Dance & Science
The confidence students learn through dance can be transferred to many other fields. Photo by Damon Plant, courtesy STEM From Dance

As an audience cheers, three teenage girls cross the stage in a line, to the high-energy beat of The Chainsmokers' "Don't Let Me Down." They're dressed in head-to-toe black, but each of their shirts is decorated with bright bulbs, flashing and blinking in various colors as they move.

The performance is a product of STEM From Dance, a New York City-based nonprofit founded by Yamilee Toussaint—an MIT grad who's been dancing since age 5. The program targets middle and high school girls of color, who are vastly underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and might not otherwise see STEM as an option or be encouraged to try it.

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World, if you haven't already, meet Jay Ledford.

She's an incredibly gifted 18-year-old student at the Kirov Academy of Ballet with lines for dayyyyys. She's also transgender. And describing her as inspiring is a bit of an understatement.

Jay began transitioning relatively recently, and has been documenting her journey on Instagram. She's an active advocate for transgender youth, the kind of role model that so many young people—inside and outside of the dance world—need right now.

Read the full story on dancespirit.com.

Dancer Voices
The author in Nick Mauss' Transmissions at the Whitney Museum. Photo by Paula Court

During a period when I was intentionally taking a step back from performing, I was especially sensitive to the question, "So, are you auditioning for things?" Besides the insecurity of being a freelancer not hustling in that way, I also rankled at the complexity of what it means for a non-binary performer to audition.

To put it bluntly, there aren't many safe opportunities for us. That's because so many audition listings include gender-exclusionary phrases, so trans and non-binary artists either aren't eligible to show up or aren't sure whether or not they'd be welcome.

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Dancers Trending
Catherine Conley is now a member of the National Ballet of Cuba. Photo courtesy Riley Robinson

This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.

"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Omar Román De Jesús in rehearsal with Joffrey Academy trainees. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

So far, the fervor to create diversity in ballet has primarily focused on dancers. Less attention has been paid to the work that they'll encounter once they arrive.

Yet the cultivation of ballet choreographers of color (specifically black choreographers) through traditional pathways of choreographic training grounds remains virtually impossible. No matter how you slice it, we end up at the basic issues that plague the pipeline to the stage: access and privilege.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Chase Johnsey quietly made modern ballet history when he performed as part of the women's ensemble in English National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Elliot Franks, Courtesy In the Lights PR

Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaim for over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?

But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Vander Hoop and Clements driving down the highway. Photo by John Suhar

Sometimes as an artist, you need to leave the studio behind.

Just ask Summation Dance co-founders Taryn Vander Hoop and Sumi Clements. In 2016, the U.S. election was dominating the air waves just as they were finishing their company's fifth season in New York City. Feeling burned out by the assembly-line-like hustle of pumping out new work, they decided to hit the road.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Accompanying ChristinaNoel & The Creature's Self Love Kinda Thing. Photo by Susan Kelly-Johnson, courtesy Matthews

My name is Jonathan Matthews, and I wear a lot of hats. One is being a dancer; another is being a musician. A third is attempting to call myself a professional at both in New York City.

Accompanying dance classes is one of those attempts.

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Dancers Trending
Ashley Bouder's daughter, Violet Storm, perfects the art of stage makeup. Photo via Instagram.

In our eyes, being a dancer is remarkable. Add motherhood to the mix, and you're practically a superhero.

We salute all the incredible women who have two of the hardest—and most rewarding—jobs around. Here are just a few of our favorite #ballerinamom moments. (And don't say we didn't warn you: Prepare for full-on cute overload.)

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Breaking Stereotypes
Kyle Abraham choreographing on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Last month, Kyle Abraham was announced as one of the six choreographers contributing new work to New York City Ballet's 2018-19 season.

In its 70-year history, NYCB has only commissioned four black choreographers—all men: John Alleyne and Ulysses Dove in 1994, Dance Theatre of Harlem's Robert Garland in collaboration with Robert LaFosse in 2000, and Albert Evans in 2002 and 2005. It's been 11 years since Evans, an NYCB alum, made work for the company and 18 years since a black choreographer outside of NYCB has been invited to choreograph.

Take a moment to take that in.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Jordan Fry launcher her own business, Ballerina Baker, last year

Contrary to what her last name might suggest, Ballet West corps member Jordan Fry prefers baking as a cooking method. Her specialty? Picture-perfect cakes with flavors like banana-bourbon-butterscotch with caramel filling and toasted marshmallow frosting.

The self-professed sweets lover began her early culinary education through high school classes and YouTube videos. After a brief stint interning at a wedding cake shop in Salt Lake City, Fry started her own business, Ballerina Baker, in 2017.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Photo via Instagram, Kien Quan Photography

There's a tradition in hip-hop culture of reclaiming negative words as positive ones. That's why you might hear things like "nasty" or "bad" as compliments. The same goes for ILL-Abilities, a breaking crew comprised of differently-abled dancers:

"The 'ill' does not refer to 'sick' or 'unwell' but rather to incredible, amazing, intricate, talent," they write on their website. "Rather than seeing the negative limitations of 'disability,' this crew focuses on their positive, or 'ill,' abilities."

A new video for NOWNESS, directed by 2018 25 to Watcher Jacob Jonas, shows just how "ill" these dancers are:

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Breaking Stereotypes
Dada Masilo's Wilis condemn Albrecht. Photo by John Hogg, courtesy Kornberg PR

After seeing Dada Masilo's rendition of Giselle, I couldn't help thinking, "If ballet did a version like this, it would transform not just the genre of the 'story ballet,' but, even more powerfully, the narrative of the "ballerina" itself."

I was especially interested in Masilo's Giselle after writing A Radical Reimagining of Ballet for 2018, which pondered how classical ballets could be modernized, and what effects that would have on leading ladies like Odette/Odile, Aurora and Juliet. Though Dada Masilo/the Dance Factory is not a ballet company, I thought her take on story might be an interesting place to begin to imagine.

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Popular
The boxers of Element Gym and dancers of St. Paul Ballet collaborated for The Art of Boxing—The Sport of Ballet. Photo by St. Paul Ballet, Courtesy Neuger Communications Group.

St. Paul Ballet simply needed space to rehearse. The troupe found that, and so much more, at a local Minnesota boxing gym. Today, the dancers train side by side with boxers at Element Gym, and the two groups have even teamed up for a co-choreographed show.

The Art of Boxing—The Sport of Ballet first debuted last fall and will be reprised April 15 at Saint Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Nowhere near Minnesota? You can catch a teaser of the production below. It's pointe-shoes-meets-boxing-gloves and a true display of grit and grace—from both the ballerinas and the fighters. The interactive performance sheds a light on the rituals of each practice.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Don't underestimate dancers. Photo by Miguel Salgado/Unsplash

Raise your hand if you've ever been stereotyped as stupid because you're a dancer. Raise your other hand if that misconception boils your blood.

Well, you're in luck: One researcher is determined to set the record straight.

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Dancers Trending
Misty Copeland as Odette in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone via ABT

Misty Copeland's Instagram feed is usually filled with gorgeous performance shots and inspirational images featuring the many young girls she's inspired.

So we were surprised this morning to see Copeland post two screenshots of a mean tweet about herself:

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