Why Versatility Is Everything, According to 5 Joffrey Ballet School Directors

Rochelle Mendoza-Axle, Courtesy Stiskin

In today's dance world, versatility is key. It's not enough to be a master of one style—even when they specialize in one area, dancers are frequently asked to fuse multiple genres, or step out of their comfort zone for specific projects. With their wide variety of summer programs, Joffrey Ballet School aims to prepare dancers for the demands of a professional career. We asked five faculty members to share how they do this:


Josie Walsh

Director, Joffrey West LA, San Francisco and NYC Ballet

Jody Q Kasch, Courtesy Walsh

Though the three programs Josie Walsh runs have different focuses, there's one thing they all have in common: daily ballet technique. "The core of Joffrey is to have a solid classical foundation, which sets dancers apart," Walsh says. "You really need to have that, there's no shortcut." From there, however, the programs go in different directions. West LA is a fusion program, offering contemporary, jazz, hip hop, musical theater, ballroom, Afro-Caribbean and Latin fusion classes, among others. San Francisco is more concert dance-focused, combining classical ballet and pointe with contemporary, modern and improv techniques. NYC has a more classical focus, but still includes contemporary or modern training every day. Walsh, who danced with the Joffrey Ballet and in Europe and choreographs for her own company, is well aware of the importance of staying current. She knows that classical dancers need to be able to tackle contemporary choreography, and commercial dancers need classical training. She brings in working artists as her faculty members, and even in the more classical NYC program, students have new work created on them. It's all part of "not losing sight of where things are going, and being at the forefront," she says.

Maximilien Baud

Co-director, Musical Theater NYC, London Musical Theater, Las Vegas Jazz & Contemporary, Vegas Cirque Arts

Courtesy Baud

"Long gone are the days of being a one-trick pony," says Maximilien Baud. "Directors of ballet companies with a vast repertoire need versatile dancers who can dance multiple types of roles during a grueling season. Broadway choreographers need dancers who can do ballet, jazz, hip hop, tap, and more." Baud himself trained at the School of American Ballet. But when he auditioned for the national tour of Billy Elliot, "I had no idea what an audition songbook was, or how to tap. These were just things that as a student at SAB we never imagined needing," he says. "At Joffrey, we open the door of curiosity for performers who might consider themselves strictly a one-style dancer and give them the tools to be more versatile." Much of this is exemplified in the new Cirque du Soleil program. "Cirque is always looking for cutting-edge dancers who are versatile and able to do more than just dance," says Baud. During the program, students work directly with Cirque performers, learn about a facet of the dance world they might not have considered and are connected with potential employers who are looking for dancers that have a range of skills.

Angelica Stiskin

Director, NYC Jazz & Contemporary

Rochelle Mendoza-Axle, Courtesy Stiskin

Angelica Stiskin, who's done everything from assisting choreographer Mia Michaels to performing with Justin Bieber, started her career as a tap dancer. "My curiosity for musicality, rhythm and attention to detail all stemmed from this training," she says. "I quickly realized that I had formed a foundation that was easily applied to all of my other techniques and classes. My success was built on excelling through diversity." In the NYC Jazz & Contemporary program, Stiskin brings that sensibility, as well as a knowledge of what's expected of dancers today, into her programming. "A dancer needs to adapt to any room or movement vocabulary with absolute confidence and grace," she says. "My goal is to bridge the gap between commercial and concert dance. More options lead to more successful careers." Students take ballet and modern, along with contemporary, jazz, hip hop, street jazz, and improv. Extracurriculars expose them to New York City's dance culture, and the experience culminates in a professional-grade performance at Symphony Space.

Matthew Prescott

Co-director, Musical Theater NYC, London Musical Theater, Las Vegas Jazz & Contemporary, Vegas Cirque Arts 

Courtesy Prescott

For Matthew Prescott, the key word is integration. Nowadays, he sees more connections between different parts of the dance world that used to be more distinct. "When I first started dancing professionally, you could just be a ballet dancer," he says, "because there were lots of options for you to have a career that was financially stable—you had 32, 34 weeks of work consistently. Those sort of companies don't exist so much anymore." Though programs in musical theater or circus arts might sound very specific, Prescott encourages dancers of all styles to try them and broaden their idea of what they can do with their training. "Ballet has been a huge part of musical theater history," he says. "People like Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins, and now Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck. There are opportunities as a tap dancer on Broadway, there are opportunities as a hip-hop dancer with shows like Hamilton." The locations of the JBS programs themselves are an education, too. For instance, the new Cirque program, which partners with Tiffany Baker, dance supervisor for the Michael Jackson One show in Las Vegas, will help dancers learn about the Vegas entertainment scene. "Let's explore where they fit, and how they can integrate into the dance community," says Prescott.

Yusha Sorzano

Director, Joffrey Southwest Dallas, has also taught at JBS programs in New York, LA, and San Francisco

Eric Politzer, Courtesy Sorzano

To Yusha Sorzano, who's danced with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and Camille A. Brown and Dancers, among others, while a ballet base is essential for today's concert dancers, there's another foundational technique that sometimes gets neglected: modern. She plans to offer both ballet and modern every day as the new artistic director of JBS' Dallas-based fusion program (previously directed by Desmond Richardson). A Trinidad native, Sorzano also grew up dancing socially, and plans to introduce her students to a variety of styles outside of traditional concert dance. "Even before I was doing ballet, I knew how to groove and to dance in a social setting," she says. Elements of jazz, street styles, contemporary, improv, Latin jazz and Afro-based movement are included in her program's curriculum, along with information about the history of each style. The type of career she imagines her dancers entering is multifaceted, with opportunities in concert dance, commercial dance, Broadway and beyond. Training dancers for this kind of career includes preparing them for both the physical and mental demands of today's dance world. "We're training our bodies at a high level," she says. "I think it's really important to slow students down and teach them how to care for their bodies and themselves."

Sponsored by Joffrey Ballet School
Kendra Oyesanya, Marcus Mitchell, and Carlito Olivero (courtesy YouTube/Lionsgate)

Happy "Step Up: High Water" eve, y'all! Everyone's favorite internet dance show makes its triumphant Season 2 return tomorrow, March 20th, on YouTube. In anticipation of the premiere, we turned to Kendra Oyesanya (Poppy), Marcus Mitchell (Dondre), and Carlito Olivero (Davis) for the scoop on all things "Step Up"—from on-set shenanigans, to embarrassing stories, to scenes to watch out for this season (hint: Episode 2's dance battle, and the season finale's final number!).

Keep Reading Show less
Dance News
Rochelle Mendoza-Axle, Courtesy Stiskin

In today's dance world, versatility is key. It's not enough to be a master of one style—even when they specialize in one area, dancers are frequently asked to fuse multiple genres, or step out of their comfort zone for specific projects. With their wide variety of summer programs, Joffrey Ballet School aims to prepare dancers for the demands of a professional career. We asked five faculty members to share how they do this:

Keep Reading Show less
Sponsored by Joffrey Ballet School
The cast of "Oklahoma!" during last year's run at St. Ann's Warehouse (Teddy Wolff, courtesy DKC/O&M)

You may think you know Oklahoma!, the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that made history when it first opened in 1943 and is best known for Agnes de Mille's groundbreaking dream ballet. But the latest Broadway iteration of the musical isn't your average trip to the frontier. Opening April 7, the revival features new choreography by Mark Morris alum John Heginbotham, and swaps the traditional windswept-prairie set and full orchestra for an intimate, minimalistic staging and a bluegrass band. Coming fresh off an acclaimed run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, the daring, unconventional production is sure to turn heads when it begins previews on Broadway tonight. Dance Spirit caught up with Heginbotham to get all the details on the dancing, and what it was like choreographing his first Broadway show.

Keep Reading Show less
BLACKPINK has worked with A-list choreographers, including Kyle Hanagami and Parris Goebel.

K-pop is in the middle of a stateside takeover. South Korea's boy bands and girl groups can always be counted on to produce catchy, upbeat songs—and, most importantly for us dance fans, to feature colorful choreography prominently in their music videos. Over the past few years, the K-pop machine has been churning out a seemingly endless stream of talented groups with choreography worth watching on repeat, and some of them are starting to make names for themselves in the U.S. Check out our list of the dancetastic K-pop bands you need to know.

Keep Reading Show less
Commercial
Briar Nolet did NOT come to play. (NBC)

Have you ever felt that the Duels round on NBC's "World of Dance" was a bit unfair? During the Duels, each act's success hinges not on how objectively good they are, but on how good they are relative to a single challenger. Which means that mediocre acts can move forward if they best slightly-more-mediocre opponents, while frontrunners who're given tougher matchups end up knocked out.

Newly-engaged goddess J.Lo and her team get that. Which is why, last night, "WOD" introduced a twist designed to make the Duels more just: a redemption round. Formerly, five acts were eliminated in each division during the Duels. But from here out, the two highest scorers of those five will go head-to-head to earn a wild card spot. And that made last night's Upper Division Duels significantly more exciting.

Who just dueled it? Who was redeemed? Who made Derek Hough scream like a teenage girl? Onward to the episode highlights!

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher (left) meeting with Bloch owner David Fox (right) in NYC. (Marius Bugge for Bloch)

For professional ballet dancers, the search for the perfect pointe shoe is a lifelong quest. Even the smallest adjustment in manufacturing can make the difference between a shoe that allows a ballerina to soar and a shoe that detracts from her dancing. So what goes into creating the perfect fit? A lot of hard work, patience, and masterful attention to detail. We got the inside scoop on how a Bloch pointe shoe is made from beginning to end, and went inside one of American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher's touch-up fittings with Bloch owner David Fox in NYC.

Keep Reading Show less
Ballet
Martina Sandionigi as Giselle

We updated your favorite story-ballet tutus with modern details that'll please any 21st-century prima ballerina. Who needs a cavalier, anyway?

Keep Reading Show less
Dance Fashion
Photo by Samantha Little

It's the fall of 2018. As the Brigham Young University Cougarettes step onto the field at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo, UT, a crowd of nearly 64 thousand erupts into cheers. The dancers take their places, and a feeling of anticipation hangs in the air: Their reputation precedes them.

The music—Ciara's banger "Level Up"—begins, and unbelievable precision ensues. Eighteen dancers attack the highly technical choreography, which nods at viral social-dance sensations and continuously builds in energy. The school's mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, joins the team on the field, and the audience goes wild. As the piece ends, the sound in the stadium is deafening. The 16-time national-title-winning group has proved once again why they're the standard for college dance team success—they're just that good.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance Team
The ultimate dance mom: Debbie Allen with her daughter, Vivian Nixon (courtesy Nixon)

Dance moms: Where would we be without them? We all know how much support and help they give us—in addition to loads of love. Here are 10 reasons real-life dance moms are undeniably the best.

Keep Reading Show less
Dancer to Dancer
BLACKPINK has worked with A-list choreographers, including Kyle Hanagami and Parris Goebel.

K-pop is in the middle of a stateside takeover. South Korea's boy bands and girl groups can always be counted on to produce catchy, upbeat songs—and, most importantly for us dance fans, to feature colorful choreography prominently in their music videos. Over the past few years, the K-pop machine has been churning out a seemingly endless stream of talented groups with choreography worth watching on repeat, and some of them are starting to make names for themselves in the U.S. Check out our list of the dancetastic K-pop bands you need to know.

Keep Reading Show less
Commercial
Briar Nolet did NOT come to play. (NBC)

Have you ever felt that the Duels round on NBC's "World of Dance" was a bit unfair? During the Duels, each act's success hinges not on how objectively good they are, but on how good they are relative to a single challenger. Which means that mediocre acts can move forward if they best slightly-more-mediocre opponents, while frontrunners who're given tougher matchups end up knocked out.

Newly-engaged goddess J.Lo and her team get that. Which is why, last night, "WOD" introduced a twist designed to make the Duels more just: a redemption round. Formerly, five acts were eliminated in each division during the Duels. But from here out, the two highest scorers of those five will go head-to-head to earn a wild card spot. And that made last night's Upper Division Duels significantly more exciting.

Who just dueled it? Who was redeemed? Who made Derek Hough scream like a teenage girl? Onward to the episode highlights!

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
Paloma Garcia-Lee (center, in gold) and the cast of "Fosse/Verdon" (FX)

The extraordinary Paloma Garcia-Lee, who's danced in no fewer than five Broadway shows, can adapt to any choreographer's style. And before heading back to Broadway this spring in Moulin Rouge! (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), she's tackling the work of one of the most iconic choreographers of all time: Bob Fosse.

Garcia-Lee plays Adrienne in the new FX limited series "Fosse/Verdon," premiering April 9, which follows the romantic and creative relationship of Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his muse Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Steve Levenson, and Andy Blankenbuehler serve as executive producers, with Kail directing and Blankenbuehler choreographing.

With the exception of performing on The Tony Awards, "Fosse/Verdon" marks Garcia-Lee's TV debut. "I'm really setting my sights on more on-camera work," she says. "Getting the chance to flex my muscles as an actress in this different medium, but still have the dance part, is all really exciting." (She's got real acting chops, too: While a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she actually quit dance briefly to study acting instead.)

Dance Spirit spoke to Garcia-Lee about "Fosse/Verdon"'s epic final callback, how she got cast, and the transition from stage to screen.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
Delgado in George Balanchine's "Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2" (Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet)

Miami City Ballet principal Jeanette Delgado's dynamic, show-stopping presence and powerful, crisp technique have been wowing audiences for well over a decade. A Miami, FL, native, Delgado began training with Vivian Tobio, Liana Navarro, and Maria Victoria Gutierrez. At age 9, she received a scholarship to Miami City Ballet School and, in 2003, she earned the Princess Grace Award. That same year, Delgado became an apprentice with Miami City Ballet. In 2004 she was promoted to the corps, and in 2006 to soloist. She became a principal dancer in 2008. Catch her this month performing in the company's spring program. —Courtney Bowers

Keep Reading Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Giveaways