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Before Maya Angelou Was a Poet, She Was a Dancer

This week marks three years since brilliant and beloved poet Maya Angelou passed at the age of 86. And of course, we're taking the time to remember timeless works like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

But we also discovered something that makes us love Angelou even more—and gives us a new perspective on her writing. Before she became renowned for her poetry and memoirs, Angelou was a bonafide professional dancer, touring Europe in a production of Porgy & Bess, studying with Martha Graham and performing with Alvin Ailey (she was even one of Ailey's first partners!).




She was also a professional singer and recorded an album called "Calypso Lady," according to NPR. "I was known as Miss Calypso, and when I'd forget the lyric, I would tell the audience, 'I seem to have forgotten the lyric. Now I will dance.' And I would move around a bit," she said in a 2008 interview.

Of course, later in her career Angelou acted in various movies and television shows, including the mini-series Roots.



Sadly it doesn't look like any video footage of Angelou dancing exists. But we're sure she was as captivating onstage as she was in her writing.

Health & Body
Getty Images

Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers at Atlanta Ballet, offers tips for creating a more body-positive studio experience:

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Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Broadway

We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.

But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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