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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Ashton Edwards Is Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Ballet

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

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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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