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Why Philadelphia's Dance Scene is Totally Underrated

Photo by Alexander Iziliaev. Courtesy BalletX.

You know Philadanco and Pennsylvania Ballet. But other than those staples, you may not think of Philadelphia as a huge dance hub. We're here to prove that Philly is filled with underrated dance talent—and these six companies are just the start.


Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers

Founded by Taiwan native Kun-Yang Lin, KYL/D uses eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Taoism to create a repertory comprised of spiritual yet highly athletic movement. Every few months they host InHale Performance Series, where they invite artists from around the country to perform in Philly.

Just Sole: Street Dance Theatre

Power couple Kyle and Dinita Clark co-founded Just Sole in 2011 with the intention of preserving the hip-hop community through storytelling. They educate dancers about the pioneers of hip hop and blend these classic styles with house dancing. Their classes are jam-packed with positive energy, challenging movement and groovy house beats, and they always provide the context behind their movement so that dancers can develop a cultural dance vocabulary.

BalletX

Contemporary ballet troupe BalletX is one of Philly's hidden gems, performing daring work by co-founder Matthew Neenan and choreographers like Trey McIntyre and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. One of my personal favorites is Neenan's The Last Glass, which uses music by indie rock band Beirut. The dancers are diverse and have huge personalities onstage—I feel like I know each of them.

Eleone Dance Theatre

Eleone Dance Theatre is dedicated to preserving the history of modern and African dance. Every year, the company puts on Carols in Color, a recreation of the black nativity story, complete with a live baby Jesus and a choir, who invites the audience to join in throughout the show. The theater is filled with love, pride and breathtaking dancing.

Rennie Harris Puremovement

Rennie Harris is a huge name in the Philadelphia dance scene and beyond. His goal for Puremovement? Keeping street dance alive and reflecting on hip-hop culture through performance and discussion. Talk about raw talent—his dancers can literally tell every detail of a story through their bodies.

Brian Sanders' JUNK

JUNK uses objects we find in everyday life and creates movement that blends dance and physical theater. Founder Brian Junk has used doors, trash piles, ropes, ladders and bungees in the most unconventional ways to take his artistry to the next level. His dancers are ripped (how can you not be when you're hanging off doors and flipping porta pottys?). Even Pennsylvania Ballet has taken on his challenging work.

JUNK dancers Julia Higdon, William Henry Robinson, Kelly Trevlyn and Teddy Fatscher performing in "My Funny Bone." Photo by Candice Detore.

Image via Stock Snap

We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.

But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?

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Training
Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.

Keep reading at pointemagazine.com.

Breaking Stereotypes
Melina and Regina Willoughby, photo by Ashley Concannon

There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.

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Dancers & Companies
PC Getty Images

Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.

The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.

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Training
PC Kyle Rowling

You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.

1. Master the Basics

When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.

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Dancers & Companies
Photo by Mark Perry Shelby, Courtesy High10 Media.

Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.

You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.

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Dancer Voices
Wilhelmina Frankfurt

Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.


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Advice for Dancers
Photo by Bob Jagendorf, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?

—Injured Rockette, New York, NY

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Breaking Stereotypes
Freddie Kimmel

Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."

But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.

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What Wendy's Watching
Kota Yamazaki, Mina Nishimura, Raja Feather Kelly and Julian Barnett, Photo by Janelle Jones

Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.

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