Tiler Peck in Little Dancer (photo by Matthew Karas, Courtesy The Kennedy Center)

When Statues Come to Life

You know the sculpture: A young girl in a tutu stands in an open fourth position, gazing up in awe as if she's watching a prima ballerina leap before her. But you probably don't know the story behind the sculpture—the story of ballet student Marie von Goethem, who, at age 14, became the muse of renowned artist Edgar Degas. This month, Marie's tale will come to life onstage at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center, in Little Dancer, a brand-new musical directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. None other than New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck will star as Marie. Peck is no stranger to the world of musical theater: She first played Gracie Shinn in Stroman's revival of The Music Man on Broadway at just 11 years old. Dance Spirit caught up with Peck to find out more about Little Dancer.

Dance Spirit: How does working on this show compare to your experience when you were younger?

Tiler Peck: The Music Man was such a surprise for me. I don't think I really grasped what Broadway meant. Now, being in Little Dancer means so much more. Not only am I working with Susan Stroman again, but Rebecca Luker, who was also in Music Man, is playing Marie's older self. It's like I've come full circle.

DS: What's challenging about playing a young girl?

TP: Well, it's just like doing Romeo and Juliet. No one who plays Juliet is actually her age. The key is your mannerisms and the way you hold yourself. I've also been looking at tons of Degas' works, and I've been reading as many books as possible to find out about Marie's life. She was very witty!

DS: Why should people see the show?

TP: For dancers, the show is easy to relate to because you see Marie face so many of the challenges that both young dancers and professionals go through today. And Broadway people will love the music. It's so beautiful; you just have to dance to it.

DS: What's the best part about being in Little Dancer?

TP: Marie is a starring role, and the whole show revolves around her. Getting to create the part—being the first person ever to play it—has been so special.

Taking Flight

A crumpled, torn magazine photo of a ballerina sparked a 4-year-old orphan's dream of becoming a professional dancer. That orphan was Michaela DePrince, now a rising talent at Dutch National Ballet. (You may know her from the 2011 documentary First Position.) DePrince's new memoir, Taking Flight, recounts her incredible journey from war-torn Sierra Leone to the ballet world. There are moments that will leave you in tears—yet her inspiring story (co-written with her adoptive mother, Elaine DePrince) is one you'll never forget. —Sophie Moyer

Dance Spirit spoke with DePrince about her writing process.

(Courtesy Random House Children's Books)

The events you describe early in the book are unfathomable. What was writing about them like for you?

I wrote everything in small snippets—thoughts, memories, feelings.

They were like bits of clay that I handed to my mother, who organized them and turned them into a beautiful piece of art. In a way, it was therapeutic—I was able to get all of the happenings out of my head and onto paper. But even more therapeutic was reading the final product. Although it all came from my memory, it still moved me to tears.

Why did you write Taking Flight?

I'm especially interested in reaching kids who are feeling hopeless because their life circumstances aren't ideal. I want to inspire them to grab onto a dream and find ways to make it come true.

Have you met the woman who inspired your own dream—Magali Messac, the former Pennsylvania Ballet dancer on the Dance Magazine cover you found in Sierra Leone?

I've communicated with her online, but I haven't actually met her in person. We live so far away from each other—she's in Washington State and I'm in the Netherlands! Oddly, though, without having met her, I still feel like she's not real—just the ballerina in the picture.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Right now, I'm with the Dutch National Ballet, and love everything about it. I'd like to stay here as long as possible, and I hope I'll rise through the ranks. I'd also like to start a free school for the arts in Sierra Leone. I feel deeply about the children there who lack opportunities—I want to share my good fortune with them.

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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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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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