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

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

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:


NYCDA founder Joe Lanteri with the 2019 college scholarship recipients

Courtesy NYCDA

College Scholarships

NYCDA has perhaps become most known for the massive amount of college scholarships they dole out every year. Both high school juniors and seniors have the opportunity to earn scholarship money: Juniors are recruited and offered scholarships directly from colleges, who participate in the annual NYCDA National College Scholarship Audition at their New York City-based Nationals every July. Seniors who already know where they're attending school can also receive funds from the NYCDA Foundation.

NYCDA's annual college audition

Courtesy NYCDA Foundation

This past summer, NYCDA had 180 dancers auditioning for college scholarships and 10 colleges—including Marymount, Point Park University, Pace University and University of the Arts—in attendance. The schools' offers surpassed 10 million dollars, and the NYCDA foundation awarded $355,000.

Langan sees NYCDA as helping dancers gain a foundational building block in their career. "A college education is really important," she says. "NYCDA has put its stamp behind it with this enormous event."

Training Scholarships

Many conventions and competitions—NYCDA included—give scholarships back to their own organizations so that participants can attend a subsequent event. But what sets NYCDA apart is the fact that they also pay it forward, handing out training scholarships to other institutions at every single one of their Regionals. Whether or not students win any titles, they have the opportunity to earn scholarships to programs like Steps on Broadway (which Lanteri also co-owns and directs), Peridance Capezio Center, Broadway Dance Center, BODYTRAFFIC (where 50% of dancers are NYCDA alums), the Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School and more.

Andy Blankenbuehler teaching at NYCDA

Courtesy NYCDA

Career Opportunities

"NYCDA will put you in a room with people who will eventually pay you to dance," says veteran Broadway dancer Corey John Snide, and he would know. Snide grew up doing NYCDA, earning the National Outstanding Dancer Award in the Mini, Junior and Teen age divisions, and is now on NYCDA's faculty.

Even more important than the titles were Snide's scholarship to Juilliard and introduction to Andy Blankenbuehler—both thanks to NYCDA—which led to some of his most notable career highlights including dance captaining for CATS on Broadway, assisting on the upcoming CATS movie, and landing a gig in the upcoming Broadway production of West Side Story.

Corey John Snide in CATS on Broadway

Courtesy NYCDA

At Nationals each July, students participate in Broadway audition workshops—often with the casting director, dance captain and choreographer in the room. While the workshops are primarily meant to help dancers hone their audition skills, it's not unheard of for students to walk out of the room with a job. (When Newsies was on Broadway, the casting director even traveled with NYCDA to Regionals to scout talent!). At Nationals, real auditions for the Rockettes or to be Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular are often held.

For Snide, friendships formed between participants are as valuable as those forged with faculty members and master teachers. "I can point to so many of my lifelong friends from NYCDA with outstanding careers," he says. NYCDA's alumni champion each other, often working together on projects later in their careers.

A CATS audition workshop at NYCDA

Courtesy NYCDA

Professional Development

Growing up in Albany, NY, Snide says he wouldn't have even known being a professional dancer was a possibility for him without the exposure to the New York City dance scene that NYCDA provided him. While many conventions and competitions have moved their Nationals away from New York City, NYCDA has stayed—giving students of all ages the opportunity to learn from dance world giants.

Even at Regionals, NYCDA holds Friday Night Sessions, master classes with everyone from Tony nominees Joshua Bergasse and Warren Carlyle to principal dancers to artistic directors. "Dancers underestimate what it means to have the opportunity to be in the room with these people," says Lanteri. NYCDA faculty members, too, are a valuable source of knowledge, connections and resources for students. "They're incredibly caring and generous," he says. "They are invested in these kids—and not just for two days."

Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell has seen first-hand NYCDA's long-lasting impact on one student's career: A scholarship to The Ailey School led to an Ailey II offer which led to a contract with the main company. But before students can take advantage of these opportunities, Powell says that they need a first taste of what working in the professional dance world can be, starting with developing their own identities as dancers—which NYCDA also helps them do. "When I'm working with students and teaching them in New York City there's an energy," he says. "They come with such joy and excitement and willingness to be hungry and committed to dance and to becoming the greatest artist that they can become."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021