"I Truly Believe That Me Being a Dancer Is No Coincidence"
I truly believe that me being a dancer is no coincidence. As Martha Graham put it, "I did not choose: I was chosen to be a dancer."
I started dancing before I could even stand, as my mom likes to tell me. I grew up in Munich, where my dad used to give concerts on the weekends playing a Senegalese stringed instrument called the kora. Whenever he practiced at home, I started rocking back and forth, enjoying the rhythm.
Photo by RJ Muna
I found pleasure in the hard work. I loved when my teachers lifted my leg up all the way to my ear, only to let go a second later and yell at me as it dropped down rapidly. I learned quickly that once you achieve your goals you set new ones even higher.
Sometimes I feel like the older I get, the more I find to work on, and I wonder why. Shouldn't I be perfect by now, or at least have less to worry about? But I find new things to improve because I have come to a higher level of fine-tuning, of understanding my own body.
Being at LINES opened my eyes to a whole new kind of awareness. Instead of focusing on matching the dancer in front of me, I now get to focus on exploring space, and on strengthening my attention to every body part and their many ways of moving. Working with Alonzo King has shown me how much more there is to dance.
Photo by RJ Muna
I spent so much time using dance to speak that I didn't take enough time to listen. One often has a clear idea about how the steps should be executed, but by listening, I've learned that there are usually many more possibilities. Sometimes the in-between movement is more interesting than the end result.
To finesse your dancing, you want to find generosity within yourself so you can give and share. That's the beautiful part of ballet as an art form—we share it with the audience. We take them to places they might not have been to before.
One of the things I love most about my profession is the ability to inspire. Inspiring people to find the dancer within themselves, because it is inside of each and every one!
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
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.
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."