Dancers & Companies

Why I Dance

Evan McKie trained at The National Ballet School of Canada, The Kirov Academy, and the John Cranko Schule in Stuttgart, Germany. At 25, he is a soloist in the Stuttgart Ballet, where he has danced since 2002. Known for his passionate lyricism in both classical and contemporary roles, he danced his first Prince Siegfried last year, and recently earned critical acclaim for his debut as Lenski in Cranko’s Onegin. He has originated roles for many choreographers including Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, and Nicolo Fonte.


Why do we do what we do? This question is usually coupled with, “What made you want to start?” I have been asked these questions a lot, especially as a guy growing up in tights. And yet the “why” is still hard to explain. Words just don’t flow freely from within me the way dance does. Perhaps this is a good thing because it helps me convey the answer better: I dance because the feeling I get when I do it is practically impossible to describe! But I can try . . . .

As a kid who was constantly in action, the possibility of a life filled with dancing appealed to me from the get-go. I was very involved in swimming and other after-school sports. But pretty soon my “after-school” time was spent working out at various dance studios around Toronto. This was after I had the revelation that dancing around the house to the beats and melodies of Sesame Street gave me a new level of personal satisfaction. I knew then as I know now that the root of why I dance is an innate love for two simple things: movement and music. The two Ms that, when combined, are my buzz of choice.

I learned that my version of moving to music was a way of interpreting stuff. Dancing became quite cathartic. As a 10-year-old I couldn’t describe this but I understood what it felt like. I began to work with great teachers in Toronto, Washington, DC, and Stuttgart on developing professional ballet technique. I also started to notice a new spiritual impact from dance. I had grown apart from childhood friends with different interests, but when I did come in contact with them, most displayed a tedium and a longing to find something significantly stimulating in life. Naturally, dancers may feel “lost” at times too, but dancing provides a spiritual rhythm that helps put life’s ups and downs into perspective and can even be a guide. After finding this rhythm, my new theory was put to the test. A boating accident left me with a severely torn knee ligament and what doctors described as “no hopes of dancing ballet.” I freaked out. But no matter how depressed I became, the rhythm never left my system. Regaining some strength in the following month, I let this simple but powerful rhythm steer my life. I came across a doctor who revealed that I might get back onstage if I found other muscles to take over where the torn ligament left off. He looked skeptical as he discussed how much mind power a feat like this would take. After weeks of frustrating work and invaluable help from Paris Opéra Ballet’s Gilbert Mayer and Stuttgart’s Pyotr Pestov (two of the worlds top boys’ teachers), I was finally ready to reconfirm my future in dance.

Life in dance has led me to marvel at the capability of the human brain as well. Recently I had a chat with a friend of mine, the utterly brilliant choreographer Wayne McGregor, about how dance affects the brain and vise-versa. He takes the issue 10 times farther in his recent work Entity, which I found awe-inspiring to watch and ridiculously thought-provoking. It’s engrossing to witness the brain being exercised through choreographic challenges. At the Kirov Academy I watched in amazement as students who once could barely stand on one leg suddenly completed full variations with ease and near-perfect line.

Whether I am satisfying a primitive instinct to move to music, discovering parts of my soul, or developing parts of my brain, I am thankful that dance affords me the chance to do it all at once. I still cannot define why I dance, though. It’s sacred. Some Eastern cultures believe that there are things in life that are not meant to be described in language but must be experienced to be understood. For me, dance is one of those personal things, and I love every minute of it.

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.

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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.

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.

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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."

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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.

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Anne Arundel Community College students, PC Kenneth Harriford

Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:

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Dancers & Companies
Joan Marcus

Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?

The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."

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Dancers & Companies
From left, Ethel Merman, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Debbie Allen. All Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.

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When it comes to BodyVox, it's best to expect the unexpected. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy BodyVox

In the midst of its 20th-anniversary season, BodyVox is taking a moment to look back. The Portland, Oregon–based company presents Urban Meadow, an amalgamation of some of its most popular works, at Philadelphia's Prince Theater, Jan. 18–21. Expect whimsy, and the unexpected.





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