The Many Facets of Dancer and Choreographer Kate Harpootlian
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.' "
Born and raised in South Carolina, Harpootlian started training at the Columbia Conservatory of Dance at age 4, but switched over to Columbia City Jazz Conservatory (then called Columbia City Jazz Dance School) at 6. During her time at CCJC, Harpootlian encountered many people who would become important mentors in her dance career, from artistic director Dale Lam to choreographer Jason Parsons. Lam remembers Harpootlian for her dedication and passion. "Kate used to ask if she could stay late while I was cleaning up the studio and just dance," says Lam. "She would go in there for two or three hours and just dance her life out. That's who she is."
It was Parsons who gave Harpootlian her first featured role in a group number, a decision that meant more to her than he could have known. "Around age 11, things started to go haywire—I was really skinny, weak, and couldn't remember any of my moves," says Harpootlian. "When Jason cast me, it gave me hope that I could keep going."
Photo by Chilczuk
Despite her physical struggles, Harpootlian continued to train and attend conventions like Tremaine, Co.Dance, JUMP, and New York City Dance Alliance, where she met future friends and collaborators like Nick Lazzarini and Travis Wall. At 14, she was officially diagnosed with a thyroid disorder known as Hashimoto's disease. "Once I got the right medication, within a year I was getting scholarships and making all of the dances," says Harpootlian. "Looking back, I'm so thankful for the disease, because I don't think I would've been strong enough to survive in this business without it."
After graduating high school early, Harpootlian thought she had her future all figured out—starting with a gig on a cruise ship. But after she moved to Virginia Beach to train with Denise Wall in preparation for that job, Harpootlian decided to switch gears, abandoning the cruise ship opportunity to keep training. "I'm a nerd," she says. "If there's knowledge at my fingertips, I have to stay and grab it. I put learning above all else, and working with Denise really opened my eyes."
Empire State of Mind
Harpootlian's course correction turned her dance dreams toward NYC, and at 19, she felt ready to move there. She found an apartment with Lazzarini and reconnected with Parsons, who hired her on various jobs. "Jason took me to shows at The Joyce Theater and Brooklyn Academy of Music," she says. "He introduced me to Juilliard, since all I knew about it was that it was Julia Stiles' school in Save the Last Dance! He really took me under his wing."
Photo by Chilczuk
To pay the bills, Harpootlian did everything from dancing at birthday parties for Upper East Side housewives to performing at bar mitzvahs in New Jersey. "My job track is hilarious to pretty much everyone," Harpootlian says. "I literally didn't say no to anything. But here and there, I was able to do jobs I really loved." Among those jobs were appearances on "Dancing with the Stars" and "Boardwalk Empire," performing in Carrie Underwood's "Something in the Water" video, dancing with Billy Bell's Lunge Collective, and, eventually, joining Wall's Shaping Sound.
West Coast Adventures
Harpootlian remembers her first performance with Shaping Sound, at DancerPalooza in 2014, as "probably the scariest thing I've ever done." She had just two days to learn the show alongside fellow new members Amy Yakima and Justine Lutz, and she also ended up having to learn Chantel Aguirre's duet after Aguirre tore her meniscus. "It was the craziest thing I've ever experienced," says Harpootlian. "That was my introduction to the L.A. dance world."
Photo by Chilczuk
2015 also marked Harpootlian's run as a contestant on Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance," where she made it to the Top 14 and worked with choreographers like Brian Friedman and Spencer Liff—as well as Wall, who calls Harpootlian "one of a kind." "Kate's storytelling ability makes her incredibly special," he says. "I can give her an overall direction and she'll take it and make smart and unique choices. She makes every single moment shine."
An Emerging Voice
Harpootlian's skills as a storyteller make her a natural choreographer. In 2016, she won first runner-up at the Capezio A.C.E. Awards for her piece Dignity, set to Rufus Wainwright, which Capezio hailed as "clever and theatrical." That was the moment, Harpootlian says, "where I felt like I had made it."
Photo by Chilczuk
That same night, Harpootlian started workshopping her next show, which became Better Late Than Never. She set out on a "'60s quest," researching the movies and music of the decade. The resulting 40-minute piece "starts very Disneyfied and ends up in hip counterculture," she says. Better Late Than Never was also a full-circle moment for Harpootlian: Her mentor, Parsons, was part of the cast. "That show helped me figure out what I want to say as an artist," Harpootlian says.
A big part of that equation is comedy, which Harpootlian calls "a smart intellectual tool that I love using in dance." She also uses humor in her teaching endeavors, happy to do things like "a standup routine about how to engage your pelvis and abdominals."
Looking ahead, Harpootlian says she has a lot more choreography "jangling around in my head and trying to get out." She also believes that the dance industry needs more compassionate leaders, and she's making it a priority to become one. As she continues to work behind the scenes, her goal is to "create a warm, safe, and real environment for dancers."
A version of this story appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Kate The Great."
It started with an Instagram and a leap of faith. Lucy Vallely was only 15 when she created a post voicing her desire to choreograph solos for the 2018 competition season. "I wasn't really sure what would come of it," remembers the comp-circuit standout. Soliciting choreographic opportunities via Instagram might sound like a gamble, but it's also very much in character for this now-17-year-old from Long Beach, CA. "She thrives on risks, on breaking boundaries she's previously created for herself," says Jessie Riley, Lucy's dance teacher and the owner of Westside Dance Project in Laguna Hills, CA.
In the end, the gamble paid off. Madison Taylor, who trains at The Project @ HTX in Houston, TX, was one of many dancers who jumped at the Insta post, and after a few hours in a studio together, Lucy's first professional choreographic endeavor was born. The solo, "All of Me," was an impressive debut, filled with seamless, fluid transitions and infused with an innate sense of musicality. (It was also refreshingly free of flashy tilts and turn sequences.) "All of Me" perfectly complemented Madison's sweeping movement quality—she ended up clinching first place at Radix—and it showcased Lucy's choreographic chops.
Fast-forward nearly 12 months, and the success of "All of Me" has led to an influx of choreographic opportunities. Lucy spent this past fall state- and studio-hopping, setting dozens of solos and group dances. And as she wraps up her yearlong reign as The Dance Awards' Senior Female Best Dancer, Lucy finds herself at a unique crossroads. She's still a comp kid, yet she's also on the brink of an exciting professional career. But if there's one thing this California girl knows how to do, it's go with the flow.
"So You Think You Can Dance" is back for a 16th season, and we are SO HERE FOR IT! Especially because there are tons of gorgeous dancers we're obsessed with RN and would love to see up on that "SYTYCD" stage. Here are nine people we hope are planning to audition.
Are you a college student curious about what goes on behind the scenes at your favorite magazine? You're in luck—because Dance Spirit is searching for an editorial intern for summer 2019!
We'll be accepting applications through March 1. Internships require a minimum two-day-a-week, onsite commitment in our NYC office from June to August.
Summer is a great time to make new friends, broaden your horizons and get tons of dancing in at a summer intensive. As you get closer to college-age, it can also be a great time to get valuable information and extra training that can come in handy later when you're thinking about college auditions. With 19 summer programs running throughout the U.S. (plus a ballet intensive in Genoa, Italy, and a musical theater intensive in London), Joffrey Ballet School offers a wide variety of experiences that give you both top-notch dance training and a taste of what college life will be like:
With over one thousand Instagram posts showcasing her latest improv practice or snippet of competition choreo, it's safe to say Lucy Vallely is never not creating. But how does she avoid burnout? Here, she shares her key tactics for staying inspired and energized, in and out of the studio.
What inspires you most as a dancer? What keeps you going on the days when the motivation just isn't there, and makes you feel like all the hard work, rejection and sacrifice is worth it for the pursuit of your dream? What makes you want to run into an empty studio and create something new?
Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over four decades of experience, often hangs posters with dance-related quotes on the walls of her studio, on everything from creativity to the hustle to the importance of teamwork. Sometimes the right words from dancers who have been there are just the push you need to spark your imagination and remind yourself why you love what you do.
In that spirit, here are 10 inspiring quotes from dancers on what their art form means to them, and why it's worth fighting through the hard parts:
Forget everything you thought you knew about Polynesian dance. French filmmaker Nyko PK16, who's based in Tahiti, has created a video series that showcases the beauty of the under-appreciated form in a unique way.
From competing on "So You Think You Can Dance" to performing on "Dancing with the Stars" for seven seasons (and earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the latter), Chelsie Hightower has lived the pro dance dream. Though Hightower retired from "DWTS" several years ago and now teaches and choreographs in her home state of Utah, she admits that her dance career exceeded even her own high expectations. "I've accomplished things that I didn't know were possible," she says.
But most fans of "DWTS" would never have guessed that while filming, the talented and seemingly fearless ballroom pro was facing her fiercest competitor off-camera. Hightower has struggled with anxiety for most of her life, but the issue became especially severe during her years on the show.
With the help of therapy and other coping exercises, Hightower has found healthy ways to manage her anxiety. Now, she hopes that sharing her experience will inspire other dancers struggling with mental illness to get help.
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Colder weather is (finally) here, which means it's time for a good dance movie binge. But which iconic films should you put on? To narrow your search, we went ahead and ranked 30 of the greatest dance movies of all time.
Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!
More fabulous TWall routines. More passengers on the Hot Tamale Train. MORE CAT DEELEY BEING DELIGHTFUL.
That's right, y'all: "So You Think You Can Dance" was just renewed for a 16th (!) season, to air this summer on Fox. And audition dates have already been announced.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.
Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.
The Super Bowl is America's most-watched television event. Last year, when the incomparable Justin Timberlake took center field for the halftime show, more than 106 million viewers were watching his every move—and that's not even a record!
What's it like to perform for such an incredibly huge audience? Dancer Tony Bellissimo has plenty of experience with high-pressure dance gigs, having worked with artists including Rihanna, Britney Spears, John Legend, and Chris Brown. But stepping out alongside Timberlake during last year's halftime show was a next-level experience. We talked to Bellissimo about how he scored such a coveted job—and how he handled the pressure.
Y'all, it's time to call a spade a spade: The first month of any New Year kind of sucks. It's way too cold, you're probs failing at one or two of those ambitious resolutions, and spring (with its exciting performing opportunities) feels so very far away. And yet, in the midst of so much darkness, a hero has emerged. His name is Donté Colley, and you're about to double-tap every single thing he's ever posted.
It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.