Nathan Sayers

From "Dance Moms" to Complexions: Ballerina Kaeli Ware's Unconventional Path to Success

Take one look at Kaeli Ware's Instagram page and you'll be captivated. The elegant, impossibly long-limbed ballet dancer has over 110 thousand followers hooked on her every polished move. But the 19-year-old phenom isn't just a social media sensation. Having already conquered the competition scene and the world of dance reality TV, Ware recently joined Complexions Contemporary Ballet as a trainee. These days, she splits her time between NYC and Philadelphia, PA, where she continues to beef up her classical training at The Rock School for Dance Education.

She's not a traditional bunhead, and she's not a run-of-the-mill social influencer, either. Instead, Ware is creating her own hybrid career path—and it's taking her to impressive places.


Nathan Sayers

Center Stage from the Start

Ware was a media darling from the beginning, winning numerous competitions and landing high-profile television gigs as a young student. The daughter of studio owner and teacher Gloria Hampton, Ware burst onto the national scene after appearing in the third season of "Dance Moms," which led to her first wave of social media success. She's simply a natural, both onstage and on camera. "I've been dancing since I was 18 months and doing competitions since I was three years old," she says. "But working on 'Dance Moms,' I learned how to be a professional from a young age, too. I'm really lucky—not a lot of dancers have the opportunity to do that."

In 2017, Ware appeared on NBC's "World of Dance," where she got to work with Jennifer Lopez and Derek Hough. Two years later, she competed on Season 16 of "So You Think You Can Dance," just missing the Top 20. Still, the experience was a dream come true. "It was so surreal because I grew up watching the show," she says "To be in such an environment, with the same judges that were on the first season—it was amazing!"

But those high-profile competitions weren't Ware's first brushes with celebrity. As a very young student, she trained for a time at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, where she met her childhood idol, Misty Copeland. "I moved to NYC when I was 8 or 9 and got to work with the company sometimes, literally getting to work in the same studios as the principal dancers, which was incredible!" says Ware. "I got a glimpse of what their life was like, and that really opened my eyes."

Real Talk About Setbacks

Television successes aside, Ware dreamed for years of dancing with ABT. And for a time, all signs seemed to point in that direction. Sascha Radetsky, artistic director of the ABT Studio Company, saw Ware perform at Youth America Grand Prix in 2017, and expressed interest in her immediately. But after being invited to audition for the Studio Company two times, she didn't hear anything. "I felt like I was ready and had all my eggs in that basket," says Ware.

When she was able to speak with Radetsky, he told her that ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie had been impressed with her, but that the company didn't have many male dancers tall enough to partner Ware, who's 5' 10".

While Ware is conscious of being a role model for tall dancers everywhere, she's also candid about feeling insecure about her height. "It's something I can't control," she says. "I can work on my lines and technique. But my height is something I can't fix, and it's really frustrating."

Nathan Sayers

Finding Stability at The Rock

The versatile Ware was a regular on the competition circuit for more than a decade, but for the past couple of years, she's forgone the comp scene to focus on her ballet training. "There's something special about ballet that I don't feel with other styles," she says. At The Rock School, she's found inspiring and challenging teachers—and her boyfriend, Cesar Ramirez, one of the phenomenal Cuban triplets studying there. "Cesar knows so much about ballet and teaches me something every day!" she says. "He motivates me to go to the gym and watch ballet videos. My mindset has changed since I started dating him." Not your typical high school sweethearts, Ware and Ramirez live in the same building and see each other almost every moment of every day. "But it's amazing," says Ware, "because we get to do what we love together."

Stephanie Spassoff, artistic director of The Rock School, has noticed a marked improvement in Ware's ballet technique recently, including more refined footwork. "She's got great physique, she's really flexible, and she turns and jumps really well, which is unusual for someone so tall," Spassoff says. While Ware can be reserved in the studio, Spassoff says, in dress rehearsals or performances, she comes alive: "You just say, Whoa!"

Taking Her Next Steps

That "it" factor is what Dwight Rhoden, co-director of Complexions, noticed about Ware from the beginning. For several years, Ware would frequently attend Rhoden's master classes and workshops in NYC, allowing Rhoden to witness her artistic and technical growth firsthand. Then, last year, he saw something click.

"I hadn't seen her in a few months, and we were doing a really fast combination, working on clarity, speed and precision," says Rhoden. "Kaeli wasn't entirely comfortable with the movement, but she was going 150 percent. She was eating it up." It was an aha moment for Rhoden. "It wasn't about technique—she's always had the technique! It was about development. I knew that she needed an environment where she could take her potential to the limit." Soon afterward, he offered Ware a trainee position at Complexions.

Kaeli certainly doesn't have to worry about her height at Complexions: She says she's "probably three inches shorter than the tallest girl there." And she loves that the company does a combination of styles, allowing her to draw on all her diverse dance experiences. "I think that things come when you least expect it, and Complexions was unexpected," Ware says. "Now, I'm just hoping to get a full company contract!"

Nathan Sayers

Fast Facts

Favorite musical artist: Ella Mai. "I've gotten into chill music, especially before class because it helps me relax and get in the zone."

Preshow wiggles: "Before I go out onstage, I have to shake my whole body out."

Day-off indulgence: Watching Netflix in bed all day

Nondance hobbies: "I love art and drawing, and I'm always playing with makeup."

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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