Focus on Freelance: Meet Leah

Hello! My name is Leah and I’m a dancer living in NYC. For the past eight years, I’ve performed for pop stars, on film and TV, in ballets, on tour, and with shows nationally and abroad. Now, I’m taking on a second passion: writing. I’ve just begun an internship at Dance Spirit and I’m so excited to be here!

I’ll be working with DS for the spring semester, and chronicling my life as a professional dancer in a weekly blog. I’ll fill you in on my work, and discuss some of the joys and struggles that come with being a freelance dancer.

I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI, studying Russian classical ballet in the Vaganova style at CAS Ballet School, and performing with the Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre. When I was very young, I saw my grandparents waltzing in their living room and begged my mom to let me take lessons.  I must have thought they were doing ballet because that’s what I asked for.

I studied at CAS for more than a decade. Every year, my friend Emily and I raced up the studio steps, hearts pounding, to see the paper on the wall, posting the roles for our annual Nutcracker. When I finally saw “Clara” by my name, I felt my Michigan chapter was complete. 

Months later, with a scholarship to study at Joffrey Ballet School, I moved to NYC. At the time, my ultimate goal was to join a ballet company, but Manhattan has a way of unveiling dreams you’ve never considered. At Joffrey, I auditioned to perform a modern piece in one of our workshops. The choreographer had danced in The Lion King on Broadway, and came in to set the modern piece on us. I had more fun, and grew more while working on that number than I had while working on any of the ballet excerpts in the workshop. I realized that the city offers a huge variety of dance genres, and I grew anxious to absorb them all.

A year later, I left Joffrey to start an internship at Broadway Dance Center. Aside from one summer intensive at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during high school, I’d never trained outside of ballet, so I knew I had a lot to learn. The next year I auditioned for my agent and started freelancing.

They say it takes ten years in the city before you can call yourself a “New Yorker.” If that’s the case, then I’ll shout it from my stoop in August! I have lived in just about every borough, and each block has its own history and sub-culture. Right now, I’m living in Brooklyn, where more and more dance companies are making their homes. At the end of the day, I love having an escape from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, while still being surrounded by such diversity in the arts. When I need inspiration, I watch shows at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and go to the exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum. When I don’t want to take the long subway ride to Manhattan, I take classes at the Mark Morris Dance Center.

It’s difficult to be bored in NYC, but cheap and easy it is not. We all start from different places and find our own routes to where we hope to be. Mine is just one of many ventures. I’m looking forward to sharing my story with you, as I experience the grit and glory of dancing in this incredible city.

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