compare herself to others. "I think so many of us do that, especially in the ballet world. We see all these images of beautiful white women, and that's great. Their stories need to be told. But everybody's stories need to be told," she says.</p><p>She pondered the notion of giving people flowers while you still can, instead of waiting. Feeding that thought, she considered how flowers are a well-known symbol of gratitude and appreciation—and that's how the title came to be. These ideas naturally tied themselves into the coloring book "because that's what I'm doing: celebrating each one of them and really saying 'thank you,'" she says.</p>
<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY2Mjg2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjgyNDI4MX0.NIY2JNra9pg6WDwVNXQv2BfepJAvCrn5Z9gnT7wO0Zw/img.jpg?width=980" id="95016" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ea3a830d3403b7fe048824e401464800" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Amber Pickens poses with pages from her coloring book. She is close to the camera, and the coloring book pages are slightly out of focus. She smiles serenely. She wears a colorful knitted sweater and large, colorful beaded earrings." data-width="4109" data-height="2425" />
Jacob Norman, courtesy Pickens
A Seed Is Planted
<p>Four months into quarantine, the concept started to bloom as Pickens began studying more about the benefits of coloring. She also did a ton of research on mandalas, which inspired the floral designs you'll find complementing the dancers on each page. She wanted the theme of the coloring book to embody blooming and growing, and the concept became easier to build on when she realized that both dance and life are about growing through your journey, "not just doing the motions, but blooming in motion," she says.</p><p>For Pickens, coloring is a big-time mood booster. "It's like a meditation for the day, a break from everything going on," she says. "And it's nice when the images are something to look forward to! It's definitely like a creative getaway."</p>
<p><em>Blooming in Motion </em>honors many legends, but what does it feel like when one of those legends honors you? Pickens felt humbled to receive a review from one of her mentors, <em>the</em> Debbie Allen. As a young dancer, Allen's wisdom allowed Pickens to go through life saying "I'm not just a dancer, and I'm not just an artist. I'm an ambassador of the arts. I have a calling. I can do whatever I want to do."</p><p>"For Ms. Allen to like it, acknowledge it <em>and</em> be so gracious to share a quote with me truly meant the world because I want <em>all</em> of these legends to be proud."</p><p>The selflessness embodied within Allen's teaching made her a trailblazer without question, in Pickens' mind. "And that's how you reach your highest potential—your full bloom," she says. "It's when you understand that your purpose is so far beyond yourself."</p>
<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY2Mjg2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjUzNDgyNH0.qp5LAIdrF6GRwj5xIESi_rISiQqBsVSRmgabIJrVJeM/img.jpg?width=980" id="e33ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0087d02913903e523f8dbab105251d70" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Amber Pickens holds her coloring book, "Blooming in Motion," to her chest. The cover is black, with gold lettering, and features several brightly colored flowers and a dancer. We see only Pickens' arm and one hand as she grasps the book." data-width="4109" data-height="2426" />
Jacob Norman, courtesy Pickens
Current Blooms and Future Seeds
<p>It's been less than a month since the release, and one of Pickens' major goals has already been accomplished. The African American Museum in Dallas—which she often visited while growing up—will begin carrying her coloring book. She's proud that this full-circle moment now doubles as an offering to her home community.</p><p>Where does Pickens envision her book in the future? The Smithsonian, of course! When people view this work, she hopes they'll know that they belong. "Especially Black people. I want us to feel safe in the spaces we enter, especially in the dance world, 'cause we still have such a long way to go," she says.</p><p>The creativity doesn't stop here for Pickens. She's currently watering a new seed: a children's book. We'll also see another coloring book somewhere in the future. "Now that I've completed <em>Blooming in Motion</em>, I have a blueprint. It'll still be very challenging, but I look forward to creating many more," she says.</p>
Caroline Waters didn't get into Southern Methodist University's acclaimed dance program after her first audition—or her second. She was accepted to the university, however, so she went ahead and enrolled, making a deal with her parents that if she didn't earn a spot in the dance program within a year, she'd return home to Florida to attend an in-state school. "Growing up, I loved competing and I loved proving people wrong," Waters says. "I really felt like SMU was where I was supposed to be." She auditioned twice more as a freshman, and the fourth time was the charm. Waters is now a senior, double-majoring in dance performance and journalism while minoring in English.
If you've got your heart set on a college dance program, and you aren't accepted, it can feel like your dreams have hit a brick wall. But in reality, you still have a lot of options—and reauditioning is only one of them. Here's how to move forward after an audition setback.
Should You Audition Again?
<p><span style="background-color: initial;">If the program you're interested in holds multiple auditions a year, and you're a high school senior with months before </span><span style="background-color: initial;">you have to commit, you really have nothing to lose by trying out again, if allowed. Perhaps you weren't feeling great at the first audition, or your nerves got the best of you. Going in fresh—and with more experience—could make all the difference.</span></p><p>It's trickier if audition season is over, and you have to make a decision ASAP. To choose between your dream school (where you didn't get into the dance program) and a safety school (the sure thing), "think about where your priorities lie," advises Ilana Goldman, BFA program director at <a href="https://dance.fsu.edu/" target="_blank">Florida State University's School of Dance</a>. "Do you feel strongly about being a dance major? Would you be OK attending the same school and not majoring in dance? I would never recommend having the hope of becoming a major be your only reason for choosing a school." If you truly love the university, you could gamble on a late admission to the dance program, as Waters did. If you're determined to major in dance, head elsewhere.</p><p>For 2020 graduate Maria Angelica Garcia, FSU was her only plan. "When I initially wasn't accepted into the dance program, it took a huge toll on me," she admits. Still, she was set on the university, so she enrolled as a psychology major. She ended up auditioning for the School of Dance again at the end of her first semester. That time, she got in.</p><p>Freshman-year success stories like Garcia's and Waters' are inspiring, but they're not the norm. To gauge your chances, ask for feedback from the adjudicators. They can tell you where you fell short—or give you a reality check. "I don't believe in stringing students along," says Christopher Dolder, chair of dance at SMU's Meadows School of the Arts. "If someone's not the right fit, I can recommend another avenue." </p>
<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY1NzQzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTc2NDIwOX0.o9EAcizAtrsAcHEnCPf1dq2ESeyFYZwDDvLZ0hy2GEA/img.jpg?width=980" id="17c07" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e95c75ca52b7a8c02fe486a77abc2b6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Maria Angelia Garcia poses in a deep lunge. She stands on relev\u00e9, one arm extended behind her, leaning back to face up towards the ceiling. She wears white socks, green shorts, and a white tank top, with her hair slicked in a bun." data-width="1000" data-height="773" />
Initially, Maria Angelica Garcia wasn't accepted to Florida State University's dance program—but she persevered. (Ryker Laramore, courtesy Florida State University)
Should You Dance Without Majoring in It?
<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Dance majors and minors are structured paths of study designed to deepen your training while broadening your horizons. But usually, students admitted to the dance department aren't the only ones with access to dance-department classes. At SMU, nonmajors can take ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and musical theater. At FSU, nonmajor classes are taught by graduate students and include ballet, contemporary, jazz, and a rotating series based on current grad students' areas of expertise (past </span><span style="background-color: initial;">offerings: ballroom, capoeira, African diasporic forms, contact improvisation, </span><span style="background-color: initial;">hip hop, and tap). If you aren't accepted into a dance degree program, you may</span> find that nonmajor offerings are enough to keep you on your toes.</p><p>Performance opportunities for nonmajors will vary from school to school. You might be allowed to try out for faculty, student, and guest choreographer work, or only for student pieces. Whatever is permitted for nonmajors, take advantage of it. For Garcia, auditioning to perform as a nonmajor helped her get her foot in the door. Her first semester at FSU, she was chosen for two pieces, an end-of-year concert work, and an MFA thesis. "Working with people inside the department in rehearsals boosted my confidence," she says. </p><p>And remember that there's more out there than what's listed in the dance department course catalog. Investigate student-run groups, which might include dance teams and cultural dance troupes. If you have an interest that isn't represented on campus, you can petition the administration to start a new club. You can also look into outside organizations, like local dance schools; Waters trained at a Dallas studio during the semester she wasn't dancing on campus at SMU. Dance programs lay out a path for you to follow, but there's nothing wrong with charting your own course. </p>
<p>Applying to colleges is stressful. When a school requires an audition to join its dance program, that stress only increases. But plenty of respected dance programs audition for class placement and scholarship consideration, rather than for entry. At these schools, as long as you complete the course requirements for the major or minor, you'll earn your dance degree. So, if you have to look beyond your top choice, don't think of it as settling. As Waters puts it, "Your dream school can change."</p><p>A failed audition isn't the end of the road—even if it's the end of one particular journey. "The dance industry is so wide. There are so many different opportunities," says Garcia. "Don't give up. There is a place for you in the dance world.</p>