A freelance writer in New York City, Alison Feller contributes to Women's Health, Self, Shape, Allure, Well+Good, and Daily Burn, and is the creator of the blog Ali on the Run and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast.
Keone and Mari Madrid are hardly strangers to the spotlight. Together, the powerhouse partners have performed in a Justin Bieber music video and on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and have choreographed for "So You Think You Can Dance." With around 250,000 subscribers, you could say Keone and Mari are "YouTube famous," but, thanks in part to a successful stint on NBC's "World of Dance" last year, they've become much more than that. Case in point: They're currently co-creating, choreographing and starring in their first full-length production, Beyond Babel. The immersive show will debut in San Diego this month; Keone and Mari hope to eventually take it on tour.
Adam Shankman came into the spotlight in 2007 when he choreographed and directed the movie-musical Hairspray and made his first appearances on the "So You Think You Can Dance" judging panel. But he was already more than a decade into his career as a choreographer and budding director. Today, Shankman is a Hollywood mainstay who has worked on scores of movies, TV shows and commercials, including dance classics like the Step Up franchise, which he produced. Next up: Directing the film What Men Want, which opens in January.
He recently spoke to Dance Magazine about his path to Hollywood and why the dance studio remains his favorite place.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
At the end of Act I in Broadway's Mean Girls, the entire ensemble performs high-energy choreography while belting what Kamille Upshaw says is "a million notes at once." Though Upshaw is a Juilliard-trained dancer who made her Broadway debut in Hamilton, nothing, she says, could prepare her for this moment. "Singing while dancing is just hard," Upshaw says. "It takes patience, focus and compromise."
Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.
They say your life can change in a moment. For JaQuel Knight, it took precisely three minutes and 18 seconds. That's how long three leotard-and-high-heel-clad women spent on-screen, strutting in perfect unison and becoming an instant video sensation, one that would go on to garner more than 600 million views on YouTube.
In the '90s, low-fat diets were as popular as boy bands. But by the early 2000s, the high-fat, high-protein Atkins and South Beach diets had people stocking up on steak and eggs. Now, avocado toast is arguably trendier than *NSYNC ever was, and fat is no longer thought of as a naughty f-word.
But there's still some skepticism around how necessary fats are in a well-rounded diet, particularly among dancers. Before you reach for that grass-fed double bacon cheeseburger, make sure you know the difference between rumors and reality.
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In a perfect world, we would get all the nutrients we need from hearty, healthy (and delicious!) meals. "Food is where vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are in their most natural form and can be best used by the body," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Hospital.
But for dancers—who are asking so much of their bodies but might be watching calories—even a relatively healthy diet doesn't necessarily mean you're fueling your body for optimal performance. Adding a supplement or vitamin to your regimen could give you the boost you've been missing.
Which should you consider?
Photo by Joe Toreno
Her YouTube channel has more than 1 million subscribers. MTV has hired her to produce and star in her own reality show, "Going Off." More than a hundred and fifty eager dancers will line up just to get into one of her classes.
But why is everyone so obsessed with Tricia Miranda?
The 37-year-old baggy-pants-wearing, giant-hoop-earrings-loving choreographer from Yuma, Arizona, is a master of the viral video.
She uploaded her first class-combination video—to Nicki Minaj's “Anaconda"—in 2014 to promote her upcoming classes at The PULSE On Tour. It "accidentally" got more than 30 million views.
The former Beyoncé and Britney Spears dancer already had serious industry credits to her name, but clips from her classes at Millennium Dance Complex in North Hollywood are what have made her a star. They have even boosted the fame and professional careers of many young dancers in her class, like Jade Chynoweth, Gabe De Guzman, Aidan Prince and Kaycee Rice.
When asked what makes her videos go viral, Miranda lists four things:
- Her students: “The dancers are mind-blowing."
- Her music: She normally teaches to Top 40 songs, which people are searching for online.
- The film quality: The cinematography is professionally done.
- That party vibe: “We're all screaming and telling jokes, laughing, being silly," Miranda says. “I like to create a safe, supportive environment. I want my dancers to feel comfortable enough to ask questions and not feel intimidated. They can mess up, they can be themselves."
A version of this story appears in Dance Magazine's March 2017 issue.
Sometimes, it takes more than dancing to become a better dancer. Whether you struggle with tense shoulders or weak jumps, adding in the right forms of cross-training can fast-track your improvement. We asked the experts for exercises you can do on your own to fix six of the most common technique problems.
Whether you're attending your first convention or your 20th, spending a weekend in a crowded ballroom with hundreds of other dancers can be equal parts exciting, intimidating and overwhelming. Conventions are a chance to learn new styles, take classes from top teachers and network with the people who may someday hire you. So how do you take advantage of this opportunity and stand out from the crowd?
It's two hours until showtime, and you want a quick bite to give you a boost. So you run into your local smoothie shop and order the Strawberry Surprise. Perfect plan, right? Not necessarily. The word “smoothie" doesn't automatically translate to superfood. But done right, it can be a dancer's secret weapon, leaving you satisfied without the bloat, and energized without the sugar crash. The trick is to avoid these six common mistakes.
Mistake: Overdoing Fruit
Fruit is healthy—in moderation. “You don't need three servings of it to start your day," says dietitian Lauren Slayton, founder of Foodtrainers in New York City. Keep your drink heavy on the veggies, and stick to just one serving of fruit. Vegetables have very little to no sugar, and pack a greater nutritional punch.
Mistake: Adding Juice
“One of the great things about blended smoothies (as opposed to juicing) is that you retain the fiber and other nutrients in the skins of the fruit," says Emily C. Harrison, dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition at Atlanta Ballet. “Adding juice is more like adding sweetener." Instead, Harrison recommends using almond or soy milk for a boost in calcium and vitamin D, or simply water.
Mistake: Over Sweetening
It may be tempting to add a sweetener, but you really don't need it. “Smoothies are naturally sweet," says Harrison. Try your favorite smoothie without extra sweetener and see if you can taste the difference. If you insist on adding something, Slayton suggests just a few drops of liquid stevia or other natural sweeteners. “Agave, maple syrup or honey are okay if you truly stick to a few drops," she says. “But never go for Splenda. That puts the 'ugly' in the good, bad and ugly of smoothies." The chlorinated artificial sweetener is made primarily of sucralose, which comes with a whole host of negative side effects.
If you're ordering a premade smoothie, beware: “Most are full of sugar," warns Harrison. For example, even Smoothie King's small Hulk Vanilla drink packs a whopping 88 grams of sugar—about as much as two bags of Skittles. According to the American Heart Association, women shouldn't be consuming more than 25 grams per day of added sugar (not including the naturally occurring sugars in fruit).
Mistake: Adding Protein
Mixing in protein powder is usually unnecessary. “Most dancers get enough protein through their diets," says Harrison. “So adding extra protein is basically just adding extra calories—and it doesn't magically make your muscles bigger." If you do want to pump up your protein intake, Harrison suggests sticking to pea or hemp protein: “They come from plant-based sources, which have been shown to be healthier in the long term."
Mistake: Skipping Fat
Repeat after us: Fat is not a dirty word! “Fat provides staying power," says Slayton. Adding a tablespoon of healthy fats is an easy way to keep yourself satisfied through long performances. Slayton's favorites are coconut oil (“great for burning fat," she says), hemp seeds and almond butter.
Mistake: Creating A Calorie Bomb
That aforementioned Hulk Vanilla smoothie boasts 801 calories—essentially making it a glorified milkshake. Harrison suggests keeping your smoothie to 8 to 16 ounces, depending on whether you're drinking it as a snack or a meal.
The contemporary queen is taking on the most famous kickline in the world.
Michaels working with the Rockettes. Photo by Rebecca Taylor, Courtesy MSG Photos.
When you’ve launched your own company, become a three-time Emmy Award winner from your work on “So You Think You Can Dance” and choreographed a hit Broadway musical, what would you pursue next? Most people would think “A vacation.” But this summer, Mia Michaels will make her directorial debut as the director and choreographer of the New York Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes, a revamped version of last year’s New York Spring Spectacular.The show runs June 15–August 7 at Radio City Music Hall.
You choreographed the opening number of the Spring Spectacular. Now you’re running the whole show.
I’m getting my first official director credit—it’s really exciting! I’ve wanted to direct for a long time, and it’s happening. This show is huge. It’s a beast. But that’s perfect for me. I don’t start small, apparently.
What is your vision for this show?
The Rockettes have been around for more than 85 years and now they’re putting themselves into my hands. That’s golden. We’re creating this spectacle and making beautiful eye candy for the viewers. There will absolutely still be kicklines—that will never go away! But I’m excited to breathe fresh energy into it. My goal is to bring a Mia vocabulary into the Rockette world, and really marry the two. When a brand is this iconic, you don’t want to change it—it’s iconic for a reason. I’m protecting this little nugget while playing around with all the gravy that surrounds it.
What is the new story about?
It’s a magical journey through New York City, told through the eyes of a child, so it brings that fantastical quality of what New York can be. There’s a lot of dance, a lot of leg and a lot of original music. I’m bringing on a group of male ensemble dancers, so that’s a big change. The movement is all over the map, from the classic Rockette rep to more contemporary flavors. Not only do the dancers have to do Rockette material, they also have to do the physical and technical Mia work.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing as a director?
It’s so different from just choreographing because you have your eye on every team and every department. You’re looking at everything from the colors to the lights to the videos to the music. As a choreographer, you’re in your own pocket. As a director, you’re in every pocket.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
I wrote a book—an instructional inspirational memoir, if that makes any sense—called A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys. Everyone is always trying to look the same, be the same. This is about challenging yourself to stand out and celebrate it. It has a lot of stories from my life and career, but it’s not just for dancers. I’m also working on “Mia Michaels Live,” which is an online mentorship program for artists, dancers, choreographers and teachers. As I get older, I realize how much I needed a mentor when I was younger. Now it’s my turn to be a mentor—to be Mama Mia.
Any chance we’ll be seeing you on this season of “So You Think You Can Dance”?
Oh, I don’t know! I have no idea! But never say never. That brand is a big part of my life, so if Nigel [Lythgoe] wanted me to come back, I would definitely do it if the time was right.
When Ebony Williams goes grocery shopping, people often stop her. “Do the 'Single Ladies' dance!" they beg. Seven years after Beyoncé's “Single Ladies" video debuted, Williams—one of just two backup dancers in the video—still gets called out in public. “People have said they recognize my butt cheeks," Williams says, with a laugh. Although she spent 10 years as a veritable star in Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, it was her performance with Beyoncé that skyrocketed her to household-name fame.
Concert-dancer-turned-commercial-superstar stories like Williams' are inspiring. But they're not typical. Making the transition from the concert world to the fast-paced and unpredictable commercial scene requires adaptability, persistence and thick skin.
Why Make the Switch?
Matthew Shaffer started his career with the Giordano Dance Chicago touring company. But he craved variety. “I get bored easily," he says. “One of the biggest appeals of the commercial world is you're doing something different every day." Once you've wrapped, it's on to new choreography, new costumes and a new set.
The same was true for Williams. “I wasn't doing any hip hop," she says. So she sought out the style in her spare time. “I would rehearse from 10 to 6 with Cedar Lake, and then I would go to Broadway Dance Center to take hip hop," she says. “It felt like recess!" Williams booked her first commercial job performing with Rihanna at Fashion Rocks and eventually signed with Clear Talent Group.
Remember that commercial auditions are unlike company auditions. “Your look takes precedence," says Williams. “A haircut can get you a job." Know what you're auditioning for, and outfit yourself accordingly—while maintaining your personal style, so the casting team will remember you. Consider having a signature hairstyle, accessory or shoe to brand yourself.
Typically, the casting team is looking for someone specific: They may need a tall blonde who can vogue, or a short Asian with huge muscles. Typecasting is unavoidable. “They're looking for the best match, not the best dancer," says Jessica Lee Keller, a former member of Cedar Lake who has danced on “Dancing with the Stars," “The Voice" and in Teen Beach Movie.
Whether or not you're the best match, you're likely replaceable. “If you can't make it, they move on to the next person," says Williams.
Get an Agent
Most agencies hold open calls, but if you have connections, a referral helps. Once you land an agent, they will tell you about upcoming auditions and negotiate your working conditions, salary and other legal items, explains Shaffer. Your agent will also help you navigate the SAG/AFTRA union, which protects dancers.
When you were dancing with a company, you probably had class every day. Now you have to take control of your training. “Take classes that are foreign to you," says Shaffer. “You're already great at contemporary—now take jazz, hip hop or whatever class is taught by the choreographer you want to work with."
While the best way to network is in person, there is tremendous power on social media. Post videos on your channels, interact with your favorite choreographers and share posts you find valuable. The more people in your network—both in real life and on the internet—the better.
It's also wise to enroll in singing and acting classes. “We're used to using our bodies to convey emotions," says Shaffer. “But it's no longer just about the kick-ball-change."
“I make four times as much money on commercial jobs as I did when I was in a company," says Shaffer. The major variable is that with a company contract comes a steady paycheck, plus benefits, while on commercial gigs, you may get one huge check, but you have to make it last until your next job. If you work on a television show or in a movie, however, you can expect residuals. “You can go to the mailbox and have a check for a movie you did two years ago," says Shaffer. “It's the gift that keeps on giving."
What street styles can do for concert dancers
Popping and locking can help you learn to relax your upper body. Here: Val “Ms. Vee” Ho’s class at Broadway Dance Center. Photo by Sandy Shelton, courtesy Broadway Dance Center.
Marquisa Gardner spent the first 17 years of her life training in ballet, jazz and tap. In college, she began performing with a contemporary ballet company and teaching jazz classes in Los Angeles. Then one of her students brought her to a club where kids were dancing a style called clowning. “It was a major culture shock for me,” Gardner says. “I tried to mimic what the dancers were doing, but I was rooted with ballet technique.”
She was hooked, though. Exploring the new style helped Gardner improve her performance quality, and gave her a new outlet for expressing herself. Today Gardner is “Miss Prissy,” known as the Queen of Krump and one of the stars of the 2005 film Rize.
Though it can be tempting to stay in your comfort zone, trying different street dance styles could be the key to your versatility: You’ll begin to hear music differently, find new ways to move and expand your improvisation skills. Unsure about which to dive into first? Read on for a breakdown.
B-Boying: Improve Floor Work, Get Faster Feet and Learn Flashy Tricks
The first step to channeling your inner b-girl: Get comfortable getting fast and low. B-boying, sometimes referred to as breaking or break dancing, utilizes floor work (think head and knee spins), freezes, acrobatic elements and quick footwork. “It’s a physical style—you’re going to be on your hands a lot,” says Alex Welch, aka “B-Girl Shorty,” a Los Angeles–based instructor and member of the Beat Freaks.
As with many street styles, b-boying relies heavily on freestyling, so learning to let go is key. Nothing b-girls do is small—the movements are precise but explosive. Most of all? “A b-girl is strong, independent and kills it every time,” says Welch. “She never lets anyone tell her she can’t do something.”
Popping and Locking: Master Intricacies and Details
While the East Coast was break-dancing during the 1970s, funk styles—like popping and locking—were cropping up on the West Coast. Val “Ms. Vee” Ho, an instructor at Broadway Dance Center, Peridance and Pace University’s commercial dance program, explains locking as “quick, sharp, dynamic movements,” while popping is “a quick contraction of the muscle followed by an immediate relaxation.” Popping is a smaller, repetitive motion, while locking is a bigger, more external way of dancing. “Locking is swinging with the beat,” Ho says. “Popping is attacking the beat.”
Both styles require classically trained dancers to relax their spines. “Instead of thinking up, up, up, fighting gravity and balancing, think about dancing down,” Ho says. “The funk styles work with gravity instead of against it. The biggest struggle many concert dancers face is relaxing their neck and upper back.” Learning to maintain a balance between technique and release makes for a more interesting dancer.
Krumping: Develop an Explosive, Full-Bodied Performance
Although krumping has gained popularity thanks to “So You Think You Can Dance,” the televised version is slightly watered down. Krumping is almost entirely freestyle and rarely choreographed. It is a battle-centric style more than a stage style, and it’s one of the most aggressive forms of street dance. Instead of focusing on floor work and tricks, krumpers dance upright, with explosive arms, bent knees and pulsing chests. “Krumping is a fusion of African cultural dance and street dance,” says Gardner.
It’s crucial to fully abandon your concert dance roots in order to best explore the style. When Gardner first tried krump, her ballet training hindered her. “I couldn’t create the lines and embrace the dynamic,” she says. “With krump, you’re not trying to achieve a perfect arabesque. It’s about being raw and telling a story. You can be passionate and vibrant, and it should feel amazing. There’s no wrong way to krump.”
Having a hard time? “Give yourself scenarios,” Gardner says. “How would you feel if your boyfriend broke up with you? How do you channel your aggression? What about your passion? Express that energy in your freestyle.”
Voguing: Gain Cleaner Lines and a More Dramatic Presence
Imagine someone is taking a photo of every move you hit throughout a piece of choreography. That’s voguing. The form is about looking linear and angular to create shapes with your body. It’s precision-based, but requires dancers to maintain a fluid, graceful posture, while creating a dramatic picture with every movement.
Javier Madrid, known as “Javier Ninja,” says the key to immersing yourself in vogue choreography is to worry less about your lines and more about rhythm and confidence. “You can’t be timid. No one wants to watch a shy dancer,” he says. Envision yourself as a model in a magazine. “They look extended, like there’s a line down their backs. They’re dainty, but dramatic.” Madrid says everything vogue dancers do can be directly applied back to concert styles: “Your lines will become cleaner, you’ll look taller, more elegant—and you won’t do anything halfway ever again.”
From Miami City Ballet to Broadway—and the steam room
For most dancers, performing six nightly shows and two matinees a week would be the ultimate test of stamina. But for former Miami City Ballet soloist Sara Esty, she’s actually dancing less now that she’s an ensemble dancer in An American in Paris on Broadway. “I used to spend six to seven hours a day just rehearsing,” Esty says. “I never had to pay much attention to keeping myself in shape because I was dancing so much.” But while the hours may be fewer, the intensity remains. “The show is so physically demanding,” she says. “And it’s not just the dancing—the dancers do all the set moves ourselves, and the sets are heavy!”
Esty, 29, handles one of the show’s most demanding dance tracks and understudies the lead role. Though unlike preparing for a ballet performance, where “you’re jumping, jetéing and bouncing all over the stage,” Esty says she now just has to focus on having a strong core and progressively warming up throughout the day, leading up to the climax of the show: a 17-minute ballet.
On days without a matinee, Esty usually has a four-hour rehearsal before her evening performance, so she doesn’t always make it to a ballet class. Instead, she uses her two-hour break after rehearsal to rest and eat, then arrives at the theater 90 minutes before curtain to give herself a pre-show warm-up, which includes light yoga, stretching and a ballet barre (“it’s like breakfast—I can’t function without it,” she says).
In particular, Esty makes sure her ankles and calves are warm and loose in order to handle the show’s many shoe changes. “My physical therapist suggested a regimen to keep my Achilles tendons elongated so they don’t get tight going from pointe shoes to heels to tap shoes and back again,” she says. It includes pliés and tendus, and stretching her calves on a set of stairs, standing in parallel and letting her heels hang off the edge of a step.
Esty also tries to hit the gym about once a week. She warms up on the elliptical for 20 to 30 minutes, followed by planks, calf stretching and foam rolling. She started focusing on planks the summer before the show opened in Paris to build core strength, and has stuck with them. Her go-to move: holding a plank on her forearms or hands for one minute, then resting for one minute, and repeating three to four times. But Esty’s real motivation for hitting the gym? The steam room. “I’ll even go in between matinee and evening shows just to sit and loosen everything up,” she says. “Because by the end of the show, my body is in total shock.”
Breakfast: Hard-boiled eggs, fruit and toast with peanut butter. “And coffee, of course.”
Pre-Matinee Snack: A green juice from Jamba Juice
Lunch: A healthy sandwich, trail mix and dried fruit or peanut butter on a granola bar. “I love the trail mixes from Trader Joe’s—there’s one with almonds, cashews, cranberries and mini peanut-butter cups.”
Dinner: A salad with romaine, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, chicken or steak, and feta or cheddar cheese, with crispy onions on top. “I make sure there’s an equal balance of dark-green vegetables and good-tasting stuff.” She’ll also have a cup of soup, usually chicken noodle, kale quinoa lentil or beef stew.
Post-Show: “I give my body something it will love, like a Clif Bar, almonds, flavored ice-cold coconut water, or even leafy green vegetables and some steak, pork or chicken.”
Sweets: “I’m a sucker for a cookie or cake.”
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl start dancing together. They fall in love, create epic dance collaborations, go viral on YouTube, get married and perform together on Times Square billboards.
Though it's not the most common love and success story, it's the story of Keone and Mariel (Mari) Madrid. Often compared to commercial choreographers (and fellow husband-and-wife team) Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo for their sweet lyrical, hip-hop style, Keone, 26, and Mari, 29, have grown a worldwide fan base and become darlings of the urban choreography industry. Their YouTube videos have garnered several million views, capturing the attention of people like Ellen DeGeneres, who invited them to perform on her show.
How husband-and-wife team Keone and Mari Madrid found choreographic fame via YouTube
Photo by Little Shao, Courtesy Go 2 Talent Agency
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl start dancing together. They fall in love, create epic dance collaborations, go viral on YouTube, get married and perform together on Times Square billboards.
Though it’s not the most common love and success story, it’s the story of Keone and Mariel (Mari) Madrid. Often compared to commercial choreographers (and fellow husband-and-wife team) Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo for their sweet lyrical, hip-hop style, Keone, 26, and Mari, 29, have grown a worldwide fan base and become darlings of the urban choreography industry. Their YouTube videos have garnered several million views, capturing the attention of people like Ellen DeGeneres, who invited them to perform on her show.
It all began when Keone’s students at San Diego’s Culture Shock Dance Center filmed his combinations and posted them on YouTube. “I thought YouTube was just for comedy videos and cute kittens,” Keone says. “Neither Mari nor I uploaded our first video.” It was essentially because of those early videos that Keone and Mari finally met. After seeing their work online, the dance workshop Urban Legends invited both of them to teach in Temecula, California. Afterwards, Keone asked Mari to teach for Future Shock San Diego, a competitive crew he had danced in, and the pair eventually began dating. But it wasn’t until six months into their relationship that they began collaborating. “Our styles meshed surprisingly well,” Keone says.
Keone and Mari’s popularity surged when videos of them teaching together were posted on Movement Lifestyle’s YouTube channel (which serves to bring additional exposure to working choreographers). In May 2010, they conceptualized, choreographed and professionally shot their first video, “Smooth Operator,” which utilizes large-frame shooting in lieu of quick cuts and fancy angles. The zoomed-out camera lets viewers see the whole picture as they would during a stage production—Keone and Mari passing a single rose back and forth as they alternate between intricate footwork and seductive slow dancing.
Soon, Keone and Mari started posting more videos on their shared channel, and their popularity steadily progressed over the next few years. In 2013, their video to Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” quickly went viral after it was posted on Urban Dance Camp’s channel. “Getting a million views at the time was unreal,” Keone says. It prompted an e-mail from—and eventual live performance on—“The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “That was when we realized our viral reach,” Keone says. “From there, the jobs kept coming.”
At first, they were mostly booking teaching gigs. The duo teaches each summer at Urban Dance Camp and also gets calls from conventions and studio owners who want the pair to choreograph their family-friendly material on their students. “People call us and reference our videos,” Keone says. “Our work online is like our resumé.” They’ve also booked Korean pop videos and a Hyundai commercial and choreographed for “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“Their style was very smooth, very lyrical, with hard-hitting movements and creative storytelling,” says “SYTYCD” executive producer Jeff Thacker, who hired them after seeing the pair online. “But Keone and Mari had no egos, no drama. They created something that was still uniquely them and was right for the show.”
It’s easy to see why the world is drawn to their videos: Watching their choreography is often like watching two people fall in love over and over again. In their “Is This Love” routine, they portray an old couple, linking arms as they transition from basic step-touches to perky, interlocked or mirrored partner work. “We’re not just dancing together—we have a life outside, too,” Mari says. “A general person will be like, ‘Oh yeah, the married couple that dances!’ “ says Keone. “It’s an easy thing for people to connect with.”
Keone and Mari’s choreography became a hit in an industry where partnering is often basic and predictable—and rare. “Many partner pieces in the urban dance realm were very traditional,” Keone says. “The dancers would just do opposite choreography facing each other. We wanted to try and do something different with the technicalities and intricacies in our choreography.”
Yet that partnering remains wholesome and all-age-appropriate, in part because of their shared faith. “We’re both Christian, and there are certain things we don’t want to do,” Mari says. “This is genuinely who we are.”
Keone and Mari’s next venture takes their videos to a more personal level: They just opened a private studio called Building Block in San Diego. The goal is to offer private intensives to individuals or small groups. “Like personal training for dancers,” Keone says.
In the future, Keone and Mari say they would love to get into theater and film projects, or work with a musical artist. And they don’t plan to stop dancing anytime soon. “We’re going to be dancers as long as we can—as long as our bodies allow,” says Keone. “Even if that just means dancing together in our living room,” Mari says. n
Alison Feller is a freelance writer in New York.
Despite how many hours dancers spend in rehearsal getting performance-ready, many overlook one last crucial detail: the show-day nutrition plan.
“It's all about preparation," says Emily C. Harrison, a former dancer who now runs Dancer Nutrition, LLC. “To have a good performance, you give your time to rehearsals and making sure your body is in good shape. Why not also take the time to plan your meals and snacks? It's just as important as your pre-show warm-up."
The last thing you want to be thinking about onstage is an empty, over-caffeinated or bloated stomach. Luckily, with a little planning ahead, you can make sure these all-too-common nutrition mistakes don't get in the way of your best performance.
Dana Wilson brings personality to every performance.
Photo by Little Shao, courtesy Wilson.
Being a backup dancer usually means blending into the background. Not if you’re Dana Wilson. Even alongside such megastars as Justin Timberlake, she stands out. She’s the one who, without straying from the choreography, adds her own flair to make it just a touch more exciting. She draws you in with her addicting eye-contact and barely-there smirk, dancing like there’s a story going on inside—and like she’s someone you wish you could get to know.
Wilson has found a way to bring artistry to the world’s biggest stages without distracting from the show’s main ingredient. Whether she’s working for Wade Robson or Andy Blankenbuehler, dancing behind Justin Bieber or Florence and the Machine, or choreographing for “So You Think You Can Dance,” she does it with a performance quality that’s downright magnetic.
Dancing didn’t always come naturally to Wilson. The Aurora, Colorado, native says she never excelled technically as a student. “My sister was always recognized for her technique,” says Wilson. “Me, on the other hand, I would win the Sportsmanship Award or the Best Attitude This Weekend Award.” Nonetheless, Wilson moved to Los Angeles after high school and became dance assistant for choreographer Marty Kudelka, then got her first major gig as one of his nine dancers on Timberlake’s 2007 FutureSex/LoveShow tour.
It wasn’t until recently, she says, that she truly developed an identity as an individual artist. “I was 20 when I started dancing commercially, and now I’m 28. I’ve grown up so much, both as a human and as an artist,” says Wilson, currently performing on Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience tour. She’s fine-tuned her unique style into something she describes as “jazz-based, with a little old-school funk and new-school storytelling.”
Three years ago, she started taking acting lessons. “It really changed the way I perform, and helped me nurture myself as a creator,” she says. “My teacher, Gary Imhoff, talks a lot about navigating the industry without losing yourself. As he says, ‘If you round off all your edges, quirks and corners so you can fit in, you start losing your edge.’ ”
One challenge Wilson has had to navigate is getting typecast, or having to conform to certain identities. “I’ve been talked to about my castability: Am I the video vixen? Girl next door? Homie? Chick that dances like a dude? A girly-girl? These are all categories you’re expected to fit into, but they’re harmful to an artist. My acting class has helped me nurture my quirks instead of trying to fit in,” she says. “I’ve done better at auditions by being myself rather than trying to be what I think they’re looking for. Plus, 9 times out of 10, they don’t know what they’re looking for! They need someone to show up and dance for them in a way that says, ‘It’s me! I’m what you’re looking for. You can’t do this job without me.’ ”
When it comes to her onstage complexity, Wilson draws inspiration from everyone from Toni Basil to Japanese street crews to the classical ballet and contemporary dance worlds. In addition to her voracious appetite for storytelling (check out her daily 15-second Instagram videos @danadaners), Wilson is also a self-proclaimed emotional performer. “There’s no emotion I think is sacred, that shouldn’t be revealed onstage,” she says. “Any emotion is fair game during a performance, as long as the number calls for it.”
Still, performing the same routines onstage every night is a challenge for any entertainer. “Toni Basil told me if you’re not feeling it, pretend to be somebody who is. There are shows when I’ve pretended to be someone who’s dancing for Justin for the first time, or I’ve imagined I’m an angel from heaven, the devil himself, Cyd Charisse, Debbie Reynolds or Marilyn Monroe,” she says. “When you assume the position, your body will follow, and those shows end up being the most fun. Often the idea doesn’t last longer than a song, and I wind up being Dana Wilson again, just loving her job.”
And if even faking it isn’t getting the job done? Wilson looks to her audience and to Timberlake. “Just like for us, there are nights when he’s maybe not feeling 100 percent. Maybe he’s injured or under the weather. I think about lifting him up and backing him up so he has the energy he needs to get through the show,” she says. “I’ll also make up people in the audience to perform for. What does this person need to see today? What does this person miss in his or her daily life that I could embody right now? A woman who wants to feel sexy for her husband? A man who’s never seen a strong woman, never felt inferior to a woman? Or, of course, a little girl who wants to be a dancer.”
Alison Feller is a writer in New York City.
Dancers aspire to a willowy silhouette to help achieve long lines and a lyrical movement quality. But what if, like Christina Dooling, you find yourself becoming busty? “I was a late bloomer,” says Dooling, a dancer with Complexions Contemporary Ballet. “When I got to college, I started serious ballet training and realized, ‘Oh, wow, I have boobs!’ ”
Dooling’s peers thought she was lucky, especially friends who didn’t aspire to a ballet career. “The grass is always greener,” Dooling says. “But I was training alongside dancers with tiny, ideal ballerina bodies. I didn’t understand why we were developing so differently. I thought I must be doing something wrong.”
She wasn’t. Researchers have discovered that breast size, like height, is largely genetically determined. (Although if you aren’t at your ideal dance weight, getting down to it can help.) Lack of control over their genetic cards, however, doesn’t offer much comfort to teenagers overwhelmed by a growth spurt.
In fact, many professional companies hire based on talent, without preconceived notions about body type. But it helps for dancers to come to terms with their bodies before they start auditioning. Self-consciousness interferes with a dancer’s ability to perform. If you feel inhibited by having larger-than-anticipated breasts, here’s what you need to know.
Dealing with Changes It’s normal for dancers and athletes to develop later than their classmates. Because of their heavy exercise load, serious dancers don’t even begin to menstruate and develop until as much as two years later than non-dancers, according to Dr. Michelle Warren, MD, Professor of Medicine and Obstetrics & Gynecology at New York’s Columbia University. Intense exercise lowers estrogen levels, sometimes to a dangerous point, and effectively delays the onset of menstruation.
As a dancer’s breasts grow, her center of gravity shifts. Pirouettes and petit allegro suddenly demand more effort. Dancers may slouch, either to make their breasts appear smaller or simply as a result of added weight. Dr. William Hamilton, MD, an orthopedist for New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, recommends focusing on core strengthening and shoulder and upper body exercises to help dancers stay aligned. “One of the great things about dance, particularly ballet, is that you learn posture,” says Dr. Hamilton.
Working Solutions In addition to strengthening muscles, dancers can choose practice clothes that help. For rehearsals, opt for sports bras or leotards with built-in support. Onstage, some dancers wrap ace bandages around their chests or tape themselves into costumes that don’t allow for bras underneath. If a dancer is concerned about a costume, she should speak to the wardrobe mistress. Performance quality will suffer if she fears she will slip out of her tutu.
Some dancers feel so hampered that they opt for breast reduction, a surgical procedure that requires time in the hospital as well as for recovery. Dr. Warren cautions against it until dancers have fully matured. “You could have a reduction and then your breasts could grow more,” she says. Dr. Warren also notes the procedure is expensive and not reversible. “And,” says Dr. Warren, “the surgery leaves very significant scars.”
Most dancers come to terms with their bodies without taking so radical a step. “Talent is the overwhelming factor in dance,” says Dr. Hamilton. Learning to embrace change helps a dancer become a confident performer.
“Everybody has those days where you look in the mirror and wish you could change what you see,” Dooling says. “Your talent speaks volumes, not your shape. I’m thankful for the body I have. Its capabilities are endless.”
Alison Feller is an associate editor at Dance Spirit.