The Best Dance of 2019, According to Dance Magazine Contributors

December 9, 2019

Here are the moves, moments and makers that grabbed Dance Magazine editors and writers this year:

The Dancers Smashing Stereotypes: Lizzo’s Posse

2019 was the year of Lizzo. The positivity clap-back queen had women everywhere dancing. But we took special note of who she chose to perform alongside her at major events like the BET Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards. Lizzo’s clan of full-figured backup dancers was broadcast to millions, proving that you don’t have to be a certain size to rock a leotard or to become a successful professional dancer. —Madeline Schrock, managing editor

An Overdue Solo Debut: Bijayini Satpathy’s Kalpana

Satpathy alone onstage in traditional Indian attire, with a decadent headpiece and lots of jewelry. She is making a mudra with one hand, and looking up at it.

Bijayini Satpathy in Kalpana

Anubhava, Courtesy Navatman

We knew Bijayini Satpathy was an extraordinary dancer. As a member of the Indian classical dance company Nrityagram, she has electrified New York audiences on multiple occasions, particularly in duets with artistic director and choreographer Surupa Sen. But this summer, at 46, Satpathy returned by herself to give her first-ever solo Odissi recital. For 90 minutes, time stood still as she embodied character after character from Hindu mythology, dancing with an intensity of focus and a fluidity of coordination that were equally mind-bending. She may be five-foot-two, but she dances like a giant. —Marina Harss, contributing writer

The Dance Community Speaks Out: The Reaction to “Good Morning America”

There were many ways things could have played out after Lara Spencer made a joke out of Prince George enjoying ballet classes on “Good Morning America” this summer. The moment could have slid past unacknowledged, or briefly percolated on social media before dissipating. Instead, the dance world came together, channeling anger and passion into action. The result? Spencer apologized on air, and “GMA” invited Fabrice Calmels, Robbie Fairchild and Travis Wall to speak directly to the stigma faced by boys who dance. Meanwhile, more than 300 dancers gathered outside the “GMA” studios in Times Square for an early morning ballet class. And we were all reminded that we’re more than just silent bodies moving in space: Dancers have voices, and when we use them, we have power. —Courtney Escoyne, associate editor

Broadway’s Best Triple Threat: Ephraim Sykes in Ain’t Too Proud

Sykes stands in front of 6 other men, all in suits. He kicks his leg out in front on him while holding a microphone. The men in the back stand profile, with their jackets swinging out behind them.

Ephraim Sykes in Ain’t Too Proud

Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations
had so much going for it when it opened at the Imperial Theatre: legendary hits from one of R&B’s indisputable supergroups, a cast teeming with talent and Broadway experience, and the Tony-winning choreography of Sergio Trujillo at the absolute top of his game. But dancing away with it all was Ephraim Sykes, who earned both a Tony nomination and a Chita Rivera Award for his portrayal of David Ruffin, lead singer on “My Girl” and so many other Temptations hits. Playing footsie with the mic stand, catch with the mic, and fast and loose with splits, spins and footwork, Sykes is a firecracker, all while acting and singing up a storm. —Sylviane Gold, senior advising editor

A Dance-Filled Correction of History: “Fosse/Verdon”

It’s rare to get a Hollywood depiction of the dance world that dives beyond the stereotypes to tell an unexpected story—or that features unexpectedly good dancing. But the FX series “Fosse/Verdon” did both. The show bluntly blew up Bob Fosse’s reputation as a lone creative genius by showing just how integral Gwen Verdon was to his iconic choreography. And while there may have been more drama than dancing on screen, the snippets that we got were done as sensationally as the perfectionist Fosse would have wanted. —Jennifer Stahl, editor in chief

A Statement-Making Work: Bethany Garcia’s Personas Invisibles

Garcia onstage in khaki shorts and a light blue button down shirt. she is on releve with one foot, with the other leg bent and the foot pointed, sticking behind her. She looks down at her foot, with her arms casually swung to the side. She leans slightly over.

Bethany Garcia in Personas Invisibles

Melissa Taylor, Courtesy Houston Symphony

Bethany Garcia held her own sharing the stage with Houston Symphony. Her fierce dancing, set to composer Alejandro Basulto’s Personas Invisibles, was inspired by the story of a Salvadoran transgender woman living in the U.S. as a refugee. Her dynamic range proved as juicy as the world-class musicians’. But it was the quality of dancing on fumes, where lightness and exhaustion merged as an emblem of hope, that made this one of Houston’s most memorable dance events of the year. Here, falling wasn’t giving up, but a platform to rise. —Nancy Wozny, contributing writer

A Bold Breakthrough: Bobbi Jene Smith’s Lost Mountain

Bobbi Jene Smith
‘s authenticity consistently shines through in her work. She’s known for her remorseless interrogation of the soul, and in Lost Mountain, Smith took that interrogation further, turning outward to explore geology and the loss that comes with shifts in the environment. The performers, moving between pockets of quiet activity and moments of explosion, acted as a cunning metaphor for these changes. —Kelsey Grills, audience engagement editor

Dance Made Edgy Again: EXPLODE! queer dance: Midwest

Four dancers stand in front of a group of drummers. They wear colorful traditional African attire. The dancers swing their arms up, holding drums sticks.

Ayodele Drum & Dance in Guinea Suite

Al Evangelista, Courtesy EXPLODE! queer dance: Midwest

The hits kept on coming in EXPLODE! queer dance: Midwest in Chicago in August. The brazen, brainy, brassy hostessing of LaWhore Vagistan, who crosses geographical and gender borders, set the tone. Just as giddy-making was Jennifer Monson and nibia pastrana santiago’s Choreographies of Disaster, Installment 3, especially when they attempted to dance “without referencing dance” while topless. Slim and beglittered, Lee Na-Moo swirled, shimmied and arched in his slick yet innocent solo Nostalgia. In J’Sun Howard’s heart-catching solo aMoratorium: at the altar, it may not be my time, dancer Dedrick Gray’s courage and vulnerability infused every shake, pounce and stagger. For a rousing finale, Ayodele Drum & Dance exploded with rhythmic power in Guinea Suite. —Wendy Perron, editor at large

Museum Dance for the People: Silas Farley’s Songs from the Spirit

No, New York City Ballet corps de ballet member Silas Farley is not the first artist to bring dance into the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But when so much of the site-specific dance we see in high-art venues feels stuffy and academic, Farley’s Songs from the Spirit was unapologetically soulful. Set to original songs written by inmates at San Quentin State Prison and live traditional spirituals, the work moved through the Met’s most iconic halls, democratizing each with its simple, athletic phrases and focus on faith and freedom. A duet for Farley and his NYCB colleague Taylor Stanley was all the more tender considering we so rarely see the pair close-up. —Lauren Wingenroth, associate editor