Photo by Erin Baiano

From the moment we saw Darriel Johnakin flash a million-watt smile while nailing a textbook tilt at her Cover Model Search photo shoot this spring, we knew she'd go far in the dance world. Now, having crossed "Dance Spirit Cover Model Search winner" off her bucket list, Darriel's back to doing what she does best: logging long hours in the studio, polishing her technique, applying her teachers' corrections, and trying to be a little bit better than she was yesterday.

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.

Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."

Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?

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Quinn Wharton

It's been a crazy few years for dancer, singer, and actress Ariana DeBose. After performing in Hamilton's original cast (where she earned viral fame as The Bullet), she scored a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Disco Donna in last year's Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Now, she's set to play Anita in Steven Spielberg's remake of the iconic West Side Story movie, which starts filming this year.

DeBose's star turn is coming at a time when true triple threats have become a rarer breed on Broadway, with shows favoring dancers who dance and singers who sing. But the multifaceted DeBose has always defied categorization—and her versatility has proved to be the key to her success.

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Photo by Samantha Little

It's the fall of 2018. As the Brigham Young University Cougarettes step onto the field at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo, UT, a crowd of nearly 64 thousand erupts into cheers. The dancers take their places, and a feeling of anticipation hangs in the air: Their reputation precedes them.

The music—Ciara's banger "Level Up"—begins, and unbelievable precision ensues. Eighteen dancers attack the highly technical choreography, which nods at viral social-dance sensations and continuously builds in energy. The school's mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, joins the team on the field, and the audience goes wild. As the piece ends, the sound in the stadium is deafening. The 16-time national-title-winning group has proved once again why they're the standard for college dance team success—they're just that good.

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Photo by Nathan Sayers

Chloe Misseldine has every reason to be nervous as she and her partner run through the challenging wedding pas de deux from Don Quixote. Their performance is just days away and the two American Ballet Theatre Studio Company dancers have only had a week to prepare. Add to that the fact that ABT principal Gillian Murphy, one of the world's most famous ballerinas, is at the front of the studio taking notes.

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It started with an Instagram and a leap of faith. Lucy Vallely was only 15 when she created a post voicing her desire to choreograph solos for the 2018 competition season. "I wasn't really sure what would come of it," remembers the comp-circuit standout. Soliciting choreographic opportunities via Instagram might sound like a gamble, but it's also very much in character for this now-17-year-old from Long Beach, CA. "She thrives on risks, on breaking boundaries she's previously created for herself," says Jessie Riley, Lucy's dance teacher and the owner of Westside Dance Project in Laguna Hills, CA.

In the end, the gamble paid off. Madison Taylor, who trains at The Project @ HTX in Houston, TX, was one of many dancers who jumped at the Insta post, and after a few hours in a studio together, Lucy's first professional choreographic endeavor was born. The solo, "All of Me," was an impressive debut, filled with seamless, fluid transitions and infused with an innate sense of musicality. (It was also refreshingly free of flashy tilts and turn sequences.) "All of Me" perfectly complemented Madison's sweeping movement quality—she ended up clinching first place at Radix—and it showcased Lucy's choreographic chops.

Fast-forward nearly 12 months, and the success of "All of Me" has led to an influx of choreographic opportunities. Lucy spent this past fall state- and studio-hopping, setting dozens of solos and group dances. And as she wraps up her yearlong reign as The Dance Awards' Senior Female Best Dancer, Lucy finds herself at a unique crossroads. She's still a comp kid, yet she's also on the brink of an exciting professional career. But if there's one thing this California girl knows how to do, it's go with the flow.

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Photo by Joe Toreno

It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.

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When Hannahlei Cabanilla rolled up to her Dance Spirit cover shoot—just 36 hours after being named the "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 15 champion—she looked impossibly fresh-faced and well-rested. The Anaheim Hills, CA, native may have had "about eight blisters," as she joked, on her feet; she may barely have slept since the big win; and she may have just performed on "Live with Kelly and Ryan." But she jumped right on set, and quite literally didn't stop jumping for the next five hours. The fabulous technique, irresistible personality, and (especially) boundless energy that earned her the title of America's Favorite Dancer were all on full display.

So what was it actually like for Hannahlei to compete on the show she'd watched since she was a tiny dancer—and what's next for the now–19-year-old? Read on.

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(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.

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Photo by Erin Baiano

When we first met Sydney Burtis back in April, she already had a resumé most seasoned pros would covet, peppered with competition titles, choreography credits, and even the co-founding of a dance festival. Now, the 18-year-old can add Dance Spirit Cover Model Search winner to that impressive list of accomplishments.

As soon as Sydney laced up her lime-green tap shoes at our photo shoot, we knew we had a star on our hands. She can fuse tap and contemporary dance in a brilliant way thanks to her impressive musicality, but it's her joy that makes her a real standout. You feel it with every click of her candy-colored shoes: Dance isn't just Sydney's passion. It's her life.

These days, the CMS winner is starting the next part of her dance journey as a freshman in Pace University's commercial dance program and honors college. We chatted with the new NYC resident to find out everything that's happened since we last saw her.

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Class at the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (photo by Ema Peter, courtesy USC)

If you closed your eyes and pictured dance paradise, what would it look like? Maybe you'd start your morning in rehearsal with a renowned contemporary choreographer, and then work on a dance driven by computer programming, and then run to a music video audition, and end the day discussing the impact of African dance styles on American pop culture.

Guess what? That dance paradise isn't just a dream. It's the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, a young program that's already attracting some of the most talented dancers around—for good reason.

Click here to meet Alyssa Allen, Simrin Player, and Jake Tribus, three of USC's standout students.

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Photo by Lucas Chilczuk

Click here to get the inside scoop on the film High Strung: Free Dance!

Juliet Doherty has been at home in the studio and the spotlight since before she could walk. The 21-year-old comes from a long line of dancers: She practically grew up at the school her grandmother owned, Fishback Studio of the Dance in Albuquerque, NM, and her mom was her longtime teacher. As a young student, Doherty competed at the world's toughest ballet competitions and performed as Clara in the Radio City Christmas SpectacularRadio City Christmas Spectacular. Eventually, she left Albuquerque to train at the San Francisco Ballet School for three years, and then she danced with Phoenix Ballet for two years.

Along the way, Doherty discovered another great love: acting. In 2014, she was part of the cast of the Susan Stroman–directed musical Little Dancer (alongside Tiler Peck). And in 2017, she appeared in her first film, On Pointe—playing, naturally, an ambitious young dancer.

Now, Doherty's on the big screen again, starring as Barlow in High Strung: Free Dance. Plus, she has a new city to call home: NYC. Doherty sat down with us to talk about the film, her transition into acting, and what's next.

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Photo by Lucas Chilczuk

With several Shaping Sound tours and TV credits like "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing with the Stars," and "Boardwalk Empire" to her name, you wouldn't expect Kate Harpootlian to be refreshingly down-to-earth. But that's exactly how she is: As soon as you start talking to the gifted dancer and choreographer, it becomes clear that she doesn't take herself too seriously. And she's happy to tell hilarious stories to prove it. (Ask her about the time she did a Mr. Peanut impression when Mia Michaels asked her to improvise, or the time she starred in a Japanese makeup commercial and had to do grand pliés wearing one pointe shoe and one flat shoe.)

That mixture of humor and grace is evident in Harpootlian's growing body of choreographic work. Her one-act show Better Late Than Never, for example, which premiered last summer, has a jazzy, West Side Story vibe, offsetting heavier moments with touches of whimsy. "There's always a balance in my work," Harpootlian says. "I want to use humor to balance out the darker aspects. It's like one of my friends once said: 'You make me laugh, and then you make me feel bad for laughing.' "

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(From left) Mean Girls dancers Riza Takahashi, Ben Cook, Kamille Upshaw, Jonalyn Saxer, DeMarius R. Copes, and Stephanie Lynn Bissonnette (photos by Erin Baiano)

Get in, losers. We're going to Broadway.

OK, not losers, actually—more like the bajillion die-hard fans of Tina Fey's 2004 cult hit Mean Girls, who've been wearing pink every Wednesday since a musical adaptation of the film was first teased back in 2013.

Now their world is like a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, because Mean Girls the musical, which had a trial run in Washington, DC, last fall, is set to open at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre April 8. And in a very grool twist, it turns out the show—with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a book by Fey herself—is delightfully dancey.

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(From left) ABT's Erica Lall; NYCB's India Bradley; Washington Ballet's Nardia Boodoo; NYCB's Rachel Hutsell (all photos by Rachel Neville)

Misty Copeland. Her name is synonymous with exquisite artistry and outspoken advocacy. And her visibility has made a huge impact on the ballet world. Ballet's relationship with race has always been strained at best, hostile at worst. But Copeland's persistent message and star quality have finally forced the ballet industry to start talking about racial diversity, inclusivity, and representation. "The rarity of seeing ourselves represented is sad," Copeland says. "The more we see every hue and body shape represented on the stage, the more possibilities young dancers feel they have for themselves."

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