Petra Conti in "L'Altro Casanova," choreographed by Gianluca Schiavoni. Photo by Costin Radu, courtesy of Petra Conti.

International Guest Artist Petra Conti on How Surviving Kidney Cancer Refueled Her Love for Dance

As a very shy little girl, my happy place was my room, where I would wear improvised costumes and giggle with happiness while dancing for an imaginary audience. I was raised in a family where dancing was "normal." My mom and sisters graduated from the national ballet academy in Poland, and I, of course, wanted to follow their steps. But I was never forced to. I am proud to say I discovered the magic of ballet all by myself.

Photo by Costin Radu, courtesy of Petra Conti


It's incredible that such a shy girl would feel so comfortable in front of a big audience. The very act of performing is both terrifying and enlightening: It illuminates the soul of the performer so that the audience sees beyond the costumes, beyond the movements, beyond the physical body. The stage somehow is able to reveal the true spirit of a human being. I have always loved the purity of this concept.

No matter the role, once onstage, it all seems so real to me that it consumes me. The stage is truly the place where I am able to scream the emotions I have inside. The stage is where I am, where I feel most alive.

I don't know if this gift of dancing is for other people to enjoy, or for me to live. Do I dance for the people, to touch their hearts, to make them feel something? Or do I dance for myself, for my own well-being? I think for both. But the magic happens only if both parties are present: one in front of the other, connected together on a higher level, in a mystical way.

Dance is born within us—it is like an animal instinct. When words are not there, when words are not enough, when words hurt, there is always dance. Dance connects, recharges and heals. And we all somehow knew this when we were kids. I am happy that the kid inside me never left, that that fire is still burning inside me. This is what allows me to start fresh every day at the barre. That fire is my light and my strength, and I am passing it along as I go through my career, sharing it to ignite other fires that need to be revived or need a little help to burn brighter.

Photo by Conti's husband, Eris Nezha, courtesy of Petra Conti

After I underwent surgery for kidney cancer two years ago, that fire is now burning stronger than ever. Before the surgery, and for many months after, I didn't know if I would ever be able to perform onstage again. One week before hospitalization, when I was performing Swan Lake, I thought, Maybe this is my last time ever. I clearly remember all of the emotions I had within me during that last show—gratitude for being onstage, sadness and pain. Every time I go onstage now, I think about how lucky I am to perform again. I feel blessed to have been given a second chance, and when I am onstage, I am not afraid of anything.

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Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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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:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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