Congratulations to Dance Spirit’s 2013 Cover Model Search finalists: Madi Hicks, Hayden Hopkins and Alexa Luke! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit’s October 2013 cover.Check out each girl’s bio and photos below, and watch their solo videos. Then, go behind the scenes to see the finalists in action at Broadway Dance Center and on set with photographer Nathan Sayers.To read more about each finalist, get your hands on a copy of the July/August issue. You only get one chance to vote for your favorite—make it count!
Madi, Hayden and Alexa spent three days in NYC with the Dance Spirit editors. They took classes at Broadway Dance Center, saw Newsies on Broadway and had a photo shoot with dance photographer Nathan Sayers.
Voting is now closed. Look for the winner on Dance Spirit's October cover!
"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"
The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.
The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."
"Never Own a Dance Studio"
<p>As the daughter of a dance teacher, Long spent the better part of her childhood in the studio. Her mom owned California Dance Academy, also located in Orange County, which later merged with another studio to become Dance Precisions, where the bulk of Long's childhood training took place. "My mom taught the minis, my aunt Leslie handled the juniors, and, when I turned 16, I also started working at the studio," Long says. "I was never the best dancer when I was younger, but I absolutely loved being there—it felt like home." She gradually took over choreographing for the minis, and saw instant competition success with a number of routines, including "My Boyfriend's Back," which featured a then seven-year-old Autumn Miller, and earned national titles at Hall of Fame Nationals and Showbiz Nationals in 2009.</p><p>After six years teaching and choreographing at Dance Precisions, Long needed a change. "I just remember clearly realizing that I needed to do my own thing," Long says. "Growing up, my mom constantly said to me, 'Never own a dance studio, it's the worst job ever' "—she laughs at the memory—"but starting a company felt like the right move for that moment in my life." Project 21 began its inaugural season in 2015.</p>
<p>Long sums up the early days of Project 21 with one word: scary. "There were so many little things you don't initially think about, like billing, securing studio space, administrative tasks," she says. But beyond that, two larger questions loomed: What kind of dance teacher did she want to be, and what did she want Project 21 to represent? "I had a tendency to crowdsource opinions during those first few seasons, and I got lost in what everyone else had to say about running this company," she remembers.</p><p>Gradually, Long's confidence grew, and her vision for a company chock-full of driven, diverse, and versatile dancers began to take shape. Soon, Project 21's group and solo entries (often choreographed by Long) were earning raves at competitions, and her students were making waves in convention classes. "I noticed Project 21 dancers Selena Hamilton and Dyllan Blackburn in class at Radix pretty early on, because they were clearly taking responsibility for their own training," Bell says, "and that's really rare to see. Molly has this amazing way of creating drive without feeling like a dictator—people just want to work with and for her."</p><p>The hallmark of a Project 21 dancer is their work ethic. "It's my biggest thing," Long says. "I want my kids to walk out of class feeling like they've done everything in their power to improve that day." Long also encourages her dancers to express their opinions—and she really listens to them. "I try to nurture what they like and what they're interested in, because I think it's great when they're outspoken," she says.</p>
Long (far right) with her dancers. (Photo by Quinn Wharton)
A Fully-Formed Identity
<p>Project 21 now feels like a family, and Long has put that sense of camaraderie on display in some of her viral-hit group routines, including "One Night in Bangkok" (Radix's 2019 Best in Show winner) and "Bohemian Rhapsody" (which has nearly one million views on YouTube). "All of Molly's dancers are great soloists, but they work unbelievably well as a group," Bell says. "They understand how to share this energy onstage, and it's definitely their defining quality."</p><p>That cohesive energy has attracted an impressive crew of guest choreographers. Many of them come to Project 21 to set pieces after working with the dancers at conventions over the years. (That route brought Bell and Teddy Forance to the studio in 2020.) Others discover the studio thanks to its competition and social media reputation, like Madison Hicks, who reached out to Long early last year<strong> </strong>and is now on faculty at Project 21. A Juilliard graduate and former member of L.A. Dance Project, Hicks, who is currently enrolled in the graduate dance program at CalArts, was blown away by everything Long and the students had to offer. "It's so beyond a studio," she says. "Molly is an incredible businesswoman, role model, and teacher. She makes sure that everyone who is at Project 21 wants to be there, and I think our small size and unity are what set us apart."</p>
<p>While Project 21 has already experienced a ton of success, Long knows there's always room to grow. "I'd love to build a stronger technical program going forward," she says, "and while I'm not sure if expansion is in the cards yet, it would certainly be nice—I always dreamed of having a huge studio." Beyond that, Long's unwavering goal is to mold her kids into the most respectful, responsible, and hard-working dancers they can be. "We're not always going to win, and that's okay," she says, "because my kids know that at the end of the day, they have the work ethic to get them where they want to be."</p>
<h2>Meet Three of Project 21's Standout Stars</h2>
<p>You'd be hard-pressed to find a dancer as calm, cool, and collected as 14-year-old Dyllan Blackburn, who has snagged top prizes at Radix, 24Seven, JUMP, and NUVO. "Dyllan is all lines, perfection, and details," says Molly Long. "The way she can sit in these pockets of musicality while performing is otherworldly." Dyllan has been with Project 21 since the beginning, and credits Long for transforming her into the dancer she is today. "Molly really pushes us and prepares us for the future," she says. Looking ahead, Dyllan hopes to clinch the Female Best Dancer title at The Dance Awards at least once in her career: "I've been first runner-up, which was great, but I would love to win!"</p><h5>Fast Facts</h5><p><strong>Birthday:</strong> May 2, 2006</p><p><strong>Her dancing in three words:</strong> Precise, technical, and committed</p><p><strong>Dance bag must-haves:</strong> Tiger Balm, Advil, and deodorant</p><p><strong>Pre-performance rituals or superstitions:</strong> "My mom has to wear black when I compete my solo, and before each performance, I do the sign of the cross like a million times!"</p><p><strong>Favorite Project 21 group routine:</strong> "One Night in Bangkok"</p>
<p>Eleven-year-old Gracyn French is the epitome of an old soul. "She was born with this incredible confidence, and the way she's able to captivate an audience is unreal," says Long. Since joining Project 21 in 2017, Gracyn has earned accolade after accolade: In 2019, she capped off a banner year by winning Mini Female Best Dancer at The Dance Awards. When she's not touring with NUVO and 24Seven on the weekends, she's working on polishing her technique and improv skills in weekly classes with Molly and Madison. As for what the future holds? "I'd love to be on Broadway one day!" she says.</p><h4>Fast Facts</h4><p><strong>Birthday:</strong> November 28, 2008</p><p><strong>Non-dance hobbies:</strong> "Swimming with my sisters and vlogging."</p><p><strong>Dance bag must-haves:</strong> Icy Hot, and shoes for tap, ballroom, and ballet</p><p><strong>Favorite Project 21 group routine:</strong> "Grease Is the Word"</p><p><strong>Pre-performance rituals or superstitions:</strong> "When I'm alone backstage, I just repeat 'You've got this, go out there and do your best' to myself."</p>
<p>Is there anything supremely versatile 15-year-old Selena Hamilton can't do? "She's my variety girl, and her strength and natural talent set her apart," says Long. "Molly holds us accountable," says Selena, who's been with Project 21 from its first days. "She knows if we're not working as hard as we can be, and she knows how to bring out the best in all of her dancers." Selena's versatility, magnetic stage presence, and commitment in the studio have catapulted her to the title of Radix Core Performer in both the Junior and Teen categories. Beyond the competition scene, she dreams of dancing for Katy Perry or Beyoncé someday.</p><h5>Fast Facts</h5><p><strong></strong><strong>Birthday:</strong> August 26, 2004</p><p><strong>Favorite Project 21 group routines:</strong> "Dance Like Your Daddy" and "One Night in Bangkok"</p><p><strong>Favorite Project 21 memory:</strong> "After every 24Seven convention, we all go to Denny's for waffles."</p><p><strong>Her dancing in three words:</strong> Athletic, powerful, clean</p><p><strong>Non-dance hobbies:</strong> Online shopping, TikTok, and baking cakes</p>
The professionally-shot film of Hamilton is smashing streaming records on Disney+, transforming any computer or TV in America into the Richard Rodgers Theatre. And while we understand that not every Broadway show has gorgeously-filmed footage on file, we can still dream: Could this be a new way to experience live theater, at least while Broadway remains closed? Here are eight other shows that we'd love to view from our living rooms.
<p>Bring your own chili and cornbread. Daniel Fish's edgy take on the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was scheduled for a national tour this fall. With those plans on hold, now would be the perfect time to share this revelatory production, including Ali Stroker's Tony Award-winning performance as Ado Annie, with audiences at home.</p>
<p>Now that they've entered the whole new world of streaming theater, it's easy to imagine Disney+ releasing pro shots of Disney on Broadway shows. Since 2014, <em>Aladdin</em> has enchanted audiences at the New Amsterdam Theatre; a national tour was cut short due to the coronavirus. This family-friendly pick would be popular with audiences of all ages.</p>
<p><em>Hadestown</em>'s message of hope during dark times is more necessary now than ever before. Singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell's take on ancient Greek mythology, which addresses everything from climate change to workers' rights, is eerily relevant to current events.</p>
<p>Traveling to Paris may not be an option at the moment, but a streamed recording of <em>Moulin Rouge!</em> could be just the ticket to tide us over until we can revisit the City of Lights in person. The classic love story and familiar music, as well as the incredible dancing and sets, would make it a surefire hit with mainstream TV audiences.</p>
<p>This year, many students could unfortunately relate to Emma and Alyssa's canceled prom. While we <a href="https://www.playbill.com/article/ryan-murphy-shares-an-update-on-his-movie-adaptation-of-the-prom" target="_blank">wait for the feature film version to drop</a>, a broadcast of the stage show, with its uplifting story and high-energy dance numbers, would be the perfect consolation for anyone who missed out on their school dance.</p>
<p>It'll be harder for the Plastics to rule the cafeteria when classes go virtual this fall. Performances of <em>Mean Girls</em> both at the August Wilson Theatre and across the country have been paused, but maybe NBC's new Peacock streaming service, which hosts other Tina Fey material such as "30 Rock," could provide access to the stage version of the 2004 film. (In fact, the show might already have footage on file for its <a href="https://www.playbill.com/article/a-movie-adaptation-of-the-mean-girls-musical-is-in-the-works" target="_blank">previously-announced movie version</a>.)</p>
<p>It only premiered in 2017, but <em>Six</em> has already been performed on the West End, throughout the UK, in Chicago, Australia, New Zealand, and on cruise ships. Could its next stop be a streaming service? Like <em>Hamilton</em>, <em>Six</em> combines pop culture and modern music with history, shining the spotlight on the six ex-wives of King Henry VIII and imagining them as a high-energy girl group. </p>
<p>If there's one thing we could all use right now, it's some sunshine on this decidedly cloudy day (year?). Featuring memorable music by the Temptations and Tony Award-winning choreography by Sergio Trujillo, this jukebox musical would have us dancing in our living rooms.</p>
Dance Spirit's 2020 Cover Model Search finalists: Jasmine Cruz, Abigail Jackson, and Jamaii Melvin! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2020 cover. Learn more about the dancers by clicking on their names here:
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