Meet the 2020 Dance Magazine Award Honorees

Since 1954, Dance Magazine has celebrated the living legends among us with the Dance Magazine Awards. This year, in light of deep reflections on racial equity inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the selection committee decided to take a close look at exactly who the magazine has honored over the past seven decades. Unsurprisingly, the list is overwhelmingly white. Although it's grown more diverse in recent years, many brilliant artists of color have been left out for far too long.

So for 2020, in order to reckon with and take a step toward repairing that history, the committee chose an outstanding group of all Black artists. A ceremony to celebrate this year's Dance Magazine Award recipients will take place virtually on Monday, December 7, with performances and presentations for each honoree. For ticket information, visit dancemediafoundation.org. I'm delighted to announce our incredible honorees for 2020:


Carlos Acosta

In addition to dancing with some of the world's most prestigious companies, including The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Houston Ballet, Carlos Acosta has choreographed productions of Don Quixote and Carmen, plus Guys and Dolls for the West End. Acosta established his own dance company, Acosta Danza, in 2016 in his native Cuba, and opened a dance academy there through the Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation a year later. He also became artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in January 2020, and currently leads both organizations on either side of the Atlantic.

Debbie Allen

An internationally recognized director, choreographer, teacher, dancer and actor, Debbie Allen first made her mark on Broadway in revivals like West Side Story, for which she was nominated for a Tony. She became a household name with the movie-turned-television-classic "Fame," and has since directed and produced several TV series including "A Different World," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Scandal." Allen has been artist in residence at the Kennedy Center for over 15 years. She founded the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, mentoring and inspiring hundreds of students. She is currently an executive producer, director and actress on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."

Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown's prolific choreography merges her modern dance foundation with elements of African, social dance and musical theater to highlight deeply personal and complex Black experiences. In addition to being artistic director of Camille A. Brown & Dancers, she has been commissioned by companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Urban Bush Women, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Ballet Memphis. Her Broadway choreography credits include Choir Boy (for which she was nominated for a Tony) and Once On This Island. She also choreographed Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert on NBC, as well as The Metropolitan Opera's Porgy and Bess. Netflix's soon-to-be-released Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, directed by George C. Wolfe, will mark her feature film debut.

Laurieann Gibson

After training in Dunham, Horton and Graham at The Ailey School, Laurieann Gibson began her career dancing for Mary J. Blige. As a choreographer and creative director, she went on to work with such artists as Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Michael Jackson, Diddy and Katy Perry. She also choreographed the Universal feature film Honey, which was based partly on Gibson's personal experiences. In 2005, she was the on-air choreographer of MTV's hit show "Making the Band." Most recently, Gibson has appeared as a choreographer and judge on "So You Think You Can Dance."

Alonzo King

Contemporary ballet choreographer Alonzo King is founder and artistic director of San Francisco's Alonzo King LINES Ballet. In 1989, he opened the San Francisco Dance Center, offering weekly classes for professionals and community members alike. With more than 160 works to his name, his choreography appears in the repertoires of companies such as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Royal Swedish Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He's collaborated with BaAka Nzwba Lela dancers and musicians from the Central African Republic, Shaolin monks, vocalist Lisa Fischer and many other artists from all over the world.

Chairman's Award: Darren Walker

A Chairman's Award, chosen by Dance Media CEO Frederic M. Seegal to honor distinctive leaders behind the scenes, will go to Darren Walker. As president of the Ford Foundation, Walker has been an instrumental leader in philanthropy, supporting the arts with an eye to social justice.

Harkness Promise Awards: Kyle Marshall and Marjani Forté-Saunders

The Harkness Promise Awards, which offer a $5,000 grant, 40 hours of rehearsal space and ongoing mentorship for innovative young choreographers in their first decade of presenting professional work, will go to Kyle Marshall and Marjani Forté-Saunders. These awards, given in partnership with the Harkness Foundation for Dance, are funded by net proceeds from the Dance Magazine Awards ceremony.

Marshall has presented his company Kyle Marshall Choreography at BAM New Wave Festival, Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out, Joe's Pub, and NYC Summerstage. Forté-Saunders, a former member of Urban Bush Women, is currently collaborating with her partner, composer Everett Asis Saunders, as 7NMS; the pair also directs ART & POWER, an emerging platform for artists, writers, scientists, spiritualists and scholars, dedicated to Black purpose and innovation.

Check out Dance Magazine's December issue to learn more about each of these incredible artists. A ceremony to celebrate them will take place virtually on Monday, December 7, with performances and presentations for each honoree. For ticket information, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

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December 2020