Once in a long while, the Dance Spirit team meets a dancer who seems to have had it together since birth. When we first noticed Jasmine Cruz, nearly a decade ago, she was a tiny dynamo with dazzling ballet facility and striking self-possession. Over the years, we've watched her grow into a versatile, thoughtful artist, building on and deepening those innate gifts. From the beginning, she seemed destined for stardom; now, thanks to her countless hours of hard work—and your thousands upon thousands of votes!—she's a Dance Spirit cover star.
We're thrilled to celebrate Jasmine as our 2020 Cover Model Search winner. Just before she began her freshman year at the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, Jasmine caught us up on how she danced through a summer in quarantine—and her goals, dance-related and otherwise, for the future.
What have you been up to since we last spoke?<p>Well, I graduated high school, so that was exciting! I also officially committed to USC. Earlier in the year, I got an offer from Ballet San Antonio, and I was really leaning towards taking it. But in quarantine, I had a lot of time to think, and I realized that I wasn't quite ready for company life. USC has an amazing program, and I won't be confined to a single pathway there. I want to pick up a minor in kinesiology, maybe psychology—having those options really started to excite me. And we don't know when we'll be able to get back into theaters and put on shows, so college felt like a better place for me right now.</p>
Officially a high school graduate! (Courtesy Jasmine Cruz)
How did you keep up your technique in quarantine?<p>I took daily online classes to stay in shape, and was able to dive into the virtual convention world as a New York City Dance Alliance Outstanding Dancer. I rearranged my house so many times trying to find dance space! For a little bit my studio was in the backyard, on the deck, and then I starting cracking the deck boards with my pointe shoes and all the jumping. Later in the summer, my dad built me a studio in my garage with a DIY sprung floor and some marley. But my garage is actually slightly raked, so I was dancing on a raked stage—sideways! </p><p><span></span>It wasn't all bad, though. I do think quarantine taught me how to grow within myself, and not have to rely on exterior motivation. In the studio, you're so inspired by others, and I didn't realize how much of a push that was for me.</p>
Jasmine training at home (courtesy Jasmine Cruz)
During the voting period, you had huge support from all over the world. What was that like?<p>It was really sweet and heartwarming—a chance to reconnect with a lot of people. I had especially incredible support from the Philippines, which is something I'm so proud of. My family is from there—my mom and dad grew up there, and I've gone back multiple times to do galas and festivals—but sometimes I feel detached from that part of myself, because I grew up in America. This felt like a chance to represent the Filipino community. To see them support me so openly, and to serve as an inspiration to them, was amazing.</p>
Jasmine celebrating her USC acceptance (courtesy Jasmine Cruz)
What are your goals for the coming year?<p>I want to diversify myself as a dancer. A lot of people know me as "Jasmine the ballet person"—at convention, it's always like, "What variation are you doing this weekend?" <em>[She laughs.] </em>But at Kaufman, I'm excited to take repertory classes from amazing choreographers and learn different styles. I'm also excited to grow academically. I always thought that dance would be my career forever, but the pandemic made me realize I needed to grow beyond my identity as a dancer, and find other things I'm passionate about. </p>
What's your advice for Cover Model Search hopefuls?<p>Don't be afraid to submit a video. It can feel intimidating—I grew up seeing all these people that I admired do it, and I remember thinking "I don't know..." But just go for it! You never know what might happen. And if you do become a finalist, take in every moment, all the love that comes your way. Because it's nothing but love.</p>
Photo by Rachel Neville
We're thrilled for our Cover Model Search winner, Jasmine Cruz—but we also love our two runners-up, Abigail Jackson and Jamaii Melvin! We talked to Jamai about how life has changed since the last time we spoke with him.
What have you been up to since we last talked?<p>I've gone out of my house a few times just to touch real marley and dance, but for the most part I've been staying at home with my family, taking virtual classes. I actually got to participate in the first ever virtual Jacob's Pillow contemporary ballet program, which I was supposed to attend in person. I was bummed it got moved online, but I'm so glad I still got to work with Sascha Radetsky from American Ballet Theatre and Virginia Johnson from Dance Theatre of Harlem.</p><p>I also passed down my title at NYCDA's Virtual Nationals and got to virtually assist Sonya Tayeh and Tiler Peck during their auditions for NYCDA's Outstanding Dancer. </p>
What was your favorite part of being a CMS finalist?<p>As a dancer living in your own little bubble, you don't really see how much work you put into your art form. I felt so loved and supported through this—it's been overwhelming in the best way. I didn't realize how many people, some that I've never met, actually recognize and support the path I'm on. It feels like confirmation that everything I'm doing now is right for me. </p>
Did you have a strategy for the voting period?<p>I tried my best to stay true to myself and be authentic while campaigning. My main strategy was to go through all my recent DMs and message people with a short paragraph about how I wanted to promote the contest and what their support would mean to me. As time went on, people started posting on their Instagram stories about me, which helped a great deal. Towards the end, my dance teachers and studio owner from my hometown made a campaign page on Facebook, and people started joining that and posting about their support for me. </p>
Courtesy Jamaii Melvin
What are your goals for the future?<p>This time has been so eye-opening, with drastic change, progress, and shifts in the world we're living in right now. Within these tough times, I've been seeing the opportunity to figure out what I wasn't that great at, but always knew I wanted to do. An example is that through the Jacob's Pillow virtual intensive, I found a really deep love and appreciation for ballet as an art form. I'm realizing it's something I like to do, and I <em>could</em> do professionally if I approached it differently. But I'm still sticking to my main goals of getting into Nederlands Dans Theater and then transitioning into having my own company, Unchartered Figures. Overall, this time has helped me become my own motivator and my own teacher. I feel a lot more confident in my dancing and artistry as a whole going into my second year of school.</p>
What advice do you have for CMS hopefuls?<p>Remember the solo that you submit is representing not only the artist you are, but the human being you are. Try not to get caught up in the numbers on social media and who's posting about you, but instead use the opportunity to connect to your dance community and to the other CMS finalists. This is a way to promote yourself in a positive light, connecting with new people, as well as the people you may have lost touch with over the years, but are still very much supporting you. It's bigger than just a contest: It's about building connection and community. </p>
Niana Guerrero is only 14, but she already boasts 12.6 million TikTok followers—the kind of internet fanbase most people twice her age can only dream of. Of course, keeping up with her millions (and millions, and millions) of fans isn't easy. We spent a day with Niana to see what it really takes to be a TikTok star. —As told to Cadence Neenan