The Season's Best

Comp kids, you never cease to amaze us. Summer after summer, you come to Nationals rocking fresh looks, innovative choreography and solid technique. And 2014 didn’t disappoint: This year brought us new trends—from fashion to footwork—that we’d love to see stick around (and some we’d like to see disappear).

(Clockwise from left: DGS Photos, Courtesy Adrenaline; (2) Evolve Photography, Courtesy New York City Dance Alliance; Take2 Productions, Courtesy Showstopper; Platoon, Courtesy The Pulse On Tour; Courtesy Tremaine; Platoon, Courtesy The Pulse On Tour; Evolve Photography, Courtesy NYCDA)

Here are a few of our favorite things.

Werk: Group ballroom numbers. Who says you need an equal number of guys and girls to ride the Hot Tamale Train?

Womp: Excessive violence onstage. Please, no more mimed strangling, gunshots or screams.

True Grit

This year, we saw a departure from gank-tastic, sassy fem-hop. In its place? Female hip-hoppers who were unafraid to get down and hit hard. Ladies, you introduced us to a whole new kind of fierce.

(Clockwise from left: (2) Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe; Courtesy Break the Floor Productions; Platoon, Courtesy The Pulse On Tour; Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe; (2) Courtesy Break the Floor Productions)

Pouf Perfect

The pouf bun was the hairstyle of the season, with bumped-up bangs adding a touch of sophistication to the classic ballet bun.

(Clockwise from left: DGS Photos, Courtesy Adrenaline; (2) Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe)

Werk: ‘90s and early 2000s #Throwbacks—Michael Jackson is never out of style.

Womp: Overused songs. If you hear it Every time you turn on the radio, chances are the judges are already sick of it (and so is the audience!).

Gumbys Galore

Impossibly long hamstrings and seemingly spineless torsos are always a “do.” You all contorted your bodies into some seriously impressive (even shocking!) shapes.

(Clockwise from left: Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe; Evolve Photography, Courtesy West Coast Dance Explosion; DGS Photos, Courtesy Adrenaline; Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe; Evolve Photography, Courtesy NYCDA; Dancesnaps (DRC Video Productions), Courtesy Dance Olympus/DanceAmerica)

Daring Dives

Playing it safe is overrated! You threw yourselves across the stage, unafraid to be upside down, sideways or completely off balance.

(Clockwise from top: Evolve Photography, Courtesy NYCDA; DGS Photos, Courtesy Adrenaline; Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe; Evolve Photograhy, Courtesy NYCDA; Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe)

Werk: Polished ballet technique. We love comp queens who can work it in a pair of pointe shoes.

Womp: Wearing only one shoe---on your turning foot. (Don’t tell us you’re one-sided!)

Tantalizing Tappers

We were blown away by this year’s rhythm geniuses. Not only was your footwork on point—you also mastered the art of a polished yet relaxed upper body.

(Clockwise from left: DGS Photos, Courtesy Adrenaline; Evolve Photography, Courtesy NYCDA; Evolve Photography, Courtesy West Coast Dance Explosion; Courtesy Break the Floor Productions)

Delightfully Dapper

We loved the throwback to 1920s men’s fashion—slim-cut suits, bow ties, vests and fedoras looked suave on the ladies as well as the gents.

(Clockwise from left: John Pinette/Performance Photography, Courtesy American Dance Awards; Dancesnaps (DRC Video Productions), Courtesy Dance Olympus/DanceAmerica; (2) Platoon, Courtesy The Pulse On Tour)

Werk: Leotards with daring mesh cutouts---a tasteful update on the standard bra top and booty shorts.

Womp: Crotch Shots---If you’re going to wear a high-cut leotard with no tights, be careful where you tilt.

The Center-Split Hold

This move—where you hold a center split inches off the floor—is the perfect blend of flexibility and strength. Plus, it’s an innovative solution to that age-old conundrum: How do I get off the floor creatively?

(From top: Evolve Photography, Courtesy NYCDA; Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe; Evolve Photography, Courtesy NYCDA)

Variations on a Theme

Sure, identical costumes help keep things clean and consistent, but there’s something even more appealing about group costumes that aren’t totally uniform.

(Clockwise from left: John Pinette/Performance Photography, Courtesy American Dance Awards; DGS Photos, Courtesy Adrenaline; Evolve Photography, Courtesy NYCDA; (2) Platoon, Courtesy The Pulse On Tour; Propix, Courtesy Hollywood Vibe; Platoon, Courtesy The Pulse On Tour; Courtesy Break the Floor Productions)

Werk: Unique prop concepts that actually enhance the piece. (Snaps for no arbitrary props!)

Womp: Props that take more than 30 seconds to set up. Your dads are adorable, but the judges don’t want to watch them assemble giant props---they want to see you dance.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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