For Harvard grad and professional ballerina, Liz Walker, school and dance were always separate. In high school, she studied at a private, all-girls school by day and trained at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School by night. At the same time she was auditioning for professional companies, she was applying to colleges. But when the time came to decide between her education and her dance career, Walker struggled to figure out what path was her own. Eventually choosing to go back and forth between Los Angeles Ballet, freelance work, and Harvard University, Walker graduated with a degree in the history of art and architecture after four years in 2011—and rose to soloist rank in just eight seasons. Here, she tells her story and explains her decision to do both. —Sophie Robertson
Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis' dancing is the perfect pairing of ethereal grace and punchy musicality. The Torrance, CA, native began training at South Bay Ballet at age 6, and attended the School of American Ballet summer program in 1998. In 2001, she was accepted into American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, and the following year, she joined ABT's corps de ballet. In 2007, she became a founding member of Corella Ballet Castilla y León in Spain, under the direction of Angel Corella. Three years later, she headed back to the States and danced with Sarasota Ballet before joining Boston Ballet as a second soloist in 2011. In 2013, she was promoted to principal dancer. Catch her performing this season in the company's Nutcracker. —Courtney Bowers
Two dancers from different studios on opposite ends of the country meeting at a dance competition may sound like the formula for a cheesy teen-rivalry movie. But it's actually real life for lots of dancers on the comp circuit. Meet four sets of adorable BFFs who found winning friendships at a competition.
Amanda LaCount was born to move. The second the music comes on at her Dance Spirit cover shoot, the bubbly 17-year-old is shimmying her shoulders and tossing her hair. When she launches into a full-out freestyle to Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay," you can't take your eyes off her.
And yet with every gig she lands, Amanda is challenging some of the dance world's longest-held biases. "I'm curvy," she says, "and I like being curvy. My body is not a bad thing. It's who I am." Here's how Amanda went from talented tot to hardworking pro—and from insecure preteen to body-positive role model.
Dyllan Blackburn's sweet, low-key personality means she might initially fly under the radar—but once she's onstage, she's undeniably a star. With spectacular control and versatility that would put a chameleon to shame, Dyllan's bound to accomplish her dreams of "touring with famous people, and maybe becoming a choreographer." For now, though, she's plenty busy winning national titles at The Dance Awards and Radix, plus performing as part of the Beat Squad at DancerPalooza.
The best advice I ever received was when Tessandra Chavez told me to just enjoy the process, and not focus my energy on being competitive with others. —Dyllan Blackburn
Kim Smith has been a dancer for most of her life. And now, she wants to make sure that anyone who wants to dance, can. Her program A Chance To Dance offers differently abled children the opportunity to express themselves through dance. "Dance is one of the most beautiful forms of communication and these children and teens need to be able communicate without having to use words," Smith told Dance Spirit. Three years after creating this inclusive dance program, Smith's students aren't just communicating, they're competing. The program has grown to include Senior, Junior, and Mini comp teams—A Chance To Dance students even competed at Worlds, placing in the top 10. But for Smith, it's not about the titles or the awards. "I'm all about breaking down barriers," Smith says. Read our interview with Smith below to find out how A Chance To Dance is further redefining dance culture norms.
Hoofer Warren Craft mesmerizes audiences with his sophisticated musicality and idiosyncratic style. He started dancing at age 8 in Poughkeepsie, NY, and later took private lessons with Ayodele Casel in NYC. He went on to study at the American Tap Dance Foundation, the School of American Ballet, and The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. These days, you can see the multifaceted talent onstage with Michelle Dorrance's Dorrance Dance. In keeping with his ever-unconventional approach to his art, Craft wrote a poem to his younger self in lieu of a letter. —Courtney Bowers
San Francisco Ballet soloist Lauren Strongin's classic grace and powerful acting skills captivate audiences. The Los Gatos, CA, native trained at the Kirov Academy of Ballet and the John Cranko School before joining Houston Ballet in 2009. In 2015, she came to SFB as a soloist and has since danced principal roles in ballets including Giselle, Swan Lake, "Rubies," and Onegin. This month, catch her performing with SFB in New York City Center's Balanchine: The City Center Years program. —Courtney Bowers
A full-time university isn't your only option for earning a degree. Enrolling in college part-time while pursuing a pro career is a challenge well worth the rewards.
It's the most wonderful time of year for fashion and fierce fall fashion/dance collabs are all over the place. But we had to pick our jaws up off of the floor after watching the new dancetastic Marc Fisher LTD footwear commercials. The shoe brand created one of the most compelling ads we've seen thanks to the fancy footwork of six dancers and the choreography of "So You Think You Can Dance" alum Ellenore Scott. We talked with the multi-talented artist to find out how choreographing for a fashion commercial compares to creating routines for live shows on Broadway, like King Kong (which opens Nov. 8th). Check out our interview where Scott shares tips on what you can do to also become a choreographer in the biz one day.
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Making future college plans can seem daunting. What is life as a dance major really going to be like? Catie Robinson, a sophomore at California State University, Fullerton, gave us an inside peek at her life on campus. Originally from Round Rock, TX, Robinson trained in a variety of styles growing up, including ballet, jazz, tap, and contemporary, and is now studying both dance and communications. See how she balances dance, academics, and a social life. —Courtney Bowers
College-bound dancers sometimes feel as though a dance degree is the only path to professional success. But while majoring in dance can be a great option, it's certainly not the only one. College should be a time of self-discovery, which often means exploring a variety of academic interests. We spoke with five artists who chose college majors completely outside the dance world—without sacrificing their postgrad careers.
For many dancers, having a good luck charm stowed in a dressing room or dance bag feels like the key to a successful audition or show. We asked nine pros to share the goofy/sentimental/magical objects that they believe can make the difference between the performance of a lifetime and, well, actually breaking a leg.
Commercial dancer Justine Lutz's raw, emotional contemporary performances have helped her take the L.A. scene by storm. Lutz started dancing at the age of 3 in her hometown of Plymouth, MN. Later, she attended Loyola Marymount University and worked as an assistant for The PULSE On Tour before moving to L.A. in 2013. Since then, she's performed on TV shows, including "Glee," "Liv & Maddie," and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and has worked with loads of music industry greats, including Taylor Swift, Kesha, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, and P!nk. Read on for The Dirt!
The multitalented Galen Hooks has solidified herself as an L.A. icon, thanks to her fierce moves and detailed, versatile choreography. As a teen, the L.A. native assisted choreographer Marguerite Derricks on movies including Donnie Darko and shows like "That '70s Show." Hooks graduated from Penn State University and has worked with artists including Janet Jackson, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Usher, and Miley Cyrus. These days, you might also recognize her from her viral videos—she's had over 60 million views across her social media pages. —Courtney Bowers
Pam Tanowitz's dances are a lot like diamonds: They dazzle with compositional brilliance, reveal even more facets when you look closer, and are the products of an unusually intense creative force. Growing up in The Bronx, NY, Tanowitz trained at the Steffi Nossen School of Dance before getting a BFA from Ohio State University and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. A two-time Bessie Award winner, she's earned countless fellowships and sets work on companies and universities across the country. Here's where she finds inspiration. —Helen Rolfe