Dancer to Dancer
Makeda Crayton as the African Queen in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity (Eric Jamison, courtesy Zumanity)

For dancers who've spent their lives in pink tights, signing a big ballet company contract can seem like the be-all-end-all goal. But ballet-trained dancers aren't one-trick ponies, and many end up leading successful dance careers outside the ballet world. Before you say “ballet or no way," get inspired by dancers who traded in their pointe shoes for something a little different.

Makeda Crayton, Soloist in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity

I trained under former Dance Theatre of Harlem principal Homer Hans Bryant, and always dreamed of following in his footsteps. But when DTH went on hiatus in 2004, I decided to look for other jobs, and I ended up finding my dance home at Cirque du Soleil.

I love Cirque's storytelling aspect. It reminds me of performing story ballets, but you're given a lot more freedom to develop your character. Right now, I play the African Queen in Zumanity—I have a solo that opens the whole show. It's up to me to pull the audience into our world, and I'm constantly reinventing my character to find new ways to connect. I still do a floor barre before every performance, and I'm thankful for my ballet training. The show's acrobats are always shocked at how quickly I can pick up movement. Before DTH reopened in 2013, I was invited to take class with its traveling repertory ensemble. While it reminded me how much I missed ballet, I realized my path as a dancer had changed. I love what I do.

Brandon Leffler in costume for "On the Town" (Monica Simoes, courtesy Leffler)

Brandon Leffler, dancer in Trip of Love, off-Broadway

I was on The Performing Arts Center in L.A.'s commercial track when I first fell in love with ballet. The school's director helped me switch around my schedule so I could do a classical concentration, and I ended up booking a job with Ballet Austin II after attending the company's summer program.

I spent a year there, and it was an amazing experience. Ballet Austin is a small company, so we got to dance in the corps for larger ballets. Once

I got used to the day-to-day rigor of ballet company life, though, I realized I needed a bit more freedom. That's when I set my sights on Broadway. I moved to NYC to take a job with Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, and began auditioning for musical theater jobs. About a year later, I booked a national tour of Cats, and haven't looked back since.

The greatest gift ballet gave me is my solid technical base. In musical theater, you're doing the same movement eight times a week. Unless you're using your body properly—and ballet teaches you how to do that—you're going to get injured.

Wada as a member of Sidra Bell Dance (David Flores, courtesy Sidra Bell Dance)

Madison Wada, Sidra Bell Dance New York

Growing up in the small town of Lancaster, CA, I studied many styles at a local studio, but I fell in love with ballet. I looked up to ballerinas like princesses. When I decided ballet was my dream, my mom started driving me an hour each way every day to train at Los Angeles Ballet Academy. It was a rigorous school, with graded exams at every level. But after spending a summer at Alonzo King LINES Ballet post-graduation, I decided I wanted to go in a more contemporary direction. As much as I loved classical dance, I knew even if I gave 125 percent, I still probably wouldn't make it—I just don't have the feet or the stature. When I started to explore contemporary dance, first at LINES and then with Sidra, I began to appreciate the value of my movement quality, beyond the height of my leg or the number of pirouettes I could do.

Usborne in her bunhead days (Patrick Baldwin, courtesy Usborne)

Georgia Usborne, Gallim Dance

My second-year ballet teacher at Central School of Ballet in London told me I didn't have the facility to join a company—and that I needed to learn to maximize what I had. Ballet was my passion, but with the limitations of my body, I knew classical technique would always be a struggle. I ended up spending three years at Bern Ballet in Switzerland, which has a more contemporary repertoire and allowed me to further explore that kind of movement. I had to break down a lot of mental walls to find my artistic voice, and taking Gaga class in Bern helped me find that freedom of expression. Now, at Gallim, I've found the perfect balance of ballet and Gaga.

Prominski backstage at "Dirty Dancing" (courtesy Prominski)

Katelyn Prominski, Broadway dancer

I started off on a pretty successful ballet track: I trained at San Francisco Ballet, toured with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, spent four years in the Boston Ballet corps and then joined Pennsylvania Ballet. Shortly after moving to Philadelphia, I got very sick. I didn't know what was happening to my body—ballet became miserable. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and decided to retire.

My boyfriend at the time (now my fiancé) was touring with Billy Elliot, and as I started to get better, I realized musical theater could be a great way for me to return to performing, because it's a slightly less grueling, more flexible environment than the ballet world. I just finished touring with Dirty Dancing, where I used my ballet training every day. Broadway choreographers love ballerinas—they know I'm going to give them a six-o'clock penché, sky-high leaps and can-can kicks to my face.

Emnace in her ballet days (Oliver Endahl, courtesy Emnace)

Ariana Emnace, Commercial dancer

I trained intensively in ballet, going to summer programs at San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre and competing at Youth America Grand Prix. ABT was always my dream. I was fixated on joining a ballet company and becoming a principal—it's what I thought I deserved after training so hard.

When I started auditioning, my ballet teacher convinced me that joining an agency might be a better fit. I signed with Bloc and began looking for commercial and ballet jobs. For a while, nothing really happened. Then Mystic Ballet of Connecticut offered me a spot in their training program—right as I booked a private audition for Chris Brown's BET Awards performance. I told myself if I didn't book the Chris Brown job, I'd move to Connecticut and recommit to ballet. But I got the gig, and I took that as a sign. Since then, the commercial world has really opened up for me. I've realized this is my path.

Rutledge (right) with Reid Bartelme in Lar Lubovitch Dance Company's "Elemental Brubeck" (Nan Melville, courtesy Lar Lubovitch Dance Company)

Laura Rutledge, former dancer with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company

I danced at Indianapolis Ballet Theatre, California Ballet Company, State Street Ballet and Ballet San Jose, and I thought ballet was my home. But when I was a member of Company C Contemporary Ballet, I was introduced to Lar Lubovitch's choreography. From day one of rehearsal, I totally fell in love with the movement. I felt my whole body sigh. I decided to make the cross-country move to NYC to dance with the company.

It was a huge transition for me—no more pointe shoes, and I really had to learn to drop my weight. But all of Lar's movement is based in the ballet vocabulary. You always have to find clarity in your lines. Honestly, I don't think he would've hired me if it weren't for my solid ballet foundation.

Dance News

It's no secret we were pumped when we heard the official announcement: Ricky Ubeda is joining the cast of On the Town on Broadway. You may recall, we were so excited, we couldn't wait to see him in costume—so we got a little Photoshop-happy with the pictures from Ubeda's DS cover shoot...

LOL. (Original photo by Lucas Chilczuk for Dance Spirit)

Judging by Ubeda's Twitter, it seems like "America's Favorite Dancer" has fallen in love with life on Broadway. Plus, on Friday, Playbill released 43 glorious photos of the men of OTT  at NYC's South Street Seaport, and Ricky looks right at home among these "hunky sailors." Here are a few of our favorites:

All photos by Monica Simoes for Playbill.

Looks kinda familiar, don't you think?



Not sure what's going on here, but we love it.


So perfect, right?! Click here to see the full gallery, and for even more Ricky-in-OTT action, check out this behind-the-scenes video from the shoot:

Dance News

Fairchild in rehearsal for the "Miss Turnstiles" number in On the Town (photo by Monica Simes, via Playbill)

Back in June, we shared the exciting news that New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild will play Ivy Smith in the upcoming Broadway revival of On the Town. If you're not familiar with the show, New Yorker Ivy Smith is chosen to represent the NYC Subway for a month as "Miss Turnstiles" (smh at odd 1940s customs...). Ivy's picture on the subway comes into play later, when the show's protagonists—three sailors on a day off from the Navy—embark on a quest to find her.

Recently, shared a rehearsal video of the "Miss Turnstiles" routine. Watch it once, and you'll know exactly why the NYCB principal was chosen for the role. Much like the rest of the show, this number is packed with difficult choreography. Everything from crisp petit allegro to some seriously intense lifts, from an epic menage to about a bazillion fouettés, choreographer Joshua Bergasse did not go easy on her. And quite frankly, we're thrilled—because watching one of our favorite ballerinas completely nail an action-packed Broadway number makes us feel happy inside.

Check it out!

On the Town officially opens October 16, but preview performances have already begun at Lyric Theatre on Broadway. For tickets, click here.

It's Fleet Week here in NYC—that one magical week when the city is flooded with cute sailor boys. Here at DS, that means it's time for:

Pick Your Favorite Musical Sailors!

In the running:

South Pacific's rowdy mariners. There ain't nothin' like 'em!

Anything Goes' tapping tars. They're the top!

The old-schoolers: Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin and Gene Kelly in On the Town. They make New York, New York a wonderful town!

Cast your votes in the comments, mateys.

The big screen gets the Oscars; the small screen has the Emmys; the world’s top singers duke it out every year at the Grammys. And while Broadway already has the Tony Awards, we wanted to take it one step further. Welcome to The Jazz Hand Awards (aka the Jazzies), honoring the best, brightest and—above all—danciest shows on Broadway this season.

The Jazzie for the Silliest Tapping in Egg Costumes goes to…Something Rotten!

Something Rotten! (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

Director and choreographer (and former Broadway ensemble dancer) Casey Nicholaw comes to this original musical with a rock-solid resumé: He’s been on the creative teams for several hit shows, including Aladdin, The Book of Mormon and Spamalot. Nicholaw has a knack for knowing what it takes to get a mid-act standing ovation, and his high-energy, tap-tastic choreography makes it happen in Something Rotten! “The writers told me they loved tap dancing, and before we knew it, tap became the primary vocabulary in the show,” Nicholaw says. “The poor non-tappers in the cast turned white every time we decided to make a new tap number—but everyone taps now!”

In the show, two Renaissance-era brothers are trying to write a new play to outdo the man of the century, William Shakespeare. Discouraged by consistently being in Shakespeare’s shadow, the older brother seeks help from a soothsayer to find out what will be the next great thing. As it turns out, musicals are it, and a string of mixed messages leads to the creation of Omelette: The Musical, complete with performers costumed as eggs. It’s supposed to be Hamlet—get it? But Something Rotten! is hardly a lesson in history: It’s entirely fictional, so you don’t need to have aced Shakespeare 101 to follow along. The Bard is portrayed by Christian Borle (you know him from NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!” and “Smash”), who dons leather pants and, of course, tap shoes.

The Jazzie for the Best Robbins Redux goes to…The King and I

Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe in The King and I (photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy Lincoln Center Theater)

Iconic duo Rodgers and Hammerstein debuted this musical in 1951, with choreography by Jerome Robbins, and the latest revival’s now in residence at Lincoln Center Theater. That’s fitting: Lincoln Center is the longtime home of New York City Ballet, and Robbins contributed many ballets to the company’s repertory. Newsies choreographer Christopher Gattelli reconstructed Robbins’ work for this round, and while the story—about a governess, the King of Siam and his many children—may sound outdated, the dancing is anything but. Look out for stellar performers from all corners of the dance world, including former Newsie Aaron Albano, former “So You Think You Can Dance” contestant Cole Horibe and former Martha Graham Dance Company principal XiaoChuan Xie.

The Jazzie for the Fanciest, Archiest Feet on Broadway goes to…An American in Paris

Leanne Cope in An American in Paris (photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

If you love going to the ballet but wish you could sing along, An American in Paris is your jam. This dreamy musical follows an American soldier, Jerry Mulligan, who decides to live in Paris after World War II. He falls hard for ballerina Lise Dassin—and so do a few of his friends. Bunheads, brace yourselves, because An American in Paris stars countless ballet dancers, including New York City Ballet principal Robert Fairchild as Jerry and the Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope as Lise. The show also features former Miami City Ballet soloist Sara Esty, former Atlanta Ballet principal Laura Feig and former Boston Ballet soloist Michael Cusumano, to name a few.

The man behind all the magic is also new to directing on the Great White Way: Christopher Wheeldon, one of the ballet world’s most in-demand choreographers. He cast the dancers just as he would a ballet company. “The auditions were so exciting,” says Wheeldon, who also choreographed the show. “I loved seeing dancers who thought they couldn’t sing find out that they actually could!” (Both Fairchild and Cope sing like they’ve been doing it professionally for years.) The ballet-based ensemble also brings a unique characteristic to the Broadway stage: amazing feet. “I love archy, dreamy feet,” Wheeldon says. “But beyond that, I was looking for complete artists who could sing, dance and act beautifully.”

The Jazzie for the Most Mia-y Movement goes to…Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland (photo by Carol Rosegg, courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates)

Mia Michaels choreographed the nonstop dancing in this tale of “how Peter became Pan.” So if you can take your eyes off “Glee” front man Matthew Morrison (who plays Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie) and mega-celeb Kelsey Grammer (as Barrie’s producer and, later, dream Captain Hook), you’re going to want to watch the dancers, especially Melanie Moore, the “SYTYCD” Season 8 winner, former Shaping Sound company member and Dance Spirit cover girl.

The show’s choreography is so distinctly Mia, with huge leaps and dramatic leans

into side-tilts, all intricately woven into explosive, full-bodied “I hope you do cardio” dancing. If you love Michaels’ signature contemporary quirk—as seen on “SYTYCD”—you’ll love Finding Neverland’s most Mia-y numbers, “Circus of Your Mind” and “We Own the Night.”

The Jazzie for the Fastest, Highest-Kicking Tour of NYC goes to…On the Town

On the Town (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Matt Ross PR)

Set in 1944, On the Town follows three Navy men on their quest to see the sights—and find suitable ladies—during a 24-hour stint in the Big Apple. You’ll leave the theater humming its hallmark tune, “New York, New York,” and Joshua Bergasse’s old-school Broadway choreography looks every bit as fun to dance as it is to watch. From a bumpy taxi ride to a caveman boogie in the American Museum of Natural History to a hilarious chase through the practice rooms of Carnegie Hall, the movement just doesn’t stop. There’s also a dream—and dreamy—pas de deux in a boxing ring, performed by On the Town leads Tony Yazbeck and New York City Ballet principal/Broadway newcomer Megan Fairchild.

Fairchild plays Ivy Smith, a “Miss Turnstiles” pageant winner whose picture on the subway inspires sailor Gabey (Yazbeck) to search for her. “I love playing Ivy. And it’s refreshing to play a real person,” Fairchild says. “I feel like I’m just being myself. In ballet, I’m always being a ballerina. Now, on Broadway, I get to have a huge personality as a character who has faults and secrets and little lies.” But Fairchild didn’t leave her pointe shoes back at NYCB, and her glorious technique shines through the entire production.

The Jazzie for the Most Dancing in Ornate Ball Gowns goes to…Gigi

Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi (photo by Margot Schulman, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

High School Musical darling Vanessa Hudgens leads the cast of Gigi, a coming-

of-age tale about a teenage girl in Paris who prefers raising a ruckus to learning the fine art of elegant party-going—much to her great-aunt’s dismay. The story gets going when Gigi attracts the attention of local gajillionaire Gaston Lachaille, who’s played by Corey Cott (formerly of Newsies).

Yes, the love story is slightly unbelievable (he’s much, much older than she), but the constant dancing, choreographed by the ever-in-demand Joshua Bergasse, is divine—especially when the ensemble women don luscious ball gowns.

The Jazzie for the Best dancing on a train goes to…On the Twentieth Century

Kristin Chenoweth (left) and the cast of On the Twentieth Century (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Polk & Co)

Kristin Chenoweth, the ultimate Broadway baby, is back on the Great White Way—this time as a movie star aboard a luxury train. And remember Peter Gallagher, who played company director Jonathan Reeves in Center Stage (and Sandy Cohen on “The O.C.”)? He’s in it, too, as a bummed-out producer trying to lure his former lover and muse (Chenoweth) back to the theater. It’s a Broadway show about Broadway, and with choreography by Tony winner Warren Carlyle, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Dance News

It seems like every time we blink, another one of our favorite ballerinas is joining the cast of On the Town. We couldn't be more excited to see New York City Ballet's Georgina Pazcoguin as Ivy, starting August 11th!

Pazcoguin shows us how it's done with Amar Ramasar in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite. (Photo Paul Kolnik)

We can't wait to see how Pazcoguin will make the role her own. If her performance in the cast's ensemble, her dynamite performances in West Side Story Suite or the film adaptation of N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz are any indication, her time as Ivy is going to be high energy, to say the least. Fellow NYCB dancer Megan Fairchild has killed it in the role since the musical's opening, and American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland will undoubtedly do the same when she takes over for Pazcoguin beginning August 25th.

Dance News

It's been a huge year for Misty Copeland–now a principal with American Ballet Theatre. And she doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon: Yesterday, Copeland announced that she'll join the cast of the Broadway musical On the Town starting August 25! She'll be taking over for fellow ballerina Megan Fairchild (a principal with New York City Ballet).

(From left) Clyde Alves, Tony Yazbeck and Jay Armstrong Johnson in On the Town (photo by Sara Krulwich for the New York Times)

In a New York Times interview, Copeland said how excited she was to be a part of this ballet-filled moment on Broadway. Because all bunheads know, On the Town isn't the only show currently featuring professional ballet dancers: former NYCB dancer and choreographer extraordinaire Christopher Wheeldon's adaptation of "An American in Paris," starring Royal Ballet first artist Leanne Cope and NYCB principal (and Megan's brother) Robert Fairchild, is currently igniting the Great White Way, too.

Not only will the On the Town run show off Copeland's gorgeous dancing, but we'll get to witness her acting and singing skills, too. And if her performances as Odette/Odille in Swan Lake, the title role in Alexei Ratmansky's Firebird or Juliet in Romeo and Juliet are any indication of her theatrical skills, her Broadway debut is sure to be outstanding.

Copeland owning the role of Odette in Swan Lake (photo Darren Thomas/QPAC)

Copeland in character as the title role in Firebird (photo Gene Schiavone)

Dance News

With T-minus mere hours until the danciest Tony Awards ever (!), the Broadway community has been pretty much drowning in statues, plaques and sealed white envelopes for days. Last Sunday evening, for example, marked the 60th annual Drama Desk Awards, which pitted both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows against each other. And the Theatre World Awards, which recognize stellar Broadway debuts, were held the following night in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

Just a little further downtown, another ceremony celebrated the most fantastic contingency of the Great White Way on Monday: The Fred & Adele Astaire Awards! Held at NYU's Skirball Center of the Performing Arts, the Astaire Awards honor Broadway's outstanding male and female dancers, choreographers and lifetime achievers. It was a long evening of great performances and speeches—here were the highlights:

1. Host Christina Bianco's impressions of Kristin Chenoweth, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Celine Dion. Six Broadway legends (plus a diva) in one word: Amazeballs. Watch this clip of Bianco performing at 54 Below to get an idea of her magic:

2. Joel Grey's Lifetime Achievement Award presentation. Before a heartfelt speech by his daughter (Dirty Dancing and "Dancing with the Stars" champ Jennifer Grey), there was a short film highlighting just a few of Joel Grey's many contributions to the theater world, including the original emcee in Cabaret, the Wizard of Oz in Wicked, Amos Hart in Chicago's 1996 revival and leading roles in Goodtime Charley, George M!, Anything Goes—even a part in the movie Dancer in the Dark, starring Björk. Take a look at Grey in the role he's most known for (and for which he won an Academy Award), the emcee the 1972 film version of Cabaret:

3. The awards! Each category was filled with intense competition—making it impossible to select just one winner in the Outstanding Male Dancer and Outstanding Choreography sectors: Robert Fairchild (An American in Paris) and Tony Yazbeck (On the Town) tied as Best Dancers, as did choreographers Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris) and Joshua Bergasse (On the Town). Leanne Cope (An American in Paris) took the Award for Outstanding Female Dancer.

Did I mention Fairchild (left) also took home a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical on Sunday? (Fairchild and Cope in An American in Paris; photo © Matthew Murphy)

4. The extra awards! Four "bellhops" from On the Twentieth Century won a special award for Outstanding Ensemble Performers after a tap-tastic rendition of "Life is Like a Train," choreographed by Warren Carlyle. This year's Astaire Awards also recognized choreography on screen: Akram Khan received the award for Outstanding Choreography in a Feature Film for his work on Desert Dancer. (Also notable: Aakomon Jones was nominated twice in that category for his choreography in both Get on Up and Pitch Perfect 2.)

On the Twentieth Century's Phillip Attmore, Rick Faugno, Drew King, Richard Riaz Yoder at the Astaire Awards (Photo by Presley Ann/PatrickMcMullan)

5. Studio Bleu Dance Center's closing number, Motown. One of the Astaire Awards' co-sponsors is New York City Dance Alliance, so one might guess there'd be some pretty spectacular kids' performances. And the dancers from Ashburn, VA, totally delivered. Their energy, technique, powerhouse stamina and amazing tapping had the entire audience on their feet—one of only two standing ovations for the entire evening. (The first was for Grey.) Can't wait to see some of these dancers on Broadway in years to come!


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