Twenty-two-year-old dancer and choreographer Easton Payne is an artist's artist: His movement is profoundly empathic, wholly original, and endlessly creative. That unique voice was honed through training at the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education and Dance Town in Doral, FL. Payne now choreographs for studios across the country, though you're probably most familiar with his work for Molly Long's Project 21. Read on to find out how he keeps making movement that's like nothing we've seen before. —Helen Rolfe
Picture this: You peek into a studio and see 10 different duets happening simultaneously. Some pairs move through a lift, while others roll swiftly across the floor. Everyone appears to be making it up as they go, yet the partnering is seamless. What the heck is happening? It's contact improvisation!
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?
In our "Dear Katie" series, Miami City Ballet soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com for a chance to be featured!
I've reached a point where it's clear that my body isn't designed for ballet. Realizing that broke my heart, because dancing with a classical ballet company was always my dream. Some of my teachers have said that I should audition for contemporary groups, but I feel like that would be weird—I've barely studied contemporary dance, and I don't love it. Should I quit dance? Or should I go down a path I'm not 100 percent passionate about?
Camille A. Brown dancer Maleek Washington captivates audiences with his super-fluid, intricate contemporary moves and adept musicality. His exceptional technique and presence have also landed him gigs with artists including Sia and Rihanna. An NYC native, Washington grew up in the Bronx and trained at the Harlem School of the Arts, Broadway Dance Center, and LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts. He attended The Boston Conservatory on a full scholarship before accepting a job with CityDance Ensemble in Washington, DC. He's also worked with Kyle Abraham and his company Abraham.In.Motion. for four seasons, and became the first African-American male to perform in Sleep No More. Most recently, Washington performed in NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar" live. Catch him dancing with the Camille A. Brown company this month at The Joyce Theater in NYC and at University of Arizona in Tucson—and read on for The Dirt!
When we asked what her proudest accomplishment so far is, Kiarra Waidelich paused for a moment. That's because she has so many to choose from: In the past two years, Kiarra's earned Mini and Junior Female Best Dancer at The Dance Awards, snagged Youth America Grand Prix's Hope Award, and made it to the divisional finals on Season 2 of "World of Dance." Equally gifted in ballet ("I love the mental and physical challenge") and contemporary, it's the latter that made Kiarra realize dance was her passion. "If something bad or stressful happens in my day, I use contemporary as a way to express and release what I'm feeling," she says. "Dance is a way for me to emote and let things go."
If you think you know this classic holiday bop, prepare to think again.
In February 2016, "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" released a casting call for dancers ages 8 to 12. Determined to make it onto the show, then–10-year-old Emma Hellenkamp prepared a jazz solo for the L.A. audition. The next part of her story may come as a surprise to fans of the series: She didn't make the cut. But Emma's competition background meant she was well-versed in several dance styles, so she opted to audition again in Chicago—this time with a tap solo. And the rest is history: Emma not only made it onto the show, but also progressed all the way to the final four.
"SYTYCD: The Next Generation" is part of a larger trend of dance-competition TV embracing younger dancers, with shows including "World of Dance" and the upcoming "Dancing with the Stars Junior" following suit. And like Emma, many of the dance kids trying out their skills on these shows come from the competition-and-convention circuit. What is it about these two worlds that smooths the transition from one to the other?
With several Shaping Sound tours and TV credits like "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing with the Stars," and "Boardwalk Empire" to her name, you wouldn't expect Kate Harpootlian to be refreshingly down-to-earth. But that's exactly how she is: As soon as you start talking to the gifted dancer and choreographer, it becomes clear that she doesn't take herself too seriously. And she's happy to tell hilarious stories to prove it. (Ask her about the time she did a Mr. Peanut impression when Mia Michaels asked her to improvise, or the time she starred in a Japanese makeup commercial and had to do grand pliés wearing one pointe shoe and one flat shoe.)
That mixture of humor and grace is evident in Harpootlian's growing body of choreographic work. Her one-act show Better Late Than Never, for example, which premiered last summer, has a jazzy, West Side Story vibe, offsetting heavier moments with touches of whimsy. "There's always a balance in my work," Harpootlian says. "I want to use humor to balance out the darker aspects. It's like one of my friends once said: 'You make me laugh, and then you make me feel bad for laughing.' "
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In need of a little audition-spiration? Whether you're preparing to try out for the show or are just looking to get into the "SYTYCD" mood, here are 8 phenomenal past auditions we're still obsessing over.
Your best audition look is all in the details: Add (literal) texture to the audition combo with edgy cutouts, luxurious trim, and shimmery accents.
Modeled by Kirsten Coco, Zuri Ford, Imani Moss, and Riana Pellicane-Hart, who are students in the department of dance at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Photos by Erin Baiano
Take a good look at Skyler Semien, because she's an up-and-coming commercial dancer who's primed to take Hollywood by storm. A freshman at Georgia State University, the former competition kid has already appeared in her first feature film, Pitch Perfect 3, and has two more movies in the works.
How did this dancer end up in one of the biggest films of the year? Semien says it started with her dance training. Studying everything from ballet to contemporary, Semien started competing when she was only 6 years old. But in high school, she realized hip hop was her ticket to the commercial world, and decided to shift her focus. Soon, she'd signed with Bloc talent agency, and as a senior in high school, she was cast as one of the "new Bellas" in Pitch Perfect 3.
Though Semien's found success in show biz, don't expect her to drop everything and move to Hollywood. The multi-talented dancer is keeping her options open as she concentrates on getting her education. "Dancers are no longer just dancers; they're entrepreneurs, creative directors, musicians and actors," she says. And she believes education will breed the skills she needs to pursue those kind of opportunities.
We chatted with Semien about why she thinks so many dancers are pursuing additional careers beyond the dance world.
Dance Spirit is beyond excited to announce the first round of 2017 Future Star winners! Every year, DS partners with competitions to recognize dancers with exceptional presence and ability. The second round of winners will be featured in our January issue, so stay tuned!