How Chloe Arnold Found Empowerment Through Art
I come from a lineage of survivors: African Americans who endured the brutality of slavery, Native Americans who survived forced genocidal migration, and my Jewish grandmother who escaped the Holocaust. My ancestors' enduring spirits live inside of me, giving me an indelible foundation of strength and compassion.
On the bookshelves my mom filled in our one-bedroom apartment in inner-city Washington, DC, sat a book called To Be Young, Gifted and Black, written by Lorraine Hansberry. Those words were aspirational, and empowered me to imagine a place beyond our limited conditions.
Lee Gumbs Photography, Courtesy SILLAR Management
I worked hard in school and excelled in sports and social leadership, but my home life weighed heavily on me. I lived in survivor mode every day, starting my own small businesses and even working at a junkyard to help my family financially. I struggled to find my own voice, until I met my first dance teacher, Ms. Toni Lombre. She believed in me and unlocked my soul, passion and rhythm, with the faith that movement would set this scholarship student free. She knew how much I loved tap dancing but required me to train in other styles too. I had no idea that she was cultivating my future.
Ms. Toni's guidance led me to the greatest mentor I could have ever imagined, Debbie Allen. At 16, I was cast in her play at the Kennedy Center, where I did a tap duet, but also jazz, swing dancing, singing and acting. A living example of an African-American woman from humble beginnings defying the odds to become an icon, she took me under her wing. Debbie mentored me through college at Columbia University, my move to L.A. and living bicoastally. She influenced my imagination and challenged me to trust myself.
In tap dance, a field where men dominate, I was determined to give women a leading voice. That inspired me to found the Syncopated Ladies, an all-female tap company, whose videos now have more than 50 million views online. One of my proudest moments was my recent Emmy nomination for Outstanding Choreography for "The Late Late Show with James Corden," which had never happened for a female tap dancer.
I found freedom through performing and choreographing, so I am committed to paying forward the lessons of my teachers. I encourage young people to dive into their greatest potential as global citizens with infinite possibilities. I believe art saves lives—it saved mine.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.