The (Non-Dancer) Husbands and Wives Who Swept Dancers Off Their Feet
Considering the demands of a career in dance, it isn't surprising that many professionals find romance in the rehearsal studio. With taxing schedules, perfectionist tendencies and quirky habits, it can be challenging to find true love outside of the art form. We spoke with three non-dancer spouses to hear what it's like sharing their life with professionals from ballet to Broadway.
The Musician Husband, Christopher Dale Ryan
Allison Walsh with husband Christopher Dale Ryan. Photo by Ed Israel, Courtesy Ryan.
Profession: Bassist in the band Deer Tick
Who he's married to: Allison Walsh, who danced with The Joffrey Ballet before breaking into Broadway as an original cast member in An American in Paris. Since transitioning to musical theater, Walsh has created the roles of Odette/Olga Romanov in Anastasia and headlined as Lise Dassin in the first national tour of An American in Paris.
Length of relationship: 9 years together, 1 year married
How they met: "Our best friends dated while at Hampshire College," says Ryan. "We met while visiting them. Though, it took four years for us to become friends, and several more to start dating."
Seeing his wife's performances: "I attend as many as possible. Ballet and Broadway are pretty stingy with comp tickets, and I could spend my entire income on going to see Allison perform. But I have been known to put on legwarmers and sneak through the stage door to watch Allison dance from the back of the house."
Staying connected when they're both on tour: "We talk on the phone when we can. We have negotiated long-distance logistics since the beginning of our relationship, but it was hardest this past year when we were both on the road for 10 months. We had to work extra hard to make sure we were communicating and checking how one another was doing."
Getting to the pointe: "I've grown to love helping her sew pointe shoes by picking out the threads in reused ribbons."
Handling "dancer speak" at social events: "I follow it like a tennis match, bouncing from face to face, trying to absorb and keep up with the volley words—terms, pieces, repertoires, names."
Being inspired to take dance: "After being together for several years, I realized I still didn't understand the slightest thing about dance. So, I secretly started taking adult ballet classes at Mark Morris Dance Center. It helps me to think about how I carry myself onstage."
The Yogi-Cop Wife, Colleen Quinn
From walking the beat to the Broadway beat, Colleen Quinn (left) and Stephanie Klemons. Photo courtesy Quinn.
Profession: Police officer and yoga instructor
Who she's married to: Stephanie Klemons, an award-winning Broadway performer and choreographer. Klemons currently serves as associate choreographer and global dance supervisor for Hamilton. Other credits include working as associate choreographer and dance captain on Broadway and pre-Broadway productions of Bring It On, In The Heights, and If/Then.
Length of relationship: 5 years together, 1 year married
How they met: "I used to practice yoga with her best friend. When we finally met, Stephanie barely made eye contact. A year later, we were both at a party and she finally spoke to me. We hit it off right away."
Favorite dance-related memory: "The opening night party for Hamilton. We danced our faces off until 4 am. I sweat through my whole suit."
Photo by Amanda-Lee Seely, Courtesy Quinn.
Challenges of living with a dancer: "Sweaty and stinky clothes."
On how her wife supports her work: "Stephanie is always there for me no matter what. She knows my job can be difficult, stressful and sometimes traumatic, which I try not to dump on her. But she never shies away from listening."
Favorite attributes of her spouse: "Her butt. But seriously, Stephanie has a presence when she walks into a room, which is what attracted me to her in the first place. She embodies what it means to be a woman."
The Life-Saving Husband/Dad, David (DJ) Jackson Jr.
Pennsylvania Ballet's Jermel Johnson (left) and husband DJ Jackson Jr. are fathers to a boy and baby girl. Photo courtesy Jackson.
Profession: Transplant coordinator and part-time paramedic/volunteer firefighter
Who he's married to: Jermel Johnson, a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet. Throughout his 16 seasons with the company, Johnson has danced leading roles in repertoire ranging from Balanchine to classical works and contemporary world premieres.
Length of relationship: 12 years together, 4 years married
How they met: "Online through Myspace."
Favorite wedding memory: "Standing in the wedding chapel, looking into each other's eyes in amazement that society has changed so much that we were able to get married in front of our friends and family."
Jermel Johnson found love on Myspace. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Johnson.
Odd dancer habits: "Jermel stretches 24/7. Also, many nights he sleeps on soft balls to relax his muscles."
Favorite dance-related memories: "Seeing Jermel perform for the first time and watching him win his Princess Grace Award. I'm developing new favorite memories as our son, Jaden, watches him perform. He gets excited and starts pointing and saying, 'There's Papa!' "
How life has changed since they've become a family of four: "Having two children has fulfilled the purpose in life questions. Raising our children and instilling values that will equip them to be a part of changing society is an amazing feeling. When I think about our family, I tear up. I've seen all too many times how short life can be, and I truly treasure each day I get with my family."
Imagine this scenario: You get a text from a friend just as you're heading into ballet class, and have to answer as quickly as possible. Now, if you were heading into a juggling class, or water polo match, or fencing practice, you'd be able to send a quick emoji in response. But alas, you're forced to type out a full sentence. Because, to the ballet world's collective frustration, There. Is. No. Ballet. Emoji. Until now...
According to Emojipedia, the site for all things emoji-related, a ballet shoe emoji is slated to come out later this year (the exact date hasn't been announced yet) as part of Emoji Version 12.0. The proposal came from Australia-based tech company manager and ballet fan Rüdiger Landmann. Landmann proposed three separate ballet emojis: a ballerina, a male ballet dancer and a pair of pointe shoes. Only the pointe shoe emoji was approved, and we'll be honest, it doesn't look like any pointe shoe we've ever seen. It's more like a pink loafer with ribbons attached. But we're trying not to complain, as this is definitely a (wobbly, given the shape of that shoe) step in the right direction.
You might still be thinking wistfully of the figure skating choreography at the 2018 Winter Olympics or already looking forward to the gymnastics competition at next summer's games, but we're officially marking our calendars for Paris 2024. Why? There's an excellent chance that break dancing will make its Olympic debut.
The jukebox musical is a bonafide Broadway staple. Everyone from ABBA to Elvis and Billy Joel to The Beach Boys has been given the Great White Way treatment, and shows with Alanis Morissette's and Michael Jackson's hits are on their way. The big question on our minds is, What current artists' songs might we hear on Broadway in the future?
The fourth wall has come down, and it has opened up a whole new kind of gig for dancers. Since Sleep No More became a hit in 2011, immersive theater experiences have been shattering expectations by inviting audiences to move through the world of the performance as they please. What kind of skill set does this burgeoning art form demand?
For choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, music is simple: "There's good music and there's bad music and I love good music and I love to hate bad music."
But, true to form, Kelly—whose past few months have included choreographing the Skittles Super Bowl musical and earning one of our first-ever Harkness Promise Awards—had some surprises up his sleeve when he made us a playlist he describes as "for moody Geminis who work over 12 hours a day and need a playlist that can shuffle and never disappoint."
Though the playlist has some whiplash-inducing twists and turns—from Coheed and Cambria to Carly Rae Jepsen to Missy Elliott to Schubert—there is a through-line: "Music that makes you feel like you're in your own movie. I love walking through the street feeling like I'm on a runway, living my best life."
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Every dancer's nutrition goals are different. Maybe you're trying to go vegan, or maybe you want to cook your own dinner more often. No matter what your personal objectives are—or whether you work with a dietitian—there are all kinds of apps that can help you make smart decisions at the tap of a button.
The lack of female leaders in ballet is an old conversation. But a just-launched website, called the Dance Data Project, has brought something new to the discussion: actual numbers, not just anecdotal evidence.
Whether she's performing on stage, in music videos, or on television, French electro-pop sensation Chris (formerly known as Christine and the Queens) never seems to stop moving.
Building a full-length ballet from scratch is an intense process. For the world premiere of Anna Karenina, a collaboration between The Joffrey Ballet and The Australian Ballet, that meant original choreography by Yuri Possokhov, a brand-new score by Ilya Demutsky, costume and set designs by Tom Pye and lighting designs by David Finn.
Growing up, I never saw a problem with my dancing and neither did my Muslim-Egyptian dad or my non-Muslim, American mom. They raised me to understand that the core principles of Islam, of any religion, are meant to help us be better people. When I married my Pakistani husband, who comes from a more conservative approach to Islam, I suddenly encountered perceptions of dance that made me question everything: Is it okay to expose a lot of skin? Is it wrong to dance with other men? Is dance inherently sexual? What guidelines come from our holy book, the Quran, and what are cultural views that have become entwined in Islam?
When Thomas Forster isn't in the gym doing his own workout, he's often coaching his colleagues.
Two years ago, the American Ballet Theatre soloist got a personal training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Now he trains fellow ABT members and teaches the ABT Studio Company a strength and conditioning class alongside fellow ABT soloist Roman Zhurbin.
He shared five of his top tips for getting into top shape.
No matter how much anti–Valentine's Day sentiment I'm feeling in a given year, there's something about dancer couples that still makes me swoon. Here's a collection of wonderful posts from this year, but be warned: Continued scrolling is likely to give you a severe case of the warm fuzzies.
When Rennie Harris first heard that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had tapped him to create a new hour-long work, and to become the company's first artist in residence, he laughed.
"I'm a street dance choreographer. I do street dance on street dancers," he says. "I've never set an hour-long piece on any other company outside my own, and definitely not on a modern dance company."
Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
However, this is the reality of how I often felt throughout my dance career. Once I knew the steps, there was no undoing it. It was the process of getting there that haunts me to this day.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
When Chase Brock signed on to choreograph a new musical at a theater in New Jersey in 2015, he couldn't have predicted that four years later, he would be receiving fan art featuring his Chihuahua because of it. Nor could he have he imagined that the show—Be More Chill, based on the young adult novel by Ned Vizzini—would be heading to Broadway with one of the most enthusiastic teenage fan bases the Great White Way has ever seen.
It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistic possibilities. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).
The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.
Camille Sturdivant, a former member of the Blue Valley Northwest High School dance team is suing the school district, alleging that she was barred from performing in a dance because her skin was "too dark."
The suit states that during Sturdivant's senior year, the Dazzlers' choreographer, Kevin Murakami, would not allow her to perform in a contemporary dance because he said her skin would clash with the costumes, and that she would steal focus from the other dancers because of her skin color.
You wander through the grocery aisles, sizing up the newest trends on the shelves. Although you're eager to try a new energy bar, you question a strange ingredient and decide to leave it behind. Your afternoons are consumed with research as you sort through endless stories about "detox" miracles.
What started as an innocent attempt to eat healthier has turned into a time-consuming ritual with little room for error, and an underlying fear surrounding your food choices.