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?
Keaton Gillespie has the expressive face of a silent film star. Add in her soaring extensions, elegant port de bras, and gorgeous feet, and it's no wonder this 15-year-old is turning heads. Currently in her second year at Ellison Ballet in NYC, Keaton made the big move up from South Carolina on her own at 13, after crafting a PowerPoint presentation to convince her parents that the school's intense Vaganova curriculum was what she needed to take her dancing to the next level. (Her parents will join her in NYC this summer, now that her brother has finished high school.) Keaton's 2018 wins included junior grand prix at ADC/IBC and top 12 classical at the Youth America Grand Prix NYC finals. But she's not in it for the trophies. "I love ballet for the artistic challenge," Keaton says. "You're doing something so physically demanding, but you have to portray a character at the same time. I want to impact people with my artistry onstage."
In her senior year at Butler University, Jennifer Sydor auditioned for more than a dozen regional ballet companies—and got a string of "no, thank you" responses. "I have an athletic build, and my movement quality isn't the typical ballet aesthetic," Sydor says. "But I'd been laser-focused on ballet. When I didn't get a ballet contract, I was heartbroken."
Her one job offer came from Kim Robards Dance, a small modern company based in Aurora, CO. After attending KRD's summer intensive, Sydor ended up accepting a yearlong position with the troupe. "I was relieved and happy to begin my career," she says. She's been working as a contemporary dancer ever since.
In the dance world, rejection is part of the package. That doesn't make it any more pleasant. But whether you didn't get the Nutcracker role of your dreams or you weren't picked for a job despite feeling like you aced the audition, you can emerge from even the most gut-wrenching "no" smarter and stronger.
Do you dream of running your student dance company or becoming captain of your dance team? Are you a triple threat eager to direct your school's next musical? If you have big ideas and the drive to make them a reality—as well as a strong rapport with your fellow performers—you might be a good fit for a leadership role. But even the most dedicated dancers can stumble during the transition from peer to peer leader. Try these tips to make the most of your tenure at the top.
You've completed your summer intensive auditions and received your acceptance letters. Congrats! Now, it's time to choose where you'll be spending this vital training time. While it's easy to select the program with the biggest name, or head to the school where all your friends are going, it might not always be the best choice for you. Instead, it's most important to end up at a program that will nurture you while pushing you to fulfill your potential. Watch out for these common mistakes dancers can make as they finalize their summer plans.
For 14-year-old Rose*, who trains at a prestigious ballet academy, social media is a double-edged sword. "I value it because I can keep in contact with people I meet at intensives," she says, "and it's also cool to follow dancers I look up to, who inspire me when I have down days." But on the flip side, "there's constant comparison," Rose says. "A friend might post a video of herself, and when I see it, I worry—am I improving enough? There's so much talent out there, it's easy to view yourself unfavorably."
If social media is giving you anxiety, it's time to take a step back and reassess. That doesn't necessarily mean going off the grid—though in extreme cases, logging out completely might be the answer. Here's how to keep your social media experience from taking a toll on your mental health.
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.
Picture this: You're in rehearsal, and you finally get a move the way the choreographer wants it—except that it makes your back twinge each time. Should you say you're in pain, or should you suck it up and keep going? You don't want to injure yourself, but you also don't want to jeopardize your role.
The dance world often teaches students to be quiet and obedient around authority figures. That said, there are definitely instances when you need to speak your mind. Try these tips to navigate sticky situations.
Choreographing a dance means standing alone at the front of the studio…right? Not necessarily! Many choreographers prefer making work with a partner. Two heads can definitely be better than one, but creating collaboratively does come with some strings attached. Whether you're working in a duo or group by choice or you've been assigned to develop a piece with someone else, try these tips to foster a positive process.
For 16-year-old Amanda*, dance is everything: her passion, her escape from the daily grind, and her career goal. Her parents see things differently. "I have siblings who are active in sports," Amanda says, "and my parents would rather I play soccer or basketball. They don't see dance as something I can earn a stable living from in the future. They often tell me I should just quit."
Some parents aren't able to, don't know how to, or choose not to give you the kind of support you need to thrive in the studio. And when your parents are adding stress to your life, rather than alleviating it, there's a lot at stake. "Dancers who don't have the support of their parents might struggle with self-doubt," says Dr. Linda Hamilton, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and a clinical psychologist specializing in the performing arts, "while those whose parents are too involved can crack under the pressure." Whether your parents aren't there when you need them or they're always there, practically smothering you, try these tips to improve your situation.
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Not sure how to find solid dance training options on the internet? We asked the pros for their top tips.
1. You can't trust everything you find on the internet. "YouTube is like the Wild West of dance," says Jon Arpino of CLI Studios. "An 8-year-old can go online and watch another 8-year-old do aerials, but that's not the right way to learn those tricks."
2. Look for reputable sources. For example, you might seek out videos from performers and choreographers who teach on the convention circuit, or at a big-name studio like Broadway Dance Center in NYC or Millennium Dance Complex in L.A. These people are likely to be offering advice that's correct and safe.
You're dressed in your favorite gear, ready to dance—but instead of heading to the studio, you take out your smartphone. A dance celeb has posted a new master class online, and you can't wait to dive in. Then, you might watch a popular choreographer's newest step-by-step tutorial. Who doesn't want to get words of wisdom from the best in the biz?
But while video classes and tutorials have definite benefits, they can't compare to in-person sessions with a teacher who knows you and has watched you grow. Here are tips to help you navigate the world of online learning, so you can find supplemental training that helps you become the best dancer you can be.
Miami City Ballet principal soloist Nathalia Arja is known for her powerful jump—in fact, she recalls one reviewer describing her as "popcorn." But flying through the air wasn't always second nature. Growing up training in her native Brazil, she says, she didn't know how to use her body efficiently during grand allégro.
So what changed? "At 13, I started doing Pilates," she says. "I did a lot of leg exercises lying down on the reformer, which built my core strength." Then, at 15, she started studying at Miami City Ballet School. "I went from classical to Balanchine training," she says, "and I learned how to push off the floor with my toes, rather than jumping from my entire foot."
As Arja discovered, developing a big jump is more about nurture than nature. Here's advice from the experts about how you can reach your highest heights.
Broadway baby Eloise Kropp is living the dream. After making her Great White Way debut in the ensemble of On the Town in 2014 and landing a leading role in 2015's Dames at Sea, she's now in the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's beloved CATS. As Jennyanydots, the cat who lounges in sunbeams all day but comes alive at night, 25-year-old Kropp brings an irrepressibly bubbly spirit to the production's only tap number. Watching her in action, there's no question that she was born to wear tap shoes. "I never imagined being a tapper on Broadway," she says, "but the timing has been so serendipitous. Tap has really made a comeback in musical theater. It makes me so happy to see other people loving it as much as I do."
Kropp's journey from student to rising star wasn't always easy. After leaving college early for an opportunity that didn't pan out, she spent a year and a half auditioning, doing regional gigs and taking on odd jobs before booking On the Town. She's learned firsthand that in the Broadway world, perseverance pays off.
Has a recent growth spurt left you towering over your classmates? Here's how to make the most of the inches you've been given.
(Struggling with the opposite problem? Click here!)