Dancer to Dancer

Jessica Raffa

Australian-born Jessica Raffa, 24, has found stardom as a featured dancer with the innovative ballroom company, Burn the Floor. With stage presence galore and an intense work ethic, Jessica has climbed the ranks on a steady route. She began dancing at age 3 and paid her dues in the ensemble for years before moving to the front lines. Fortunately, this never frustrated her.

“My mother used to say I could dance before I walked,” giggles Jessica. “And since then I’ve decided to live by her motto: You can live your life day-to-day not trying or caring and end up insignificant. Or, you can strive for success and leave your mark upon the world.”

With this encouragement, Jessica began her journey as a ballet dancer at a local studio. Soon after, she moved on to the Junior Australian Ballet for more serious study. Her passion remained ballet until a ballroom studio opened  near her home when she was 9. With this simple change, Jessica’s life shifted.

“I always loved ballet, but I also didn’t know anything else,” she says. “I was curious about the new studio. I took my first ballroom class with ballet shoes on!”

But even in slippers, Jessica was hooked. Fortunately, the ballroom world loved her right back. “I found that I caught people’s eye dancing ballroom more, even from a young age,” says Jessica. “It felt freer to me. I was quite cheeky and ballroom had so much diversity that I never got bored.”

So, she began competing regularly with a partner. While on the circuit, Burn the Floor choreographer Jason Gilkison noticed her. Once a year she took a private lesson with him and eventually her hard work enticed Gilkison to offer her a company contract when she was 16. But she still needed to finish high school. Right after graduation she joined the group and became a professional dancer at 17.

Jessica thinks she was hired at such a young age because of her holistic approach to performance. “Some dancers put on a character, but everything I do is real,” she says. “I give my heart and soul every time I’m on the dance floor because you never know when it can all end.”

This genuine nature was highlighted most recently in the Burn the Floor production, FloorPlay. During one number, Jessica danced completely blindfolded, emphasizing her daring spirit. She says that her technique improved dramatically and helped intensify the connection with her partner. But more importantly, she was so touched by her experience that when she returned home she contacted Vision Australia and began teaching dance to blind people all over the country.

“When I dance without sight, I am absolutely free and now I love it!” she says. “I realized that blind people should be given the opportunity to dance, too. Plus, they are so susceptible to touch and used to being led, so they really relate to it! It brings me joy to see their smiles.”

Jessica hopes to expand her philanthropy through Blindfold, an organization she started with producer Harley Medcalf. But for now, she is also thrilled to continue dancing with the company, enjoying every moment along the way.

“I joined the show as a young girl and I was definitely not in the front row,” she says. “It’s taken me seven years to be where I am now, and every night I perform I know it’s my dream come true. I appreciate every second on that stage!”

FAST FACTS

  • Favorite musicians: Bob Marley, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper
  • Favorite book: Courage by Osho
  • Must-see TV: “Sex and the City” and “Family Guy”
  • Fave movies: Coming to America, Son-in-Law and Sex and the City
  • People describe you as: Loyal, affectionate and passionate
  • Favorite ballet: Swan Lake

Rodric J. Bradford is a Phoenix-based arts, business and sports writer.

Photo: Courtesy of Burn the Floor

Show Comments ()
Dance News
Mahak Naiwal, foreground, in Kathak class (screenshot via YouTube)

Just in case you missed it: To highlight last Thursday's International Day of the Girl, The New York Times has launched a unique photographic and editorial project called #ThisIs18, all with the aim of spotlighting what life is really like for 18-year-old women around the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Giveaways

It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are Artists AND Athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection, and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Quinn Starner performing a variation from Paquita at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS (photo by Richard Finkelstein, courtesy USA International Ballet Competition)

Quinn Starner is no stranger to competitions. The 16-year-old "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" alum has been slaying the contemporary circuit for years, winning Best Teen Dancer at The Dance Awards in 2017. But lately she's been more focused on ballet, relocating from Florida to train at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory two years ago. And while she's won awards at ballet competitions like ADC|IBC and Youth America Grand Prix, in June she upped the stakes by going to the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS—an audition-only event that's one of the world's most prestigious comps. We followed Quinn on her Jackson journey.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Fashion
@sab_nyc via Instagram

Halloween is almost here and that means its time to get serious about finding the perfect costume. A lot of you dancers need costumes that are both fun and functional so that you can go straight from dance class to the streets, without missing a beat. Here are nine of the most creative, yet versatile ensembles that'll allow you to enjoy Halloween festivities without compromising your dance training.
Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Al Blacksone teaching class at JUMP (courtesy Break the Floor Productions)

Is there anything better than a dance convention? Frankly, we don't think so. Although we love getting a guest teacher to come to our studio for a masterclass every so often, there's just something so exciting about packing up our leotards and dance shoes and heading to a convention for the weekend. Here are 7 reasons why dance conventions are, without a doubt, the greatest things ever.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
(photo by Jim Lafferty)

Amanda LaCount was born to move. The second the music comes on at her Dance Spirit cover shoot, the bubbly 17-year-old is shimmying her shoulders and tossing her hair. When she launches into a full-out freestyle to Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay," you can't take your eyes off her.

And yet with every gig she lands, Amanda is challenging some of the dance world's longest-held biases. "I'm curvy," she says, "and I like being curvy. My body is not a bad thing. It's who I am." Here's how Amanda went from talented tot to hardworking pro—and from insecure preteen to body-positive role model.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors’ List: The Goods
via capezio.com

As of today, there are only 13 nights until the spoOoOokiest evening of the year—and just 1 week left, if you're planning to dress up over Halloweekend. Do you have your costume(s) yet?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ashley Ellis in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker (photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet)

Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis' dancing is the perfect pairing of ethereal grace and punchy musicality. The Torrance, CA, native began training at South Bay Ballet at age 6, and attended the School of American Ballet summer program in 1998. In 2001, she was accepted into American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, and the following year, she joined ABT's corps de ballet. In 2007, she became a founding member of Corella Ballet Castilla y León in Spain, under the direction of Angel Corella. Three years later, she headed back to the States and danced with Sarasota Ballet before joining Boston Ballet as a second soloist in 2011. In 2013, she was promoted to principal dancer. Catch her performing this season in the company's Nutcracker. —Courtney Bowers

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Jim Lafferty

This story originally appeared on dancemagazine.com.

"So why did you quit?"

It's a question I've been asked hundreds of times since I stopped dancing over a decade ago. My answer has changed over the years as my own understanding of what lead me to walk away from greatest love of my life has become clearer.

"I had some injures," I would mutter nervously for the first few years. This seemed like the answer people understood most. Then it became, "I was just not very happy." Finally, as I passed into my 30s, I began telling the uncomfortable truth: "I quit dancing because of untreated depression."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
via giphy.com

Costumes: We look amazing in them but, boy, sometimes they're the actual worst. Whether they don't fit correctly or they rip right before a performance, here are 10 wardrobe malfunctions all dancers unfortunately suffer through at one point or another.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Giphy

It's the age-old debate: Is dance a sport? The answer is, without a doubt, YES. Of course, dance is much more than just a sport. But when we get down to the logistics of it all, it's impossible not to recognize it as the athletic endeavor it is. Here are 10 reasons why dance absolutely qualifies as a sport.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Hands down the coolest assistant principal we've ever seen. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Let's take a walk down memory lane to this past September, when the #LevelUpChallenge was in full-blown viral mode. Literally thousands of videos of people dancing to Ciara's song "Level Up" flooded the Internet, but only one truly broke it: an amazing clip of the Wilson Central High School Dance Team—and their Assistant Principal, Ranesa Shipman. Never one to miss out on a viral dance challenge, Ellen DeGeneres decided to have Shipman and the team perform on "The Ellen Show"—and the fun didn't stop there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Thinkstock

You and your phone have more in common than you might guess, says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, pediatrician and clinical professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. "If you charge your phone halfway, it works for a few hours," he explains. "But it's not performing at its full potential, and you have to be careful about how you use that energy."

It'd be nice to just plug into the wall for nine hours until you hit 100 percent battery, but for (human) dancers, it's not that simple. So DS asked Dr. Pelayo and Dr. Argelinda Baroni, co-director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Program in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, how to maximize your own battery life—ensuring you'll dance better and more safely in the process.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Dance BFFs Findlay McConnell (left) and Payton Johnson (courtesy McConnell and Johnson)

Two dancers from different studios on opposite ends of the country meeting at a dance competition may sound like the formula for a cheesy teen-rivalry movie. But it's actually real life for lots of dancers on the comp circuit. Meet four sets of adorable BFFs who found winning friendships at a competition.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Rylee Arnold and Miles Brown were standouts this week. (via YouTube)

We still can't get over the talent on "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors"—like how many YouTube tutorials do we have to watch to become half as good as these mini dancing machines? And just in case you forgot how skilled these prodigies are, this week's theme was sure to remind you: Last night, the ten couples performed to songs that came out the year they were born. (But let's be real, most of these songs aren't really that much of a throwback.)

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Ava and Emma Blaser performing their duet to Coldplay's "Fix You." (via ellentube)

It's safe to say that the bond between dancing siblings is one of the strongest out there. But for sisters Emma, 16, and Ava Blaser, 10, that bond runs deeper than most can even fathom: The pair continued to dance together throughout Ava's treatment for kidney cancer remission, and they say it helped them heal.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors’ List: The Goods
San Francisco Ballet soloist Koto Ishihara stretches in her warm-up boots. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Dance Magazine.

With cooler weather finally here, it's time to talk warm-ups. And while your dancewear drawer is probably overflowing with oversized sweaters, leggings and enough leg warmers to outfit the whole class, warm-up boots are often forgotten. To keep your feet and ankles cozy in between rehearsals, we rounded up dance warm-up boots that suit every style.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways