The competition world is filled with so many talented dancers that for one dancer to stand out, they need something special—not just legs up to their ears or seemingly never-ending turns, but something more. For many comp world standouts, it's a certain, special confidence: The confidence in what they, and only they, can offer.
Dance Spirit spoke with five competition dancers who are embracing what makes them and their dancing unique, and who you should be following (if you aren't already).
Jemoni Powe started dancing through an outreach program with Nevada Ballet Theatre that was offered at his elementary school. His friend, he says, "wanted to do it so badly—but not alone. So, I did it with her."
Since then, he was offered a full scholarship to NBT's affiliate school, and has continued to train with the academy. He's also been marking his own mark on the dance world by posting intimate Instagram videos that show his movement innovation process. When he improvises, he really creates—shapes, lines, pathways, ideas, momentum, patterns—and says his biggest source of inspiration is the physical body. "Analyzing what shapes or movement patterns my body or other bodies can create is where so much of my movement derives from," Jemoni says.
Jemoni hopes to someday take his movement abroad, and dance with one of the many international companies he admires. But ultimately, he says, he wants to become a freelance choreographer, or a resident choreographer for a company.
Favorite song to dance to right now: "Dreams," by Fleetwood Mac
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge: "I actually haven't downloaded TikTok."
Dancer he looks up to: Jonathan Wade
The best tap dancing comes in all different styles—free, like the fabulous "Syncopated Ladies;" calm and collected, like tap legends Savion Glover and Barbara Duffy; smooth, like the "King of Slides" Jimmy Slyde. But one trait that's consistent across all great tap dancing is clarity—those crystal-clear rhythms that are perfectly timed. And 16-year-old dancer Ava Brooks possesses the quality in spades, nailing intricate tap phrases with a grace and style that we tend to associate with today's most popular tap dancers. She says hard, consistent work has made her the tap dancer she is today, proving so by following a daily practice regimen.
When the pandemic forced studios across the nation to temporarily close, including Ava's home studio Danceology, also located in San Diego, she dedicated her free time to improving her technique, "whether that be drilling certain steps or going back and working on the basics." But she doesn't see herself dancing in her home studio for long.
In the future, she says, "I want to develop my own show where I not only choreograph, but create my own music for the show, as well." This won't be a tall order for Ava, who already plays multiple instruments, and has started writing her own music. Ava is a multifaceted artist, to say the least, which helps explain why tap is her true passion: "As a tap dancer, you can dance along to the music and be the music at the same time," Ava says. "You can't really do that in other styles of dance, which makes tap dancing so special to me."
Favorite song to dance to right now: "'Come Over,' by Jorja Smith and Popcaan, but I always love dancing to 'Autumn Leaves,' by Miles Davis."
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge: "There's this remix of the Bee Gees song 'More Than a Woman' that's pretty popular on TikTok right now, which I jam out to a lot!"
Dancer she looks up to: Ayodele Casel
When you watch a video of Easton Magliarditi dance, you are immediately taken by his passion. But you keep watching because his passion never dies out. You can feel it in his release of breath, in the extension of his fingertips, in the suspension of his jumps. He says his passion doesn't just come from within, but also from the materials he's working with. "If I'm loving the choreography and the music, I get lost in it," Easton says.
Easton, who is 15 and trains at the Rock Center for Dance in Las Vegas, NV, has been dancing since the age of 9. He is currently the 2020 Teen Male Best Dancer title winner representing The Dance Awards and the Teen Male Core Performer winner at Radix Nationals. So, what's next for Easton?
He says he wants to do more acting and singing, along with dancing, in the future. "I'd love to work with Cirque du Soleil, dance in a Broadway show, tour with an incredible artist, be in a dance company," he says. "All of it!"
Favorite song to dance to right now: "I love dancing to any song by Dermot Kennedy—his songs are so raw, and just amazing."
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge: Jeremiah McGilberry's choreography to "May I," by Flo Milli
Dancer he looks up to: "I look up to dancers and choreographers like Travis Wall, Mark Meismer, Teddy Forance, Tessandra Chavez, Katy Tate, Talia Favia, Chaz Buzan, Brian Friedman, and so many more."
Iliana Victor has the makings to become the next ballet or contemporary ballet star, currently in training at Premiere Division, a ballet school located in NYC. Not only does she have legs for days, unreal facility, and a quality of port de bras that makes every moment look effortless. But, really, she's all that, and more.
What's most striking about Iliana's dancing is her focus—the way she uses her eyes and face to tell a story. "Every movement should have an intention behind it. And if one person is touched by my dancing in that moment, then I'm happy," she says.
Iliana says her mom always knew there was something special about her, even at ages 2 and 3, when she'd dance for any audience she could attract. "I would improv for everyone that visited our home," Iliana says. Her mom eventually put her in ballet and contemporary classes when she turned 10—and the rest, as they say, is dance history.
Favorite song to dance to right now: "Mount Everest," by Labrinth
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge: "Slow Motion" challenges
Dancer she looks up to: "I definitely look up to my mentor Alison Stroming—she's so amazing. I'm also truly inspired by Misty Copeland and all that she has accomplished. And I also love Dusty Button. I really love that she's an edgy ballerina!"
Ian Stegeman may only be 12 years old, but his dancing reads more like that of an adult, in all the best ways. His continuity makes his movement run on like a long-winded sentence. His groundedness is something that most dancers take years to develop. And he performs just enough for you to capture what he's conveying—nothing forced, nothing disingenuous.
To watch him is to feel like you're watching a professional in a young dancer's body, a quality which he attributes to his observant nature. "I love watching and learning from my peers and other dancers," he says. "But my teachers at Woodbury Dance Center are the best, and continue to help me develop this skill."
Ian's not sure exactly where he sees his future, yet, but says he would love to eventually go to college for dance and choreography.
Favorite song to dance to right now: "You," by Keaton Henson
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge: "Because of You," by Ne-Yo
Dancer he looks up to: "Zach Manske. He is my mentor and has choreographed my solos for the last four years."