Meet Ari Groover: the Broadway Dancer Who Moonlights as a DJ
Earlier this year, Ari Groover faced the ultimate Broadway champagne problem: She was offered a contract for both Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and Head Over Heels. She ultimately chose Head Over Heels, and watching her in the show, it's easy to see why she's in such demand: Groover is a consummate storyteller, imbuing Spencer Liff's jaw-droppingly complicated choreography with seemingly endless energy and sly wit.
Broadway shows: Currently in Head Over Heels (through January 6, 2019). Past: Holler If Ya Hear Me
Hometown: Savannah, Georgia
Training: Savannah State University (her mother was a dance professor, so she trained there as a child and teen) and Atlanta's Southwest Arts Center and Alliance Theatre
Breakout moment: After high school, Groover mostly stopped performing, instead studying illustration. Then, after Broadway Dreams' 2012 Atlanta intensive, she was invited to try out for the off-Broadway musical Bare. "I was happy just being in New York," she says. After the production, she auditioned for every show she could.
What Spencer Liff is saying: "When Ari auditioned for Head Over Heels, she was not what I was looking for," says Liff. "While other girls were kicking and turning in their improv, Ari was voguing and doing death drops." She became a muse for the show's movement style, and, Liff adds, "Ari was the only ensemble member we made a direct offer to once we knew we were moving from the workshop to Broadway."
Groover (far left) with the ensemble of Head Over Heels. Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown.
Triple duty: In her featured ensemble track, Groover is one of two "page turners," who dance in every scene transition. She also understudies two principal roles: the dutiful handmaid Mopsa and the enigmatic oracle Pythio. "Dancers are not just behind the scenes in this show," she says. "We play, analyze and lead as much as anyone."
"She's a prime example of breaking the mold to be your own best version of yourself."
Trial by fire: As associate choreographer for American Repertory Theater's Burn All Night, Groover had to step in when choreographer Sam Pinkleton couldn't attend a week of rehearsals. "I came up with a choreographic blueprint," she says. Luckily, it wasn't her first stab at dancemaking. Her 2017 short dance film Permission has collected prizes at regional film festivals. "It's important to me that women of color not only be onstage, but also behind how things happen and how stories are told," Groover says.
Turning the tables: After Holler If Ya Hear Me closed, Groover learned to deejay as a creative part-time job. "It's dance-related in that you need to make songs flow together." Recently, she's spun at Soho House New York and at post-performance parties for Summer and Head Over Heels.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
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:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"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.