- The Latest
- Breaking Stereotypes
- Rant & Rave
- Dance As Activism
- Dancers Trending
- Viral Videos
- The Dancer's Toolkit
- Health & Body
- Dance Training
- Career Advice
- Style & Beauty
- Dance Auditions
- Guides & Resources
- Performance Calendar
- College Guide
- Dance Magazine Awards
- Meet The Editors
- Contact Us
- Advertise/Media Kit
- Buy A Single Issue
- Give A Gift Subscription
Hamilton’s Dance Revolution
The runaway hit is carving out new possibilities for dance on Broadway.
Hamilton cast members Jon Rua, Morgan Marcell and Austin Smith. All photos by Jayme Thornton.
Picture a group of dancers who can do it all. Place them in an unlikely musical about America's first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton—think city streets pulsing with revolution, battlefields and ballrooms, political intrigue and scandal—and watch them go. In one moment, their hands look almost Fosse-like; in another, they're soldiers in full battle regalia, all whirling physicality and sharp movements; in still another, they sweep across the floor in formal gowns, the style aptly reminiscent of an 18th-century courtship dance.
This is the world of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit Broadway musical, where cabinet meetings are rap battles, bullets are personified through movement and an ensemble of triple threats weaves seamlessly through it all, tracing and shaping our understanding of the action. Since it first exploded onto the off-Broadway scene with a sold-out run at New York's Public Theater, the show has taken the nation by storm. Big names—from Stephen Sondheim to Busta Rhymes to President Obama himself—have flocked to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in droves. The show has attracted a following from people all over the country, many of whom never would have thought of attending a theater performance otherwise. Those who can't get their hands on a highly coveted ticket experience it through watching the free #Ham4Ham shows the cast puts on outside the theater during lottery drawings, listening to the Grammy-winning soundtrack on repeat and following the cast on Twitter.
Dance has made waves in a fair number of musicals recently, from Christopher Wheeldon's balletic An American in Paris to Joshua Bergasse's fresh take on On the Town. Choreography often thrives in revivals or more traditional shows. But Hamilton—and its movement—feels different: It's at the forefront of something game-changing, and truly of-the-moment.
This isn't the first time dance has been integral to a landmark show. Agnes de Mille's dream ballet for Oklahoma! in 1943, often considered the first major instance of dance moving the plot forward in a musical, revealed the inner workings of the main character's psyche. Jerome Robbins, in shows like West Side Story, made the movement an essential tool for understanding who the characters were. In Michael Bennett's A Chorus Line, which pulled back the curtain on show business, dance—and the struggles of dancers trying to make it on Broadway—was the story. And in the same way that Hamilton, which is sung-through, feels saturated with words, it's also chock-full of movement. Like an engine that propels the action forward, the ensemble moves almost nonstop through the nearly three-hour show, embodying the emotional arc of the plot and staying in constant dialogue with the music.
Emmy Raver-Lampman, Seth Stewart and Carleigh Bettiol
“Hamilton ends up being sort of like a ballet in many respects," says choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler of movement's weight in the show. The choreography, though, is a mash-up of styles, incorporating everything from jazz to hip hop to swing to jitterbug. To Blankenbuehler, each movement onstage is a piece of choreography—even those as simple as a person standing still on a turntable as it rotates them around. And every one of those moments furthers the story in some way, placing a huge responsibility on the dancers. “We're all greatly involved in giving the experience its detail," says ensemble member and Hamilton understudy Jon Rua. “We're translating it. We become a medium for you to take in what's going on."
Blankenbuehler's process was about finding the right way to build movement from the show's action. “I think there's a challenge to throw away the idea of steps, because steps are based on an idea that has already happened," he says. “Hamilton was really from the ground up brand-new." There are recognizable shapes sprinkled throughout: turns, kicks, isolations. But as quickly as you think you've noticed a specific step, it's blended with something else. He emphasizes that the score allowed him to make the movement feel so fresh and contemporary—and to draw from so many rhythmically driven styles. The music, which tells much of Hamilton's story through rap, also incorporates elements of jazz, British pop and classic Broadway show tunes, and references a melting pot of artists, from Rodgers and Hammerstein to The Notorious B.I.G. “Just the fact that I'm imitating Lin's music makes the imitation really current," Blankenbuehler says. “Lin doesn't write stagnant music. Even when he writes a slow song, it moves."
But what's making Hamilton resonate with so many people? After all, hip hop has been brought to Broadway before with mixed success—including by Blankenbuehler and Miranda, who worked together on the Tony-winning In the Heights and the shorter-lived Bring It On: The Musical. With Hamilton, it's the way hip hop makes this particular world recognizable, and speaks to our current moment in history. And it's the visual, in addition to the music, that lets audiences see a story they can relate to. “Social dance reflects how people are feeling at the time," Blankenbuehler says. “Hip hop gives a sense of expression to humongous groups of people who are struggling with social injustices." By using hip hop, the show filters the action through a lens that feels directly relevant to the anxieties our own culture is facing. “Our history is repeating itself," Blankenbuehler says. “We have things that are important to fight for. We are demanding for our voice to be heard—that's happening more than ever."
Sasha Hutchings, Voltaire Wade-Green and Ariana DeBose
By making contemporary movement essential to such an influential musical, Hamilton may also help give it a definitive place on the Broadway stage. Along with inspiring future artists, which it's sure to do, Blankenbuehler points out that the show has helped people to “believe that real stories can be told in new ways. Important stories can be told through dance, important stories can be told through rap." If a new generation of theatergoers grows up with this in mind, the revolution is really just beginning.
Ensemble, understudy for Eliza Hamilton
On getting to Broadway: “I went to school for business, specializing in economics, and continued to perform on the side. When I graduated, I moved to New York within two weeks, by myself, and started auditioning."
On backstage life: “We all have a lot of moments with each other that happen every night. Going into the final duel, I always look up at Jonathan Groff in the balcony—he makes a face and I mimic it."
Craziest fan encounter: “I was proposed to at the stage door, with a ring and everything."
Co-dance captain, swing
On being a swing: “Each male track is completely different, as far as style. I try to keep the essence of each person. All six have individual things where you can take liberties and put your own funk into it."
Favorite number: “The very first time I went onstage was for 'Wait For It.' That was probably one of the most empowering and life-changing moments because I was just like 'Alright, there's no turning back. It's time to show what I got.' "
On working with Miranda: “For me, he made it cool to just be yourself and keep doing things that you love, regardless if people laugh at you."
Twitter and Instagram: @tisvoltaire
Notable ensemble roles: The bullet during the final duel; Sally Hemings in “What'd I Miss"
Warm-up routine: “I have a playlist of good-luck songs. I'll listen to 'Gabriel,' by Lamb, then Rihanna to get me fired up, because the show sort of pops you out of a cannon."
On performing eight shows a week: “Sometimes we make up different backstories. One night maybe my name will be Sassy Chartreuse during the ball, and then another night I'll be Amiable Amelia who's just trying to blend in."
On celebrity visitors: “I grew up watching Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Megan Mullally—all of these powerhouse women got tickets to our show and have been so gracious."
Twitter and Instagram: @arianadebose
Ensemble, understudy for Angelica Schuyler, Eliza Hamilton and Peggy/Maria
Favorite song: “In 'The Reynolds Pamphlet' there's, like, six to eight bars of freestyle and it's different every night. There's paper flying everywhere and everyone's letting loose."
On the costumes: “Our costumes are full of buttons and almost every other number a button falls—now the sound of a button hitting the floor will always make me think of this show."
On celebrity visitors: “We have a wall backstage that celebrities sign. It used to be this life-sized picture of Alexander Hamilton, but now it's just full of writing."
Ensemble, understudy for Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson
Backstage habit: “Scaring people. When they're coming around the corner, I'll just jump out."
Memorable celebrity encounter: “MC Hammer—I think he was shocked at how much of a fan I was, but I was like 'You're the reason I started this whole thing!' "
Post-show attitude: “When I leave the theater, I don't worry about it until the next day. The paint is on the picture."
Twitter and Instagram: @iamsethstewart
San Diego, CA
Co-dance captain, swing
On battle scenes: “I like being a soldier. It's pretty badass that men and women are given the same choreography. It's only sort of gender-specific in the ball, actually."
Recognizable moment: “I did a #Ham4Ham where I played Hamilton in 'My Shot,' and it's this crazy Twitter phenomenon—I get fan art."
On working with Blankenbuehler: “It's a master class in how to tell a story."
Twitter and Instagram: @morgankei
Ensemble, Charles Lee, understudy for Hamilton
Getting to Broadway: Danced socially in college, then in the underground house dance scene in New York
Favorite moment: “The last song, 'Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.' It's the time I feel the story gives something to the world that they can't describe in words."
On the fan base: “The show is beautiful. I just didn't know it was going to become the cultural phenomenon that it did. I've gotten drawings of myself, and gifts, and postcards from Australia."
Ensemble, Samuel Seabury, understudy for King George III and Laurens/Philip
On Samuel Seabury: “I've loved creating the role of the first Episcopal bishop of the U.S., and having a song."
On onstage mishaps: “I love when people mess up. That's the thing with live theater—you don't get an exact replica every time. We do a partner slide where I slide a girl between my legs, and one time she went off tumbling down the stairs of the stage in front. I was mortified. Luckily she was fine."
Memorable celebrity encounter: “Joe Biden came on my birthday. He was the coolest guy."
Twitter and Instagram: @thaynejasperson
Ensemble, understudy for Peggy/Maria
Notable ensemble role: “Twice in the show they talk about Hamilton's dead mother, and I get lifted up, and then at the end I'm waiting for him. Andy's created a lot of images so you can see what Hamilton is thinking about."
Pre-show habit: “I'm always the last to get dressed. People gauge how behind they are for places by where I am in my process."
On not wearing wigs: “Even though we're in this very iconic time period, they combine that with who we are. We look like real people you'd see on the street."
Twitter and Instagram: @sashahutchings
Ensemble, understudy for Aaron Burr, George Washington and Hercules Mulligan/James Madison
Pre-show habit: “A group of us meet up and pray."
Craziest fan encounter: “I had a girl ask me to sign her arm. I obliged."
On understudying: “Burr comes more naturally to me, so it's been rewarding to go on for Washington because it presents more of a challenge. I'm younger than both the other guys who play him, so I have to find my way into communicating the same level of conviction and authority."
Twitter and Instagram: @austinsmithsolo
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.
Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.
In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.