Isabella Boylston, Photo by Jayme Thornton

These 8 Dance Stars Had That Special Spark When They Were Kids—and We've Got the Videos to Prove It

Our favorite dancers didn't step onstage for the first time as fully formed artists. Like any performer, they dedicated years to their training. But looking back at videos from pro dancers' tween and teen years, you can see that, even then, they had an undeniable spark—their technique was gaining finesse or their creative gears were beginning to turn or they were able to captivate an audience with their piercing stage presence.

This "special sauce" can be hard to define, but it's oh-so-enjoyable to study. We dug up footage of eight pros before they made it big.


Michaela DePrince

In this 2009 clip, 13-year-old Michaela DePrince projects confidence and a commanding stage presence in one of ballet's most challenging variations: the tambourine dance from La Esmeralda. Now, DePrince is a member of Dutch National Ballet, where she's been a soloist since 2016.

Caleb Teicher

When Caleb Teicher became a YoungArts winner in 2011, he was already incorporating his dry sense of humor into his work. Now, the choreographer, dynamic performer and recent Dance Magazine cover star has racked up commissions from major organizations like New York City Center, La MaMa, The Yard, CUNY Dance Initiative, Jacob's Pillow and Works & Process at the Guggenheim.

Jim Nowakowski

Yes, even when he was 13, Jim Nowakowski has those no-doubt-I-can-hold-them extensions. Refer to the video for solid examples of sustained développés and penchés. After performing with Houston Ballet and appearing on Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance," he's currently sharing his talent with audiences at BalletMet.

Isabella Boylston

Now she's one of the most recognizable names on American Ballet Theatre's roster. But in 2001, Isabella Boylston was a budding ballerina of just 14, showcasing her technique at Youth America Grand Prix.

Derek Dunn

Though he was still a student in this clip, current Boston Ballet principal Derek Dunn was already a turning whiz. Even at a young age, he was able to balance explosive jumps with landings of incredible control. We're still dying to know his secrets.

Derek and Julianne Hough and Mark Ballas

Years before their "Dancing with the Stars" fame, siblings Derek and Julianne Hough and Mark Ballas were a tight trio. Check them out in this rehearsal clip choreographed to an instrumental from Chicago. Seems they were made for the camera.

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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