This was the most movement Baryshnikov did onstage, but I was pretty much in awe. (Courtesy Northwestern University)
Over the weekend, I traveled to Chicago to see my sister graduate from Northwestern University (Congratulations, Danielle!). And, while I was very proud to see her walk across the stage to claim her diploma, I have to admit, I was most excited by the commencement speaker—the one-and-only Mikhail Baryshnikov.
While he referred to himself as “that old guy from ‘Sex and the City,’” we all know he is much, much more than that. A former dancer with the Kirov Ballet, New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre (where he became artistic director), Misha, as he’s affectionately nicknamed, is recognized as one of the greatest ballet dancers in history. Naturally, I was hanging on his every (heavily accented) word. Here are a few takeaways from his speech:
“A few weeks ago, in the NYC subway, a poster said, ‘Are you a better person today than you were yesterday?’ The only wisdom I can offer is related to the arts, because the arts have made me, in my opinion, a better person.
“Figure out what pushes you. If it isn't the arts, what is it? The key is that it excites you, and challenges you. What issues make you willing to go beyond yourself?
"Once you figure out what you will do with your life, and eventually you will, work hard at it. But remember, you don't have to be brilliant 24/7. Leave yourself time to pause and think, Am I doing something today that will make me better tomorrow? Working to be better is not the same as being the best. Best is something someone else decides. Better is more personal. It's a process. And in my opinion, better is better than best."
Here's to being better tomorrow than we were today. Thanks, Misha!
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.
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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?
There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "