Simone Biles at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Photo by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

What the Dance World Can Learn From Simone Biles and Team USA

In the heat of the women's team gymnastics final, a shaken Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympic event last week to protect herself and her teammates. Her courageous decision to prioritize her health was met with overwhelming support, including from former U.S. Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug, who competed through extreme injury at the 1996 Olympic games and subsequently retired at 18 years old.

And yet, praise for Russian gymnast Artur Dalaloyan's performance in the men's team event highlighted his Achilles surgery in April and questions over whether he was healthy enough to compete.

I love that, although most of us dancers are not Olympic athletes, we treat every performance like the Olympics. But, like the Olympics, the dance world is plagued by the contradictory values of self-care and "team effort" heroism.

As dancers, we are strong-armed by the fleeting nature of a performance career. Before we're even out the door, the "team" for which we injured ourselves—our twisted badges of honor—has often already replaced us. We attempt to resist this expendability by pushing through pain and injury to nobody's detriment but our own (and, sometimes, our unfortunate dance partners). Ultimately, what we only thought was inevitable becomes inevitable by our own doing. We retire earlier than we should, and with broken bodies and spirits.

Even when verbally encouraged to take care of ourselves, our current dance culture expects us to perform at all costs. Sometimes the expectation is a white elephant, unspoken but suffocatingly present; other times, it's an off-the-record conversation that de-prioritizes a young dancer's medical expenses to, instead, focus on missing an entire home season run. Because we've been conditioned into a scarcity mindset, we dare not risk our performance opportunities or let down our castmates over a toe we can no longer feel or an ankle we feel all too much.

Like gymnastics, dance can be dangerous and requires us to be at our best. The irony of performing at all costs is that when we force ourselves to perform while injured or unwell, we are not at our best. Once, while lifting my former colleague during a performance, for example, I was so distraught from a pre-performance dressing room incident that I crashed us into the side lights and bruised her sternum.

Let me be clear that I am all for pulling through for your team. My entire career has been one gigantic team effort; I owe everything to collaboration, mutual aid and the kindness and generosity of others.

But here's the thing: The most important part of a team effort is supporting a teammate when they're down. A team effort should not be detrimental to your health (physical, mental or emotional), regardless of whether you are dispensing or receiving aid. And you should never feel shame for needing support.

Dancers are well-suited for this culture of team care. We build our careers on being adaptable! We absolutely can—and should—adapt to support each other's access and health needs, and doing so does not hurt our art, but elevate it. The U.S. women's gymnastics team supported Biles and adapted to her health needs, and they've won Olympic medals in the process.

True, this was possible because Biles advocated for herself and trusted her team, but she was also only able to do so because because, as she said in the news-conference transcript posted on NPR, she "had the correct people around [her] to do that." And this is another lesson for the dance world.

The onus of "self"-care is often easily misplaced onto the individual dancer. However, as our field continues shifting in the wake of 2020, companies can cultivate team care as a collective, rather than solely individual, responsibility.

Directors create a culture of empowerment—not scarcity—that encourages dancers to speak up, makes them feel heard and takes action on their behalf. Biles was empowered to advocate for herself because the team built a culture of trust and care. It is a "both/and" responsibility. Replicated in the dance world, the potential dividends could extend beyond self-care to other social justice issues facing our field. But if we don't allow our dancers to do what Biles did, then our love and praise for her rings hollow.

Biles and Team USA have significantly impacted the gymnastics community and made us question our values as Olympic spectators. Last week, the 24-year-old G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) may have felt "the weight of the world on [her] shoulders," but now, the weight of Biles, Team USA and their radical example are on the dance world's shoulders.

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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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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.


You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)


As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.


Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).


Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.


We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.


You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.


Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.


You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?


You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.


You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.


Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.


Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

Photo by Nick Walker, courtesy Felice Smith

Go Behind the Scenes of Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR Prom Video

What is a high school prom, if not bittersweet? If you're Olivia Rodrigo, the whole event can turn downright sour.

After releasing music videos for "drivers license," "deja vu" and "good 4 u," Rodrigo collaborated with directors Kimberly Stuckwisch and Toby L and choreographer Monika Felice Smith on SOUR Prom, a 27-minute concert film for her album SOUR. "You can look at the time it takes to prep choreography for a single music video and multiply that by at least eight," Smith says. "Then throw in 20 dancers, 15 cheerleaders, a drum line, Olivia's band and 70 background actors."

Dance Spirit spoke with Smith and dancer Genna Moroni about bringing SOUR Prom's choreography to life on film.

Prom Prep

Once Smith signed on to choreograph the concert video, the challenge of creating movement for a long video with a large cast became clear. "My prep time was a lot longer and took infinitely more brainpower," Smith says.

She enlisted two assistant choreographers (Jen Apter and Leah LaGrange), and reached out to trusted dancers to join the project. One was Moroni, who had previously worked with Smith on a music video for Sam Fischer.

"It was quite intense, with a really quick turnaround," Moroni says. She learned about the project on a Friday. It was cast that weekend, and by the next Tuesday, all the dancers were deep into two days of hours-long rehearsals. The dancers were split into two casts, one for the indoor gymnasium scenes and the rest for the outdoor football-field scenes. After the dancers learned and rehearsed the choreography, Rodrigo joined the rehearsal and learned her blocking in each number.

Moroni appeared in the indoor scenes, including "brutal," "traitor" and "jealousy, jealousy." "It was so much information, and we only had a little bit of time to let it settle in our bodies before we had to show up and be super-professional on the day of the shoot," Moroni says.

A Night to Remember

"All of the pieces not only had to stand strong on their own, but also flow together as one," Smith says. "The cohesive story amongst the tracks encouraged me to create interrelatedness within the movement."

From the start, Smith says she was inspired by the idea of opposing the "traditional" high school prom. "I wanted to illustrate Olivia's desire for a strange waltz, and finding the beauty in the bizarre," Smith says. Her movement combined a fusion of her technical background: contemporary, ballet and jazz sprinkled with jazz funk and hip-hop elements. "Unless it's a requirement, there's no reason to give yourself choreographic parameters within a particular style," she says. "If you don't have to make the rules, you don't have to follow any, either."

The world of SOUR Prom fully crystallized once the cast entered the set. Moroni, who attended a performing arts high school and did not experience a normal prom, was slightly dazzled. "I kept asking people, 'Is this really what it feels like when you're in a normal high school?' It was fun to live that reality for a while."

And despite the tight shooting schedule, the fun on set continued. "Energetically, it was so much more fun than a regular music video because the dancers were on for longer than we were off," Moroni says. "The numbers were created to feel alive and continuous. I got to see what it feels like to perform more live-concert–style work."

Crowning the Prom Queen

The film's finale, which was shot on the University of Southern California's football field, was perhaps the trickiest number for Smith to nail. The choreography for "good 4 u" involved Olivia, her band, USC's drum line, and a cast of dancers and cheerleaders.

"I constantly went over the pathways in my head, especially when heading into the giant circles surrounding Olivia for the overhead drone shots," Smith says. "Thankfully, no one collided, and it all worked seamlessly. Olivia's reaction was 'I'm obsessed,' and I was finally able to exhale."

"This was a true result of teamwork," she says. "Without everyone running together, hands held tightly toward the finish line, we would have never gotten it done." Their teamwork paid off—the video has been viewed over 13 million times since its premiere on June 29, 2021.

"The biggest reward as an artist is to grow and level up with not only good people, but also those you care for," Smith says. "SOUR Prom was truly a gift from start to finish, getting to create such a powerful piece in pop culture and with such a genuinely driven and talented artist like Olivia."

Rodrigo's reaction after seeing the full cast of "Good 4 U" perform the number for the first time

Photo by Nick Walker, courtesy Felice Smith

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