Rock Island, Illinois, is a small city about three hours from Chicago and an hour from Iowa City. It is also home to Ballet Quad Cities. "I moved here with an open mind," says Courtney Lyon, who began as a dancer with the company and now serves as artistic director. While she considered moving to a bigger city, Lyon found that Rock Island met her needs: a livable atmosphere, affordable rent, a nice artistic community with a lot of theater (though not much dance) and galleries. "The company was young and the work felt significant, and as a dancer, I felt less like a cog in a wheel." Almost two decades later, she and the company continue to thrive in this pocket of the Midwest.
Pursuing a career outside of a dance hub might seem like a risk. But being the only dance show in town can mean artistic freedom and even a more dedicated audience. However, the challenges include building that audience from the ground up.
Just hearing the word "improvisation" is enough to make some ballet dancers shake in their pointe shoes. But for Chantelle Pianetta, it's a practice she relishes. Depending on the weekend, you might find her gracing Bay Area stages as a principal with Menlowe Ballet or sweeping in awards at West Coast swing competitions.
She specializes in Jack and Jill events, which involve improvised swing dancing with an unexpected partner in front of a panel of judges. (Check her out in action below.) While sustaining her ballet career, over the past four years Pianetta has quickly risen from novice to champion level on the WCS international competition circuit.
Inside a bustling television studio in Los Angeles, Lindsay Arnold Cusick hears the words "Five minutes to showtime." While dancers and celebrities covered head to toe in sequins whirl around preparing for their live performances on "Dancing with the Stars," Cusick pauses to say a prayer to God and express her gratitude.
"I know that it's not a given, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to do what I love for a living," says Cusick, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For her, prayer is a ritualized expression of her faith that she has maintained since she was a girl in Provo, Utah. Even with her seven-plus years of industry experience, she always takes a moment to steady herself and close her prayer in Christ's name before rushing onto the stage.
More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:
"Is your daughter the dancer?"
"Actually," I say, "I am."
"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"
"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."
Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.
Working in corporate America can be a grind, so, for many, vacation is a welcome opportunity to relax and unwind. But for Jane Collier, it's a chance to ramp up her ballet training.
Though she's based in Chicago, where she works in global sourcing for Walgreens Boots Alliance, over the last several years she's attended summer intensives at American Ballet Theatre in New York City, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and, most recently, the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen.
Chiara Valle is just one of many dancers heading back to the studio this fall as companies ramp up for the season. But her journey back has been far more difficult than most.
Valle has been a trainee at The Washington Ballet since 2016, starting at the same time as artistic director Julie Kent. But only a few months into her first season there, she started experiencing excruciating pain high up in her femur. "It felt like someone was stabbing me 24/7," she says. Sometimes at night, the pain got so bad that her roommates would bring her dinner to the bathtub.
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What does cycling have to do with dancing?
For Purelements: An Evolution in Dance co-founder Kevin Joseph, it's all about freedom: "That freedom of moving through space on a bike is the same freedom I feel when I'm dancing," he says. And that sense of freedom—whether it's in the studio or in the streets—is something that Purelements is determined to give to its East Brooklyn community.
Back when he was a living in a dorm as an international student at San Francisco Ballet School, Benjamin Freemantle developed a new skill: cutting hair. "Most of us didn't have the financial means to go out and get a San Francisco haircut," he says. So he started cutting his fellow dancers' hair and his own.
"I actually kinda lied to my friend and told him I'd done it before," admits Freemantle, with a laugh. "But it turned out really well!"
Some dancers call them "fake" ballerinas. Some resent their lack of serious stage credentials to back up their success. Some feel their accounts are deceitful, since regular people who don't know the difference between a great dancer and a great dance model.
But most ballet influencers aren't out to trick anyone. They're simply finding a new way to keep ballet in their lives.
The dancers-slay-choreo-while-onlookers-cheer class video is pretty popular these days. And if you've watched a viral class video within the past 24 hours, there's a good chance it was filmed by Tim Milgram. With 3.1 million subscribers and counting on his YouTube channel, TMilly TV, it's obvious that online audiences love his video style, with its dramatic lighting and choreographed camera work.
But while many in the dance community appreciate class videos as a way to show their work and expand their online following, others have spoken out against the practice, questioning how it negatively affects dancers' training and priorities. Acknowledging those complaints, Milgram recently decided to open his own studio, TMilly TV, in North Hollywood, CA. It aims to create a better balance between time spent learning and time spent filming. Already, the studio has attracted some big-name faculty, from Dominique Kelley to Jake Kodish.
We caught up with Milgram to get the scoop on his new studio, and how he hopes to improve the dance community's perception of the class video.
How do you respectfully preserve a dance tradition that is more than 1,000 years old while recontextualizing it for 21st-century audiences? Perhaps no one has done it so well in recent memory as Prumsodun Ok, the founder of Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA, Cambodia's first gay dance company.
In dance, we sometimes hear of a late bloomer who defies the odds. Or of dancers who overcome incredible injuries to return to the stage.
But both? That's not a story we hear often. That is, however, Darla Davies' story, one that she tells in her recent book Who Said I'd Never Dance Again? A Journey from Hip Replacement Surgery to Athletic Victory. Davies, who is now 61, started her ballroom dance training just twenty years ago, and has won two U.S. championships—one of which she earned after a hip replacement.
Can choreography solve social conflict? Dana Caspersen thinks it might. A veteran dancer with Ballett Frankfurt—which was run by her husband, William Forsythe—Caspersen now uses movement to help people around the world navigate disputes.
She promotes conflict resolution through teaching, writing and coaching, and develops choreographic methods that let groups address differences in nonverbal ways. Many of her projects center on participatory "action dialogues," which allow groups as large as 250 to tackle fraught issues like racism and polarization.
She recently spoke to Dance Magazine about her work, and why she sees choreography as an appropriate vehicle to change minds.
What is it about men in tights that makes people react so irrationally?
Especially here in the U.S., men are ridiculed and demeaned for choosing to dance, particularly in ballet. Boys are bullied, called f****t and labeled as "homo," hostile charges that impale the soul.
I remember quite clearly classmates and even my own family members calling me a sissy for studying ballet back in the 1960s and '70s. What terrified me was that they might discover I was gay when I wasn't even sure what to call my sexual orientation. I just wanted to dance.
You'd think things would have gotten much better, but many boys still face these issues.
Although the dance world has its fair share of divas, there is a different type of diva that's coming out of the dance studio.
"Diva" is the coined term for a female professional wrestler in the World Wrestling Entertainment organization. More than a few dancers—as well as gymnasts and cheerleaders—have taken their training and applied it to successful careers in this comical yet physically grueling art form.
When star dancers retire from the stage, it's not uncommon to see them step into a new kind of spotlight as an artistic director.
But Kathleen Breen Combes is making a more surprising move.
After the longtime Boston Ballet principal gives her farewell performance on June 9, she'll start a second career as executive director of Festival Ballet Providence, taking on the nuts-and-bolts administrative tasks that go into the business side of ballet.
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
"I put on Lorde for a warm-up song," says Lucy Wallace, recalling a dance class she was giving to a new group of students. "As soon as I started moving—literally just stepped to the right and moved my arm—this woman behind me said, 'Oh! This is spiritual.' "
But she wasn't the typical dance student, nor was this a typical studio. This woman is serving a life sentence at Denver Women's Correctional Facility.
As a dancer with hemiplegia cerebral palsy, Jerron Herman has never been far from the physical therapy room—or an occupational therapist or some kind of medical interventionist. "I'm almost always in deep conversation with that kind of practitioner," says Herman, who performs with Heidi Latsky Dance.
It's part of keeping his body ready to dance—and to move throughout his daily life. Herman shared his routine with Dance Magazine.
"Weirdo. Pervert. Disgusting." These are just a few of the insults—and the milder ones at that—often directed at pole dancers. Perhaps more than any other dancers, its practitioners are constantly fighting for recognition that they are indeed athlete artists. Now, they're getting major support from a surprising source: Sprite.