Photo by Collette Mruk, courtesy Alison Stroming

Alison Stroming Is Starting a Mentorship Program for Young Dancers

When Alison Stroming was a 15-year-old student at American Ballet Theatre's Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis School, she had a chance encounter at the water fountain with none other than Misty Copeland. "I was grabbing a drink, and when I turned around, Misty greeted me with a 'Hey girl!' My mouth just dropped," remembers Stroming. Copeland ended up taking Stroming under her wing, helping the young dancer carve out her place within the cutthroat dance world. "To this day, I turn to her for advice," Stroming says. "She's more than a mentor—she's become a big sister and a friend."

This relationship with Copeland inspired Stroming to launch AS Mentorship, a new program that allows Stroming to build relationships with 15 handpicked dance students over the course of a year. We caught up with Stroming to talk about the importance of a program like this, how she selects her dancers, and how dancers can find mentors of their own.

DS: Why do you think mentorship within the dance world is so important?

AS: You can't make it in the dance world alone. The more mentors, supporters, and trustworthy people you have by your side, the more success will follow. In every stage of my life, I've had people to look up to. It's so special to have someone invest their time and energy into you. It's also crucial in that it serves as a support system—you always need someone to turn to.

DS: How did you choose your mentees for the program?

AS: I announced my mentorship program on social media, and the application was on my website. It consisted of a few personal questions regarding the dancer's training, goals, and aspirations. To my surprise, I received 92 applications over the course of two weeks, and ultimately narrowed the list to around 30 girls. I held one-on-one video meetings with the remaining candidates, and then finally selected my group of 15. Each of them shows tremendous potential, maturity, and showmanship.

DS: What are the most rewarding, and challenging, parts of the program for you?

AS: The most rewarding part is the satisfaction of helping my girls achieve their goals by nurturing and providing them with the tools needed to be the best versions of themselves. Coming from both the comp/convention and ballet worlds, I understand the stakes firsthand, and believe that I have a lot of valuable knowledge to share. As a mentor, the feeling of paying forward is so rewarding.

The most challenging part of my program? Staying organized and on top of everything! In addition to my personal work and career, I manage my dancewear line on my own, which is at once stressful and fulfilling.

Stroming with some of her 2019–2020 mentees.

DS: What advice do you have for dancers who might be looking for their own mentors?

AS: Don't be afraid to ask people! It can be as simple as sending an email, or, if you have a connection to someone you admire, asking for an introduction. You'll never know what's possible unless you try! Whenever you take a class with a new teacher, don't be afraid to introduce yourself afterwards. You just have to go for it.

If you have a mentor, the best thing you can do is show that you're serious about your career and education. Attend classes, go to auditions, seek out new opportunities. Take time to write down your goals, objectives, and hurdles you're facing, and bring them to your mentor. Always be patient, trusting, and open. Ideally, your mentorship will blossom into an incredible friendship that's mutually beneficial!

The 2020 AS Mentorship recipients are Olivia Beauchamp, Sophia Grace Capecci, Delaney Diaz, Emma Grisham, Suvannah Hunter, Bella Jones, Isabella (Izzy) Keesee, Audrey Mayernik, Josabella Morton, Addyson Smith, Sienna Smith, Maia Smyl, Kennedy Rae Thompson, Bailey Toney, and Iliana Victor. Follow their journey on Instagram!

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Ashton Edwards Is Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Ballet

When Ashton Edwards was 3 years old, the Edwards family went to see a holiday production of The Nutcracker in their hometown, Flint, MI.

For the young child, it was love at first sight.

"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

Ashton has dedicated 14 years of ballet training in pursuit of that childhood dream. But all the technical prowess in the world can't help Ashton surmount the biggest hurdle—this aspiring dancer was assigned male at birth, and for the vast majority of boys and men, performing in pointe shoes hasn't been a career option. But Ashton Edwards, who uses the pronouns "he" and "they," says it's high time to break down ballet's gender barrier, and their teachers and mentors believe this passionate dancer is just the person to lead the charge.

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In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of about two dozen dancers got the rare opportunity to work on an upcoming Apple TV+ series—one devoted entirely to celebrating, and spoofing, classic 1940s and '50s musicals from the Great White Way and Hollywood. "Schmigadoon!", which premiered on AppleTV+ July 16, stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, who get stuck inside a musical and must find true love in order to leave. The show features a star-studded Broadway cast, including Aaron Tveit, Ariana DeBose, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Jane Krakowski and Dove Cameron, and is chock-full of dancing courtesy of series choreographer, Christopher Gattelli.

"The adrenaline was pretty exciting, being able to create during the pandemic," says Gattelli. "I felt like we were representing all performers at that point. There were so many who wanted to be working during the pandemic, so I really tried to embrace this opportunity for all of them."

Gattelli says it was a dream come true to pay tribute to the dance geniuses that preceded him, like Michael Kidd, Agnes de Mille, Onna White and Jerome Robbins, in his choreography. Each number shows off a "little dusting" of their work.

Dance Spirit spoke with Gattelli about all the triumphs and tribulations of choreographing in a pandemic, and got an inside look at specific homages to look out for.

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Shouldering the Load: What kind of dance bag should dancers use?

Walk into any dance convention, audition or class, and you'll see a vast variety of dance bags lining the walls. But can the style of bag you use (and how you wear it) have an impact on your dancing?

Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.

Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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