"Dance Gave My Life Meaning Before I Knew I Needed Meaning in My Life"
Apparently, it all started at a pizza shop in New Hampshire. I was monkeying around, brimming with nervous energy. A stranger approached my mom and said, "You know, you really ought to put her in some dance classes."
I was born on Oahu to a Hawaiian-Filipino father and an Aussie mother. My late father would play the ukulele in his spare time, while I'd imitate whatever form of hula I could grasp at that point. He unknowingly taught me about rhythm and music, and is a big part of why I gravitated towards dance.
We moved every couple years across various states. I did whatever activities my mother could afford, trying out gymnastics or soccer. Being one of six kids, we mostly just had each other and lots of housework. I craved consistency and a place to feel rooted. I developed anxiety, literally pulling my hair out while obsessing over small things, which I suppose helped me feel like I had a sense of control. Looking back now, I see how lost I was.
Pantastico in Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer.
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
Then at 11, I started attending the renowned Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Nothing had come close to how dancing made me feel. The late director Marcia Dale Weary gave me structure and positive reinforcement, with goals to be better. She made me see and hear beauty daily, things that I hadn't felt consistently since my Hawaii days. Dance gave my life meaning before I knew I needed meaning in my life.
Dance has always made difficult times more bearable—without question, saving my life. I have several years left before I hang up my shoes, but now I'm finding other ways to contribute to the art form. I formed Seattle Dance Collective with James Moore to create opportunities for artists to come together. I have a bucket list of choreographers I'd like to work with (or work with again), and if my own list doesn't get fulfilled, then at least I can provide these powerful encounters for others.
Pantastico and Seth Orza in George Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto.
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
We need art in our lives to survive. It's something primal. I see it when people listen to music or look at paintings. When people are being creative. When people dance. I feel very lucky to give back to an art form that has shaped my existence so beautifully.
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.