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.
Picture this: You're in rehearsal, and you finally get a move the way the choreographer wants it—except that it makes your back twinge each time. Should you say you're in pain, or should you suck it up and keep going? You don't want to injure yourself, but you also don't want to jeopardize your role.
The dance world often teaches students to be quiet and obedient around authority figures. That said, there are definitely instances when you need to speak your mind. Try these tips to navigate sticky situations.
Choreographic partners Audrey Lane Ellis (right) and Sarah Capua of a+s works (courtesy a+s works)
Choreographing a dance means standing alone at the front of the studio…right? Not necessarily! Many choreographers prefer making work with a partner. Two heads can definitely be better than one, but creating collaboratively does come with some strings attached. Whether you're working in a duo or group by choice or you've been assigned to develop a piece with someone else, try these tips to foster a positive process.
For 16-year-old Amanda*, dance is everything: her passion, her escape from the daily grind, and her career goal. Her parents see things differently. "I have siblings who are active in sports," Amanda says, "and my parents would rather I play soccer or basketball. They don't see dance as something I can earn a stable living from in the future. They often tell me I should just quit."
Some parents aren't able to, don't know how to, or choose not to give you the kind of support you need to thrive in the studio. And when your parents are adding stress to your life, rather than alleviating it, there's a lot at stake. "Dancers who don't have the support of their parents might struggle with self-doubt," says Dr. Linda Hamilton, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and a clinical psychologist specializing in the performing arts, "while those whose parents are too involved can crack under the pressure." Whether your parents aren't there when you need them or they're always there, practically smothering you, try these tips to improve your situation.
Dancer and choreographer Matt Steffanina conducts a hip-hop tutorial on his YouTube Channel (courtesy Steffanina)
Not sure how to find solid dance training options on the internet? We asked the pros for their top tips.
1. You can't trust everything you find on the internet. "YouTube is like the Wild West of dance," says Jon Arpino of CLI Studios. "An 8-year-old can go online and watch another 8-year-old do aerials, but that's not the right way to learn those tricks."
2. Look for reputable sources. For example, you might seek out videos from performers and choreographers who teach on the convention circuit, or at a big-name studio like Broadway Dance Center in NYC or Millennium Dance Complex in L.A. These people are likely to be offering advice that's correct and safe.
Dancer and choreographer Matt Steffanina conducts a hip-hop tutorial on his YouTube Channel (courtesy Matt Steffanina)
You're dressed in your favorite gear, ready to dance—but instead of heading to the studio, you take out your smartphone. A dance celeb has posted a new master class online, and you can't wait to dive in. Then, you might watch a popular choreographer's newest step-by-step tutorial. Who doesn't want to get words of wisdom from the best in the biz?
But while video classes and tutorials have definite benefits, they can't compare to in-person sessions with a teacher who knows you and has watched you grow. Here are tips to help you navigate the world of online learning, so you can find supplemental training that helps you become the best dancer you can be.
Miami City Ballet principal soloist Nathalia Arja is known for her powerful jump—in fact, she recalls one reviewer describing her as "popcorn." But flying through the air wasn't always second nature. Growing up training in her native Brazil, she says, she didn't know how to use her body efficiently during grand allégro.
So what changed? "At 13, I started doing Pilates," she says. "I did a lot of leg exercises lying down on the reformer, which built my core strength." Then, at 15, she started studying at Miami City Ballet School. "I went from classical to Balanchine training," she says, "and I learned how to push off the floor with my toes, rather than jumping from my entire foot."
As Arja discovered, developing a big jump is more about nurture than nature. Here's advice from the experts about how you can reach your highest heights.
Broadway baby Eloise Kropp is living the dream. After making her Great White Way debut in the ensemble of On the Town in 2014 and landing a leading role in 2015's Dames at Sea, she's now in the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's beloved CATS. As Jennyanydots, the cat who lounges in sunbeams all day but comes alive at night, 25-year-old Kropp brings an irrepressibly bubbly spirit to the production's only tap number. Watching her in action, there's no question that she was born to wear tap shoes. "I never imagined being a tapper on Broadway," she says, "but the timing has been so serendipitous. Tap has really made a comeback in musical theater. It makes me so happy to see other people loving it as much as I do."
Kropp's journey from student to rising star wasn't always easy. After leaving college early for an opportunity that didn't pan out, she spent a year and a half auditioning, doing regional gigs and taking on odd jobs before booking On the Town. She's learned firsthand that in the Broadway world, perseverance pays off.
Utah Valley University juniors Megan Rund and Esther Laws share a love of ballroom dance, but they specialize in different styles. Rund competes in International Standard and American Smooth, dancing the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, fox-trot and quickstep.
“Smooth dancing is so emotional," she says. “I love how expressive the movement can be." Meanwhile, Laws competes in the International Latin category, dancing the cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive. “Latin dance is more free," she says. “You get to flirt and have fun. It's a different type of expression than the poised and pretty Standard styles."
While some dancers do compete across the board—they're known in the industry as “10-dancers" for (you guessed it!) doing all 10 dances—many prefer to specialize in one category. Wondering if it's time for you to home in on either Standard or Latin? Here are a few tips.
A few years ago, 16-year-old Kayla Gonzalez found herself dancing alongside a mean-spirited girl. “She could be so rude," says Gonzalez, who trains at The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV. “It got worse at competitions. She'd make up lies, saying my teammates and I were doing things we weren't. She was always trying to get ahead." Sound familiar? A competitive environment can bring out the very worst in some dancers' personalities. When put in a stressful situation, students can become bossy, overdramatic or downright mean. Here, DS breaks down four toxic types you might encounter, and offers tips on how to respond.
Precision. Musicality. Charm. Swag. Kida Burns' talents were on full display during the finale of “So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" in September. He was his All-Star partner Fik-Shun's equal in the two routines the pair revisited for the finale: Misha Gabriel's bee-themed piece and Kida's own feel-good robot number. He returned to his animation roots with a solo that was pure joy. He even stole the spotlight in Luther Brown's group hip-hop routine, which featured all of the season's finalists and All-Stars in that genre.
As a teenager, contemporary dancer Eveline Kleinjans felt like nothing she did was good enough. Auditioning for university dance programs paralyzed her: “I was so focused on every move I made and what people would think that I wasn't able to be free, to be myself," she says. And her intense perfectionism had real repercussions. “I'd get negative feedback saying, 'We don't see you.' "
Perfectionism is extremely common in the dance world, because dancers hold themselves to terrifically high standards. It's easy to get a little discouraged when you aren't improving as quickly as you want. But there's a difference between healthy self-criticism and an unhealthy obsession with perfection. How can you tell when your drive to be better has crossed the line—and what can you do to get back on track?
Wondering how people actually book the dance world's most coveted jobs? Cattle-call auditions aren't the only route to a career: Sometimes it's about who you know—or about being in the right place at the right time. Dance Spirit asked six dancers to describe the moments when the stars aligned, allowing them to nab high-profile professional gigs.
Kaitlynn Edgar knew she was ready for a pro career. (Lee Gumbs)
It's a question every serious dance student has to ask as she approaches high school graduation: What's next? College, or a company gig? A full-time dance career, or…something else? You can't take this big decision lightly. But how can you know if you're ready to go pro after high school? What about at age 22, with four years of college dance classes under your belt?
When 20-year-old Austin Joson and 19-year-old Nino Dzneladze dance, they're completely, intensely connected. Whether they're doing a sharp, energetic jive or a smooth, sensual rumba, their bodies move as one. Their technique is impeccable. Their chemistry is electric. And over the past year and a half, ballroom judges all over the world have taken notice.
In many ways, 23-year-old Cassandra Naud is a typical commercial dancer on the rise. She trained in a variety of dance styles from a young age, attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy's L.A.-based College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts and hit the ground running after graduation, signing with The Movement Talent Agency (MTA) and jumping into the audition circuit. But Cassandra has something that makes her stand out from her peers: a birthmark that covers her right cheek. Cassandra opened up to Dance Spirit about how her birthmark has affected both her life and her dance career. —Kathryn Holmes