On the Rise: Khori Petinaud

A sleek, dynamic triple threat in Aladdin

Photo by J. Medlock, Courtesy Steps on Broadway


Say Khori Petinaud’s last name fast enough and it sounds “pedigree.” That’s apt for this triple-threat dancer who will make her Broadway debut in the ensemble of Aladdin in March. Petinaud’s sleek lines and soaring jumps were refined at institutions like Dance Theatre of Harlem School and The Ailey School.

Born in Atlanta, Petinaud, 26, spent most of her childhood in Centerville, Virginia, near Washington, DC. At first interested in sports, she started dance classes late. When she was 12, she saw Dance Theatre of Harlem perform Firebird at the Kennedy Center, and it galvanized her. “The beautiful ballerinas looked like me,” she says. “I wanted to be in their company.” The next year she started classes at Russell’s School of Ballet in Chantilly.

With the encouragement of her teachers there, she attended a DTH summer program. The pointe-heavy schedule pushed her both technically and artistically. Yet despite her talent and the positive feedback she received, Petinaud remembers comments that made her feel self-conscious about her body. “I was already developing by the time I started dancing, and I had bigger thighs from playing sports as a kid,” she says. The next summer, she attended University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ summer dance program and was told “I could be something if I lost weight.” It put a sour taste in Petinaud’s mouth.

By her later teens, Petinaud knew she wanted to combine academics with her college dance studies. She took an Ailey summer program with an eye to Ailey/Fordham, but ultimately went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. There she finally found her artistic voice. “I understood storytelling from the more fluid modern dance perspective,” she says. “I finally saw dance as more than just a technique to master.”

When she graduated, the road became bumpier. “I didn’t want to be in modern or ballet companies anymore. I was depressed and confused,” Petinaud says. Strapped for money, she stopped taking class and worked at a hotel. She toyed with dropping dance altogether. Then on a whim, she decided to audition for The Lion King. She was immediately cut, but she had caught the Broadway bug. With persistence, she eventually made it as far as the final round for the Las Vegas company. “The casting director told me he loved me but I needed to lose weight,” Petinaud remembers. “I was destroyed, but that kicked me into gear. I fought hard to get back to dance class and into shape.”

She also started taking a musical theater career seriously. She continued auditioning, and in the meantime earned a slot in the Steps Repertory Ensemble, the resident contemporary dance company at Steps on Broadway. “I learned how to adapt to different aesthetics, choreographers and environments,” she says. “That’s handy in Aladdin: Casey Nicholaw, the choreographer, has assistants and each has a different approach.”

Then in 2011, Petinaud finally got her first shot in a musical, as a replacement on The Color Purple national tour. Returning to New York, she booked a regional production of Sweet Charity; she also worked with choreographer Josh Prince in his The Broadway Dance Lab. “Josh taught me that the girl who’s a strong actress making bold choices is more intriguing than the one with perfect technique,” says Petinaud. She added acting classes at the Jen Waldman Studio. “It opened me up to a new world of possibilities with using acting to enhance the choices made as a dancer.”

Richard J. Hinds also hired Petinaud for Evita at the Flatrock Playhouse. “I had already seen Khori in my class at Broadway Dance Center,” he says. “She would take the choreography and make it her own. For Evita, I told the dancers I was looking for grounded movement. With Khori’s strong modern background, I found many of the dancers looking to her to see how to interpret the steps.”

Before booking Evita, Petinaud had gone to the Aladdin audition, enticed by the large number of people of color slated to be in the ensemble. She was not chosen, but her agency resubmitted her after the initial audition. She was taken by surprise when they called to congratulate her a few days later: She had her first Great White Way gig.

Petinaud finds working on Aladdin with Nicholaw inspiring. “Casey never uses a meaningless step,” she says. “So as an actor, it’s almost like a cheat sheet. I’m overjoyed to be working with someone who understands subtlety.” She cites the number “Friend Like Me.” “We get to play a lot of different characters,” she explains. “I get to make so many choices that will be set as part of the show. Any reproductions will have my stamp, and it’s thrilling that’s now part of my path.”

Lauren Kay is a New York writer and dancer.

Dancers & Companies
Megan Fairchild in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. PC Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.

Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'

I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at

Sylvie Guillem, via

Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.

But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
Matthew Neenan used images of silencing and control in let mortal tongues awake. Photo by Bill Herbert.

From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.

Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

Keep reading... Show less
In The Studio
Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!

We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.

Keep reading... Show less
Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21.

Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance in Pop Culture
Roberto Bolle and Kenall Jenner on set. Photo via

I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."

It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.

Keep reading... Show less





Get Dance Magazine in your inbox


Win It!