Tiny Dancers

It’s easy to think of professional dancers as perfect beings who’ve been perfect since day one. But what if we could turn back the clock to when they first discovered dance? We asked some of our favorite dancers to share their earliest dance memories. What they had to say is sure to leave you in awwww.

(Photo courtesy Karine Plantadit)

Karine Plantadit, Broadway dancer

“One of my favorite dance memories was when, at 14, I traveled from my home in Douala, Cameroon, to audition for the Rosella Hightower school in Cannes, France. During the 15-day training program before the audition, I skipped every ballet class to go to the beach. When it was finally time for the audition, I was shocked to find that it was ballet. I asked, ‘Where’s the jazz audition?’ But there was no jazz audition. My ballet training was horrible, but I had to try. I borrowed everything for my outfit—pink tights, a leotard, bobby pins—and my friends helped me put my hair up in a huge bun. I gave it everything I had: pure passion, pure love and very little skill. Then it was time to call the names of accepted students. I remember the teacher saying in front of everyone, ‘She’ll be in the school even though she doesn’t have the skill. We’ll train her to get the skill.’ My life changed that day.”


(Photo courtesy Tyne Stecklein)

Tyne Stecklein, Commercial dancer

“I started ballet classes at age 3 at Miller’s Dance Studio in Aurora, CO, where my mom Andra Stecklein was (and still is) a dance teacher. Around age 5, I became really serious about each exercise at the barre. I wasn’t chatty and playful in class like the other kids—I was so focused on doing everything perfectly.”






(Photo courtesy Evelyn Kocak)

Evelyn Kocak, Soloist, Pennsylvania Ballet

“My first dance class was a creative movement class at a senior citizen center. I was 3, so I don’t really remember it, but I have an early video from a parent observation day. I wore my idea of a ballet costume: purple tights, a pink ruffle top, a large purple bow and pink polka-dotted canvas shoes. We did a few ballet exercises, and then we ran around with scarves pretending to be animals. I liked pretending to be a butterfly or a pony.”





(Photo courtesy Jacqueline Burnett)

Jacqueline Burnett, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

“When I was 5, I took my first ballet class at Studio 1 in Pocatello, ID. My teacher was a very intimidating 70-year-old Romanian man. When I got to class, I was overwhelmed by his huge presence. He was very strict, and he smelled like cigarettes. Between barre and center, I remember going to the parent viewing area and crying to my mom. The teacher saw me and said, ‘Oh, no! Why is she crying?’ I was so embarrassed, but I drank some of my mom’s cranberry juice and went back to class.”






Jordan Kriston (second from the left) with her classmates in Phoenix, AZ (photo courtesy Jordan Kriston)

Jordan Kriston, Pilobolus

“My community in Phoenix, AZ, offered free kids’ dance classes at the mall, and that’s where I began at age 5. I distinctly remember grasping the concept of putting my ballet or jazz shoes on the correct feet. I was barefoot a lot in Phoenix because it was so hot, so this was a relatively new idea for me. I remember noticing how funny the other little dancers looked when they had their shoes on the wrong feet.”



Brian (left) and Scott Nicholson in show choir (photo courtesy Brian Nicholson)

Brian & Scott Nicholson (twins!), Ariana Grande dancers

“Sophomore year of high school, Scott and I both auditioned for the Mustang Express Show Choir—yes, like on ‘Glee’—and made it! After just a few weeks of dancing, we became dance captains. There were a lot of show choir moves, like jazz squares, step-touch-clapping, and cheesy performance faces.” —Brian

“Well, if we want to get technical about it, we didn’t take our first dance class until we were 20. We took jazz for gym credit at The University of Akron. Imagine this: two semi–awkward-looking twins with bowl cuts, jabbering to each other while they tried to figure out the choreography. We’d just get so excited!” —Scott

“We may disagree on when our actual first class was, but we both feel like we found ourselves when we started dancing. Our dad, who passed away when we were 11, used to whisper to us, ‘You’re gonna be song and dance men.’ ” —Brian


Jennifer Lauren (left) and her sister (photo by American Shutterbug Inc., courtesy Jennifer Lauren)

Jennifer Lauren, Soloist, Miami City Ballet

“When I was 3 years old, my mom took me with her to enroll my older sister in ballet class at Martha Jamison School of Ballet in Tuscaloosa, AL. I started crying because I wanted to take ballet class, too. My mom asked the teacher if I was too young to register. The teacher asked, ‘Is she potty trained?’ Because I was, I was able to enroll. “We have a video of my first recital on tape. I was dressed as a sea turtle. When the girl next to me started messing up, I went over to her and put her arm in fifth position, where it was supposed to be. The whole audience was cracking up!”







Jessica Lee Keller with her first ballet teacher (photo courtesy Jessica Lee Keller)

Jessica Lee Keller, Commercial dancer

“I fell in love with dance from my very first ballet class. I was 6, and it was at a studio in Marquette, MI. I remember my family came to watch me in an open class, and my teacher asked me to show my parents how I could stand right up on my tiny little toes like Kate Winslet in Titanic! I was excited to explore what my body could do. Ever since I first chasséd across that floor, holding hands with another little dancer, smiles on our faces, I knew dance was going to be a part of me forever.”

Latest Posts

Because you know you've always wondered... (Getty Images)

Sounding Off: Here's What Your Favorite Musicians Think of Dance Routines Set to Their Songs

In the competition world, a small group of musicians has attained almost cultlike status, with choreographers turning to their tracks over and over. We know how we feel about these bangers—there's a reason we can't stop dancing to them—but how do the musicians feel about us? We caught up with three contemporary artists whose music has dominated the competition scene recently, and gauged their reactions to the dances set to their life's work.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Challenge Your Friends and Family to This TikTok Ballet Quiz

The latest popular TikTok dance challenge isn't the "Renegade," or set to "Savage," by Megan Thee Stallion—it's testing how much your friends and family really know about what you do in the studio all day.

TikTok user @kayausvlogs recorded herself asking her partner to guess what common ballet terms look like based on the way they sound. The results were...mixed, to say the least—and pretty hilarious. Naturally, the trend went viral, and now dancers everywhere are testing their friends and family and posting the results. Here are some of our favorites.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search