"I Dance Because of the Community I Am In; I Am Surrounded By Fighters"
Waking up in the morning after a late performance and walking to class isn't always easy. But once I'm in the studio and the pianist begins, a familiar rhythm ensues.
I love the physicality of this routine. It is like solving a puzzle every day, translating the imagery in my mind into my body. Ballet technique is an art in itself: the art of engaging some muscles and relaxing others, balancing hips over toes, and shaping fingers and feet.
What's fascinating is that it can never be flawless, even though dancers constantly strive for perfection. So I continue to stretch my knees, breathe into my port de bras, and inject energy into my petite allegro. I dance because I am unsatisfied, and I want to be better.
I have been dancing for long enough that my progress in dance is integrated with my progress in "real life." With age, I have become more confident and self-assured. Not caring about what others think has allowed me to dance with abandon. One imperfect move in a performance used to overwhelm me, but now I trust myself enough to surge past a misstep and remain in the moment.
And the pain can be both physical and psychological: the disappointment of not being cast in a ballet, getting a terrible review after pouring out your heart and soul onstage, or succumbing to an injury.
But when I ask myself why I dance, immediately I think about the high points. I remember the tears of joy and relief after opening Liam Scarlett's full-length ballet, Frankenstein, which premiered here in February. It was the first full-length ballet where I was a part of the creative process. I recall that blissful moment when everyone celebrated the collaboration that produced a beautiful work of art.I continue to dance because of the community I am in. I am surrounded by fighters. People who celebrate their victories and find strength when they are weak. People who have willpower and such commitment to their work that they continue to dance through the toughest days. It is in this community that I have become the dancer who I am today.
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Chiara Valle is just one of many dancers heading back to the studio this fall as companies ramp up for the season. But her journey back has been far more difficult than most.
Valle has been a trainee at The Washington Ballet since 2016, starting at the same time as artistic director Julie Kent. But only a few months into her first season there, she started experiencing excruciating pain high up in her femur. "It felt like someone was stabbing me 24/7," she says. Sometimes at night, the pain got so bad that her roommates would bring her dinner to the bathtub.
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."