Photo by Nathan Sayers

2021 Cover Model Search Finalist Kayla Mak

Voting has now closed.

Contemporary-ballet virtuoso Kayla Mak is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of fun. With her bubbly personality and go-with-the-flow mentality, you almost wouldn't believe the 18-year-old has already racked up a dance resumé that rivals those of most professionals. When Mak takes the stage, however, her crisp lines, confidence and control make it clear: This girl has put in some serious work.

Kayla Mak stands en pointe on her left leg with her right leg in a battement to the side (near her face.) Her left arm us up, and her right arm is holding her leg. Photo by Nathan Sayers

Growing up in Rye Brook, NY, Kayla had a potential that her teachers at Westchester Academy immediately recognized. "From 4 years old, she stood out as so incredibly focused that I knew we had to give this child every opportunity we could," says Grace Buckley, one of Mak's teachers and dance mentors. Accolades soon confirmed Mak's star potential, including the title of National Mini Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance in 2012 (which she later brought full-circle, winning National Senior Outstanding Dancer this past summer), and being cast as Clara in the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes from 2011 to 2013. But the role that really put Mak on the map was her appearance on Season 3 of NBC's "World of Dance," where she made it all the way to divisional finals and toured with the series after it aired. "Never in a million years did I imagine dancing on national television," Mak shares. "But because of that experience, younger kids will come up to me at competitions and tell me I'm a role model for them. And that's one of my biggest goals: inspiring the next generation, especially as a minority, because I didn't see many dancers onstage that looked like me growing up." (Mak is of Chinese, Japanese and Cuban descent.)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mak did what she's always done: worked hard, pursued every opportunity and rolled with the punches. She enlisted her dad to build a makeshift dance floor in her basement, and took online classes from Ballet Academy East (where she was training pre-pandemic), enrolled in virtual summer intensives with Arts Umbrella, San Francisco Ballet and Professional Dance Institute, and, later that year, filmed dozens of college auditions. "Dancing on camera is so different from going to a live college audition. I spent a lot of time stressing out about my applications."

Kayla Mak stands with her right foot en pointe, and her left leg in attitude (near her head.) Her right arm is up and her left arm is to the side. Her head is tilted to the sky. Photo by Nathan Sayers

Her work clearly paid off. Now, as a dance student in her freshman year at Juilliard, the question of Mak's future success in dance is not if, but where. "With Kayla's level of talent and professionalism, her biggest challenge will be to stay true to herself, and decide which opportunities to pursue that will make her the happiest," Buckley says. Right now, Mak's keeping her options open. "I know I want to be in a company with some kind of combination of ballet and contemporary, like Complexions," she says. "But I'm always discovering new dancers and companies in other countries on Instagram, and that adds to the possibilities."

No matter what Mak's future holds, as long as dance remains at the center, she says, she'll continue to be one very happy human. "It might be cheesy, but to me, dance is life," she says, laughing. "Nothing can replace how free and grateful I feel when I'm dancing."

"Kayla has an incredible combination of natural talent and discipline, and she takes direction exceptionally well. She's such a powerful performer, but offstage she's also one of the humblest and most gracious kids I've worked with. I have no doubt she'll be able to accomplish anything she puts her mind to on her dance journey." — Grace Buckley

Kayla Mak does a suete with her arms crossed in front of her.

Photo by Nathan Sayers

Fast Facts on Kayla

Birthday: February 11, 2003

Dance inspiration: Misty Copeland

Favorite food: Spaghetti Bolognese or french fries

Non-dance hobbies: Skateboarding, baking, football

Advice for other dancers: "Take every opportunity you can."

Dance strength: "I would say my fluidity. I love to noodle!"

Correction she gets most often: "My hyperextended arms! Growing up, I really had to work on placing my arms correctly in second position."

Kayla is one of three cover model search finalists—learn more about the other finalists here!

Latest Posts

Photo by Jayme Thornton

How Paloma Garcia-Lee Manifested Her Dream Role, in Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story"

On a rainy day in November 2018, Paloma Garcia-Lee got a call from her agent that brought her to her knees outside her New York City apartment: She was going to play Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The call came after a lengthy audition process with Spielberg in the room, and the role, originated by Wilma Curley on Broadway in 1957 and later portrayed by Gina Trikonis in the 1961 film, was her biggest dream. In fact, it's something Garcia-Lee says she manifested from the day plans for the movie were announced in January 2018. "I wrote in my journal: 'I am playing Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.'"

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by @mediabyZ

Am I Less Committed to Dance Because I Have Other Passions? (Spoiler Alert: NO!)

Let's face it—dance is HARD, and in order to achieve your goals, you need to be committed to your training. "Still, there's a fine line between being committed and being consumed." Dancers can, and should, have interests outside of the studio.

Not convinced? We talked with dance psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements and two multifaceted dancers, Kristen Harlow (a musical theater dancer pursuing a career in NYC and Kentucky) and Kallie Takahashi (a dancer in her final year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), and got the inside scoop on how having hobbies outside of dance can inform your artistry, expand your range and help prevent burnout.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo courtesy of Brittany Conigatti

Go Behind the Scenes of Annie Live! With Brittany Conigatti

Unwrap your candy canes, pour the hot chocolate and round up your fellow theater lovers: NBC is kicking off the Christmas season with its latest live-broadcast TV musical. Annie Live! premieres December 2 and features a star-studded cast, including Harry Connick Jr., Tituss Burgess, Megan Hilty and, as the title character, young phenom Celina Smith.

Luckily, people got a taste of what the special will entail when the cast kicked off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a performance last week. But since you’re never fully dressed without a Dance Spirit exclusive, we caught up with Brittany Conigatti, one of the young orphans and adult ensemble members in the show, to learn what it was like putting together a large-scale live production for the small screen.

The cast of Annie Live! poses for a group photo. The cast of Annie Live!Photo courtesy of Conigatti

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search