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Did You Catch This Dancer's Pirouettes In Black Panther?
There are many reasons why fans are loving the groundbreaking film Black Panther, but here's one more for dance fans: two of the eight female warriors protecting Wakanda and King T'Challa are dancers.
Zola Williams and Marija Abney are both former The Lion King ensemble dancers, and Abney was also part of the original Broadway cast of After Midnight. The rest of the bald, badass female warriors—known as the Dora Milaje—are stuntwomen and martial artists.
"The director, Ryan Coogler, was having trouble finding actors to fulfill the physical requirements needed for a Dora Milaje," says Abney. When she got the audition invite, she immediately knew she wanted to be one of those women. "I already feel like a warrior on the streets of New York City every day," she says. "I felt confident with the physicality of the role, I'm an aggressive dancer—one of the few dancers I know that does pull-ups in the gym!"
Abney gave Dance Magazine a behind-the-scenes look at becoming a Dora Milaje.
What the Audition Was Like
"We worked with the stunt team learning punches and kicks, and then had to work with the bow staff to see how we would handle the weapon. The director wanted to see our skills as dancers, but also needed to make sure we wouldn't soften the movement so it no longer looked like realistic fighting."
Marija Abney. Photo by Justin Patterson, courtesy Abney
How Her Dance Background Helped Her Learn Fight Choreography
"We spent a majority of training with the bow staff. It was like ballet, how exact each angle had to be. We would learn one angle and then literally do it 100 times, then the second angle, then put them together—for eight hours a day. We had to build musculature to support the movements because during filming you have no idea how many times you'll repeat a sequence.
"We were each able to infuse our individual style into fight scenes. I actually did pirouettes with my staff and spun on my knees. Working with the men for the battle scene was like improv partnering; we got to build a movement vocabulary with our partners, which was thrilling for me."
Going Completely Bald
"Each department—wardrobe, hair, makeup—did so much research, so we gained an understanding of why we wore what we wore, we learned the oral history. The baldness solidified us an army.
"I originally shaved my head in 2011 because I wanted to know that my femininity had nothing to do with my hair. I was able to support the other women through the process; it was a big adjustment for them. We had our heads shaved clean every morning! But walking around downtown Atlanta with 8 bald women was amazing, people always told us how beautiful we were."
The Dora Milaje. Photo via Marvel Studios
Wait, Is Wakanda In Atlanta?
"All of our scenes as Dora were filmed in Atlanta. They built a massive, four-story waterfall for the Challenge-Day scenes. The battle scene took place on a beautiful farm outside of Atlanta."
On That Stunning Purple Carpet Premiere Look
"I made my own jewelry, did my own makeup, no publicist or stylist. The dress was a vintage piece I found over a year ago (I can't shop under pressure). I was saving it for a special occasion."
Abney's purple carpet look
Being Part of Such a Huge Success
"I knew I was part of something monumental for black culture and for women, but I'm just now starting to glimpse the true impact this film will have on the next generation. I posted a picture on social media of a group of little black and brown girls in Detroit, all dressed as Dora Milaje. I love that they were able to see women that look like them, who are strong and well spoken, seeing that they can be represented. It is so empowering."
Abney at top right. Photo via Marvel Studios
Look for Abney and the other Dora Milaje in Marvel's upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (releases April 27). And with Black Panther already crossing $1 billion in box office sales this weekend, we'll definitely be seeing more of the dancer warriors in BP sequels.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"