Courtesy NBC

EXCLUSIVE: Ballet Phenoms Avery & Marcus on the Hardest Part of Performing on "World of Dance"

Avery Gay and Marcus Sarjeant are the contemporary ballet bosses everyone's talking about. Their daring performance on "World of Dance" last week made for a surprising turn of events, knocking previous Junior Champion Eva Igo out of the competition. Not only are Avery & Marcus the only ballet act on the show to feature pointe work, but they're also hoping their crowd-pleasing approach to the art will change the way ballet is perceived by the public, making it more mainstream than ever before. Find out how these two got ready for their run on one of America's hottest dance shows—while living in different states.


How did you prep for "WOD"?

Marcus: I live in California, and Avery lives in Arizona, so we didn't have a lot of time to rehearse because on top of coordinating our schedules we had to deal with the added expense of traveling. We had about six months leading up to the show, and we'd have long, exhausting sessions with our choreographer Josie Walsh. She taught us to use visualization exercises so that when we were apart we could still rehearse by imagining the dance routines. It was extremely helpful.

What did it feel like beating Eva Igo?

M: It was intimidating to go up against her—not just because she's talented, but also because the show and its fans love her. But it forced us to push even harder for a great performance. Ultimately, going against Eva brought out the absolute best in both of us.

What's been your favorite part about being on "WOD"?

Avery: I've loved meeting the other contestants from all over the world and starting new friendships. "WOD" also gives you a peek into the life of a professional dancer and It's pretty special to dance for Derek, J.Lo, and NE-YO!

What is been most challenging about performing on "WOD"?

A: Having to polish our routines in such a short time was difficult. We had to trust each other and our choreographer to stay confident. Also, we were the first couple to dance on pointe on the digital, plexiglass "WOD" stage. They offered to cover it with a marley surface, but we didn't want to compromise the projections from the floor. So we essentially had to retrain our bodies to compensate for the unfamiliar surfaces. But that stage is state-of-the-art amazing, so it was worth the effort!

Dancing onstage is very different from dancing on TV. What do you do differently when you're performing for the camera in addition to a live audience?

M: We've both been trained to dance for live audiences, so we're used to looking out into a sea of people and feeling their reactions to our performance. But we had to learn how to dance for TV. We had to know where the cameras were at all times, for our safety and so the cameramen could get the shot they wanted. Sometimes we had to tweak our choreography so the lines would be pleasing to TV audiences.

Watch More of Avery & Marcus on "WOD"


How do you present ballet in a way that's appealing to a mainstream audience without compromising on technique or artistry?

M: Josie Walsh is extremely talented at choreographing contemporary ballet fusion. She combined ballet with b-boy touches, crazy lifts, and movements you don't typically see in contemporary ballet. At times it's difficult to stay true to our technique while pulling off some of our daredevil stunts. But we try to keep our performance engaging while maintaining the integrity of the art.

What do you hope people new to ballet will take away from your performances?

A: We hope people see the excitement, diversity, and athleticism that ballet dancers bring. Ballet isn't just Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. We want to encourage young kids to go to ballet class because it's cool , and to show ballet dancers in a different light.

Who's your dance role model?

A: I'm inspired by Josie Walsh and Stacey Tookey. They're very different choreographers, but they're both very Zen-like. They've taken the time to get to know me and teach me what they've learned in their careers—specifically, how to love yourself in a world where you're constantly critiqued. My classical ballet dance role model would be my ballet teacher, Olga Tarrasova. She's taught me not to try to emulate the famous ballerinas, but instead to dance like Avery Gay, and develop my own style with strong technique.

M: I have so many dance role models for different reasons. Sometimes it's their choreography or their style of teaching, sometimes it's their inspiring nature or creativity. Four people I really look up to are Chaz Buzan, Billy Bell, Josie Walsh, and Jackie Sleight. I love Chaz and Billy's movement, and Josie and Jackie are great teachers—always upbeat and encouraging.

What's next for you as a dancer?

A: Lots of training! I just turned 14 and I have so much ambition for the future, but one thing is constant: I want to be a professional dancer. I always thought I'd finish my training at a high-profile ballet institution, but recently I've become interested in the USC Gloria Kaufman School of Dance. Once I become a pro, I'd like to be able to have the flexibility to perform contemporary ballet and classical ballet in a concert setting. Who knows, maybe I'll even start my own company.

M: I'll be attending the Conservatory of Dance at State University of New York (SUNY) Purchase College in the fall. After college, I hope to join a company such as Nederlands Dans Theater or Batsheva Dance Company. I want to move between the concert and commercial dance worlds.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: I would tell myself to learn how to properly warm up before dancing full out on the dance floor to prevent unwanted injuries.

M: I would advise myself to start earlier—I didn't start dancing until about 12 years old and always felt like I was trying to catch up.

Latest Posts


Photo by Lindsay Thomas

Ashton Edwards Is Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Ballet

When Ashton Edwards was 3 years old, the Edwards family went to see a holiday production of The Nutcracker in their hometown, Flint, MI.

For the young child, it was love at first sight.

"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

Ashton has dedicated 14 years of ballet training in pursuit of that childhood dream. But all the technical prowess in the world can't help Ashton surmount the biggest hurdle—this aspiring dancer was assigned male at birth, and for the vast majority of boys and men, performing in pointe shoes hasn't been a career option. But Ashton Edwards, who uses the pronouns "he" and "they," says it's high time to break down ballet's gender barrier, and their teachers and mentors believe this passionate dancer is just the person to lead the charge.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo Courtesy of Apple TV+

All the Hollywood and Broadway Musical Moments to Look for in “Schmigadoon!”

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of about two dozen dancers got the rare opportunity to work on an upcoming Apple TV+ series—one devoted entirely to celebrating, and spoofing, classic 1940s and '50s musicals from the Great White Way and Hollywood. "Schmigadoon!", which premiered on AppleTV+ July 16, stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, who get stuck inside a musical and must find true love in order to leave. The show features a star-studded Broadway cast, including Aaron Tveit, Ariana DeBose, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Jane Krakowski and Dove Cameron, and is chock-full of dancing courtesy of series choreographer, Christopher Gattelli.

"The adrenaline was pretty exciting, being able to create during the pandemic," says Gattelli. "I felt like we were representing all performers at that point. There were so many who wanted to be working during the pandemic, so I really tried to embrace this opportunity for all of them."

Gattelli says it was a dream come true to pay tribute to the dance geniuses that preceded him, like Michael Kidd, Agnes de Mille, Onna White and Jerome Robbins, in his choreography. Each number shows off a "little dusting" of their work.

Dance Spirit spoke with Gattelli about all the triumphs and tribulations of choreographing in a pandemic, and got an inside look at specific homages to look out for.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Shouldering the Load: What kind of dance bag should dancers use?

Walk into any dance convention, audition or class, and you'll see a vast variety of dance bags lining the walls. But can the style of bag you use (and how you wear it) have an impact on your dancing?

Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.

Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search