Ava Brooks is an up-and-coming tapper you should have your eye on. (Kaitlin Cooper, courtesy Ava Brooks)

5 Standout Comp Kids You Should Be Following—Now

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

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 making 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.

Quickfire Questions

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

Ava Brooks

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."

Quickfire Questions

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

Easton Magliarditi

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!"

Quickfire Questions

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

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.

Quickfire Questions

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

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.

Quickfire Questions

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."

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Because all dancers have experienced it at some point or another (Getty Images/patat)

How Dancers Can Beat Zoom Fatigue

Now that we're more than nine months into the pandemic, there's a big chance you're feeling Zoom-ed out. Read: Totally overusing the video-conferencing app for school and dance classes—and everything else. And according to dance/movement therapist Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, there's good reason for that: "Managing your environment in a virtual space is taxing on the mind, and therefore taxing on the body."

Hornthal attributes these feelings, in part, to a mind–body disconnect that happens when we use the app: Your body knows you are alone in the room, but your mind sees a group of people on screen—and managing this COVID-era reality can be, well, exhausting. But we can also feel Zoom fatigue, Hornthal says, from having to "constantly be present to the third 'person' in the room: the Zoom camera." Uh, relatable!

So if staring at a grid of fuzzy faces—or into the abyss of that cold, dark lens on your device—has you feeling less than energized, here are some ways to cope.

Take breaks from tech throughout the day

Tamia Strickland, a sophomore in the Ailey/Fordham BFA dance program, trains both in person (with a mask, of course!) and online but says there are unique challenges that come with the latter. For one, she says, it's hard "to stay focused and motivated when you are in your basement or living room staring at a computer screen all by yourself—and all day long." These feelings can lead to frustration: You want to stay engaged with the class, but after staring at your computer screen for so long, you start to feel unmotivated.

As a remedy, Hornthal suggests taking breaks from your tech devices when you can. "The last thing you want to do," she says, "is exit a Zoom session and then immediately jump onto your phone." Instead, take a breather from everything virtual, and give your mind—and body—time to recalibrate. "Create space to connect or reconnect with your body when you are off technology," Hornthal says. "Take a walk, practice mindful breathing, embrace nature."

Move for yourself—and on your own

Another way to overcome feelings of online-class fatigue, Hornthal says, is to find time to move on your own—away from the camera on your device. As you begin moving for yourself, try to recognize and notice your own body wisdom. As a dancer, this could simply mean taking stock of what feels good and natural to your body as you, say, indulge in an improv sesh.

Tim Roberts, a Maryland dance studio owner and former performer, says giving his students time to turn their cameras off and work through their own movement has helped keep them motivated. "Opening that space for them is so necessary­ and beneficial, and helps them appreciate the time they do have with me," he says.

If you're not feeling up to a movement break, consider cooling down the mind and body by taking some time to stretch out and take up space in the body, Hornthal says. By encouraging greater body awareness, stretching can help give you more insight into what your body needs at any given point—a physical check-in before you head back into The Land of Zoom.

Tap into your other senses

When you're on Zoom, you're constantly using your eyes—to learn choreography, to support fellow dancers, to catch physical cues from teachers—so it's important, Hornthal says, to give yourself screen breaks. As you give your eyes a rest, take time to whet your other senses: Squeeze a stress ball; smell the outside air; gulp a tasty green smoothie; listen to your favorite playlist. The key here is to take in stimuli that trigger your other senses, rather than continuing to use (or overuse) your sense of sight.

And as a golden rule for your overall Zoom-life health, always remember: "It isn't just dance that is happening online—our entire lives are virtual," Hornthal says. "That means we have to be intentional with our downtime, and turn off technology, so we can tune in to ourselves."

Because honestly, what could be better than dancing alongside your mom? (Getty Images/undrey)

How You Can Support the Beginner Dancer in Your Life

Plenty of us have been dancing since we were teeny-tiny tappers and trinas, but walking into a dance class as an older beginner can be seriously intimidating. Luckily, one silver lining of the pandemic is that it's easier than ever to try out a two-step without even stepping into the studio—virtual classes seem to be everywhere we click nowadays.

Is one of your friends, siblings, parents, or grandparents interested in starting to dance, but totally unsure about where to begin? As the resident dancer in their lives, there are plenty of ways for you to encourage them. Here are just a few of the ways to support the newest dancer in your life.

Roll Out the Recommendations

The pandemic has opened up a whole new world of dance classes that you can stream right into your living room. By now, you're probably a seasoned Zoom dance pro. So start by asking your aspiring dancer what their goals are. Are they looking to just become more active? Study a specific genre of dance? Find a new creative outlet? Take that info and help them narrow down what kinds of virtual classes they might enjoy. Then, recommend some studios you know and love.

Be sure to give your friend or relative an impression of what to expect from their virtual class. Don't forget to offer Zoom-specific tips, like where to place their camera, or how to rearrange their furniture to provide enough space for class. And if they're nervous (or don't want the pressure of being on camera for their first few classes), let them know it's okay to leave their camera off until they're ready to try class with it on. After all, if Hugh Jackman can do it, so can they

Join Their Journey

Maybe you'd also like to broaden your dance horizons, or your friend is looking for an accountability partner. Try taking a beginner level class with your friend in a style you're unfamiliar with. Plenty of studios offer workshops for beginning dancers in a variety of styles, like Broadway Dance Center's Absolute Beginner Workshop seriesAbsolute Beginner Workshop series, which offers a series in every genre from ballet to street jazz.

Another option is to find a dance class video on YouTube, like Kathryn Morgan's at-home class series, and take it at the same time over a Zoom call by sharing your screen. That way, you can pause the video if you need to answer a question from your friend. (And try your best to remain calm when they ask you, for the fifth time, what "plié" means.)

Cheer Them Through Challenges

Most importantly, be there to support your friend or relative in their new dance journey. You know that there can be bumps along the road, but you also know that nothing compares to the feeling of nailing a hard combo, or accomplishing your next dance goal. The newest dancer in your life has all those milestones to look forward to along the way. Don't let them get discouraged when it's difficult —and help them celebrate their accomplishments, big or small.

Photo by Anaiah Simons, courtesy Taylor Jade Edgin

How Dance Helped Me Achieve Success in My Nondance Career Path

Like most kids, by the age of 4 I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up…a dancer. And sure, every kid picks a career to play along with—doctor, veterinarian, princess. But from that young age of 4, I was determined to turn my dream into a reality.

I spent my adolescent years in multiple dance companies, training to make the move to L.A. And then I got it: glimpses of my big break. I began working for and with the choreographers on my bucket list, got accepted into dance companies I'd tirelessly watch on YouTube, and even made it on that national commercial that my friends, family (and don't forget the frenemies!) got to see on repeat.

But then, suddenly, I felt a shift. Was I, the dancer who spent 18 years of blood, sweat and tears (and a crap ton of money) getting burnt out from the everyday hustle of my industry?

If I'm being honest, I always felt like the odd one out in my profession. It took me about four years of paying my dues in L.A. to realize that everything that was different about myself—and my mind—would serve as the catapult towards my new career path as a creative director.

Just Outside of Dance

While grappling with my sudden change of desire, I reflected on where it all started. I remembered being 10 years old, listening to the Black Eyed Peas' Elephunk album in the car, closing my eyes and visualizing a whole music video in my head. And while I thought that meant I would just be the choreographer or the dancer performing in the video, I never realized it might also mean I could be the person to bring the music video to life.

I flashed back to my various experiences on set as a dancer. I remembered how I always took interest in communicating with other departments and learning about their industries, and realized that it's OK to pursue creative endeavors beyond dance. I also paid close attention to how I was treated on set as "talent," taking all the things I learned and didn't like into deep consideration.

Growing Into the Role

Opening my mind allowed for a lot of fun opportunities, like the time I got to star as the lead in a music video that I was also hired to choreograph and direct, or when I started working with my teenage idol and mentor D-Trix, who taught me how to simultaneously choreograph and direct a piece for the camera. Combining my passions just felt right, but the coolest part about developing my knowledge as a creative director was that I got to do it in spaces I was already familiar with. Creating in the dance industry without actually dancing helped me discover that even though I'm focused on this new, creative role, I can still maintain my deep connection with dance.

I've spent the last four years continuing down the creative-direction path, developing artists, producing music videos, and marketing for friends. A favorite moment for me was working with Nya Bloom, a friend and upcoming artist who I convinced not only to create a short film for his first project, but also to hire me as a director.

After six months of brainstorming together, we pitched our ideas to an investor who loved them and granted us a budget. From there, I was hired as set designer, choreographer, stylist and director for the project, which granted me the opportunity to hire all my friends, from dancers and actors to DP and editors. We paid everyone their full rates and ran our production in succinct timing, wrapping everyone 30 to 60 minutes earlier than planned.

I was ecstatic to use all my skills from previous jobs as a dancer on set, and everything I had observed from my previous experiences, to put my skills to the test and produce a visual that turned out even better than we could've imagined.

Edgin getting comfortable in the directors' seat (Avo Guedekelian, courtesy Edgin)

Dancing to My Own Beat

I pride myself in not underpaying or overworking dancers and (subtly) brag about being the person to book you for a 12-hour day, release you ahead of schedule, and still pay you your full day rate. It's really important to me, as someone who has been in the positions I'm now hiring for, to make sure the talent is as comfortable and happy as possible.

As I've gained more experience in my role as a creative director and taking on artist development, I've realized that having a dance background made finding success in these nondancing roles so much easier. So, whether you choose to join a prestigious company as a full-time dancer or become a freelance creative director who dances whenever they feel like it, just know that dance is a tool that can help you achieve success in spaces you may have never imagined.

I'm so grateful for my now 21 years of dance experience for introducing me to my true calling in life. There was never a moment wasted, and I can dance to the beat of my own drum now.

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