Dancers Trending

The Most Influential People in Dance Today

For Dance Magazine's 90th anniversary issue, we wanted to celebrate the movers, shakers and changemakers who are having the biggest impact on our field right now. There were so many to choose from! But with the help of dozens of writers, artists and administrators working in dance, the Dance Magazine staff whittled the list down to those we felt are making the most difference right now.

Click through the links below to find out why they made our list.


Michelle Dorrance

Benjamin Millepied

Katherine E. Brown

Sydney Skybetter

Marc Bamuthi Joseph

Liz Lerman

Monica Bill Barnes

Justin Peck

Linda Shelton

Alastair Macaulay

Ohad Naharin

Gilda Squire

Christy Bolingbroke

The Actors Fund

International Association for Dance Medicine & Science

Michael M. Kaiser

Misty Copeland

Maria Kochetkova

Lil Buck

Ryan Heffington

Robert Battle

Pamela Tatge

Lourdes Lopez

Andy Blankenbuehler

Alexei Ratmansky

Amy Fitterer

Gina Gibney

The Harkness Foundation for Dance

Joe Lanteri

Larissa Saveliev

Glorya Kaufman

Nico Muhly

Max Richter

Joby Talbot

Who did we miss? Send us your suggestions. We'll be publishing a Readers' Choice companion to this story.

The Conversation
Dancer Voices
Passing dance history on to the next generation is a bit like handing down the family jewels, says Wendy Whelan, seen here teaching. Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Whelan.

When I was a young dancer in Louisville, Kentucky, my ballet teacher used to speak a lot about Merrill Ashley. She brought neoclassical technique to exquisite new heights under Balanchine, and as a technician, she famously paved the way for today's balletic whiz kids. (Later, when I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to have her as a teacher.) Today, as I travel around the country giving master classes, I often find myself bringing up the names of quintessential American ballerinas, dancers like Merrill. But now, if I mention her name, I can't help but notice my students' eyes widening as they look to each other wondering who exactly this famous ballerina named Merrill is.

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Dance in Pop Culture
Jennifer Garner "helps" Stella Abrera warm up. Still via Instagram.

Jennifer Garner wants the world to know that she takes game day seriously—and she's not talking about football. For ballet dancers during December, there's obviously only one type of "game day." Nutcracker, of course.

Garner is a highly documented ballet lover, and, this time, she went the extra mile to show her dedication. Thankfully, she was on hand as American Ballet Theatre warmed up for its current Nutcracker run at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California.

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News
Marinda Davis. Photo by Louise Flores, Courtesy Davis

When Marinda Davis was named second runner-up at the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, she dove headfirst into choreographing and producing a full-length show for her company, marInspired; the storytellers. But as her career was booming, Davis' body was breaking down. Behind the scenes, she was dealing with eight very serious illnesses, one of which led to a months-long hospital stay. Now, as she prepares a piece for Giordano Dance Chicago (debuting in March), Davis reflects on how she's powered through it all.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Thoughts on gender have evolved since Louis XIV's era. Maybe it's time training evolves too. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe.

Next semester, there'll be a new course name on the syllabus of Boston Conservatory at Berklee: "Constructed Gender Identities in Classical Ballet: Men's Variations."

But this is not a new course, just a new title. The old name is one you might recognize: "Men's Class."

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News
New York City Ballet's Nutcracker has been performed every year since 1954. Photo by Paul Kolnik, via nycb.com

Love it or hate it, come December, The Nutcracker is ubiquitous. It's easy to wonder whether it's sustainable to keep performing the same holiday classic year after year, or to spend millions of dollars reinventing it for new productions. But believe it or not, the show's popularity is only growing.

Every year, Dance/USA conducts a Nutcracker Survey on its member companies, compiling data about ticket sales, attendance and more. The organization just reported on the state of the Nutcracker for the first time since 2008, and the data shows just how much the ballet's prevalence has grown in the past 10 years—and how much companies have come to rely on it as a revenue source:

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Health & Body
Dancers' backs face more challenges than ever before. Photo via Getty Images

Why do back injuries seem to be so common these days among dancers?

"It used to be that if you were in a company, you did all the work of that choreographer," says Rocky Bornstein, a New York City–based physical therapist who specializes in professional dancers. "Now companies feel like they have to bring in choreographers to work with the company, so the work is much more eclectic." More and more dancers are also building freelance careers, which forces them to hop between various styles. This is an unprecedented challenge for the body.

Dr. William Hamilton, who was an orthopedic consultant for New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre for four decades, adds that even big companies are getting smaller, which puts more pressure on each individual dancer. A minor injury in one member can cause a domino effect within the company: Other dancers need to do double duty, which puts their bodies at risk for injury as well.

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Career Advice
Ballet Austin's corps in Snow Scene. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood, courtesy Ballet Austin.

Few people who are busier during the holidays than corps members of American ballet companies. December is officially Nutcracker season—a company's chance to earn a huge chunk of their revenue for the year, and a dancer's chance to go a little, ahem, nuts, waltzing and swallowing fake snow night after night for weeks on end.

But Nutcracker can also be an opportunity like no other, and for some corps members, it's the highlight of their year. Five dancers told us what helps them get through it all.

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News
Via Instagram @rambertdance

When Rambert, the United Kingdom's oldest professional dance company, announced Wednesday that Benoit Swan Pouffer had been appointed artistic director, it was hardly surprising news. Since April, two months after Mark Baldwin stepped away from Rambert after a 15-year tenure at its head, Pouffer has served as guest artistic director. That initial appointment was in and of itself a somewhat unexpected move, but the company had already brought the choreographer into the fold with a commission for its newly-formed junior company, Rambert2.

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Style & Beauty
The Radio City Rockettes in their new finale costumes. Photo courtesy of MSG.

Given how regimented the Radio City Rockettes are, from their precise kick lines to their Christmas Spectacular season show schedule (which can include up to four performances a day), it's no surprise they're just as strict with their skincare routines. After all, sweating in stage makeup six days a week can cause dryness and breakouts for even the most easygoing skin types. We caught up with Rockettes Alyssa Lemons and Nina Linhart for all of their tried-and-true skincare picks.

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Dancers Trending
Murphy's pregnancy announcement has us jumping for joy. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT

Congratulations are in order for American Ballet Theatre star Gillian Murphy and her husband, former ABT dancer Ethan Stiefel, who are expecting their first child next June!

Murphy announced her pregnancy today on Instagram:

She will not be dancing in the company's upcoming tour or the 2019 Metropolitan Opera House season, but plans to return to the stage next fall.

We have no doubt that Murphy will be the ultimate cool mom. Here's why:

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The Creative Process
Mana Hashimoto began training as a dancer before going blind in her early 20s. Photo Fred Hatt, courtesy Hashimoto

Since losing her eyesight due to an undiagnosed optic nerve atrophy, choreographer and performer Mana Hashimoto has dedicated her life's work to exploring how the body exists in space with or without sight.

Trained in ballet, jazz and Graham technique, she has performed all over the world, from her native home in Japan to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Jacob's Pillow. Hashimoto is also the founder of Dance without Sight, a series of workshops designed to discover movement through touch, sound and smell.

Dance Magazine recently say down with Hashimoto to learn more about her process, and what it's like to be a bridge between the seen and unseen worlds.

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Dance in Pop Culture

Online video game Fortnite is involved in serious controversy over its "emotes" dance feature. Even if you're not a gamer, this is a case choreographers should keep close tabs on. Here's why.

Let us quickly introduce you to Fortnite Battle Royale: The video game sprung up in September 2017 and has grown to insane levels of popularity. It's free to play and features 100 users duking it out to be the last person standing. But here's the catch: If you want to get ahead, you have to make in-game purchases, trading real money for V-Bucks, which you use to redeem things like weapons.

So what's it got to do with dance? A whole lot. One of Fortnite's most popular—and lucrative—features is its emotes, animated dances that users can purchase to perform on the battlefield. Many are taken directly from pop culture, and Fortnite's developer, Epic Games, is in the midst of a heated lawsuit regarding its Swipe It emote. After much public debate, rapper 2 Milly filed a suit last week claiming that Epic Games stole—and is now largely profiting from—the Milly Rock, a dance move he created and popularized, without his permission. Take a look:

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What Wendy's Watching
The Call by Ronald K. Brown marks the choreographer's seventh work for Ailey. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy Ailey

It's the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and their season at New York City Center is going strong with more than 20 works—including world premieres and company premieres.

Ronald K. Brown, who just received a Dance Magazine Award, has made his seventh work for Ailey, The Call. It's a gorgeous pastiche of three different types of music: Bach, jazz by singer Mary Lou Williams and Malian music by Asase Yaa Entertainment Group.

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Health & Body
Dance classes will be a part of a movement towards "social prescribing." Photo by Leon Liu via Unsplash

It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.

But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.

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Dance Training
Sin #2: Misaligning the spine. Photo by Erin Baiano

Throughout your dancing life, you've heard the same corrections over and over. The reason for the repetition? Dancers tend to make the same errors, sometimes with catastrophic results. Dance Magazine spoke to eight teachers about what they perceive to be the worst habits—the ones that will destroy a dancer's technique—and what can be done to reverse the damage.


Rolling In

To get a 180-degree first position, dancers will sometimes let their arches roll forward. But turnout is not about forcing your feet open; it's about opening up in the hips. “Turning out is an activity, not a position," says Irene Dowd, who teaches anatomy at the Juilliard School. “If we stop sustaining that movement, our feet will passively roll in." Rolling in places stress on the tendons of the feet and leads to injury because the rest of the body compensates for the imbalance when your knees can't line up over your toes.

Dowd warns against using only the arch to combat rolling in. “Dancers will try to lift up their arches and pull up on the inside of the ankle," she says. This can result in the inflammation of the tendons in the ankle and lead to tendinitis, a painful overuse injury that's common in dancers. What she feels are “Victorian furniture feet—feet that aren't fully in contact with the ground" should be solid in three areas: the heel, the ball of the big toe, and the ball of the little toe. Imagine how your weight is being transferred from above, through the body and down the legs, rather than gripping the foot and lifting from the arch.

Misaligning the Spine

Distorting the back, either by crunching the lumbar vertebrae and splaying the rib cage open or by hunching the shoulders forward and tucking the pelvis under, affects every other part of the body. Since the proper placement of the torso is the foundation of any movement, a dancer with a misaligned spine will develop other deadly technique sins. Problems can ripple all the way down to the extremities and upward to the neck and head. The core will be loose, unable to provide essential support. A pelvis that either tips back or tucks under will limit the range of motion in the hips.

Christine Spizzo's students at the North Carolina School of the Arts constantly work on their placement. “The one directive I give in class more than any other," she says, “is tailbone down, navel muscles lifted." She emphasizes that the tailbone lengthens downward without tucking under, and the navel muscles lift upward, not inward. This opposition allows the external rotator muscles to be actively engaged at the top of the thigh. Spizzo uses the expression the Four Ts—“no tucking, tipping, tilting, or twisting of the pelvis"—as a reminder for students.

Clenching the Toes

Clenching, curling, knuckling—no matter what it's called, this condition hampers a dancer's ability to articulate the feet. Clenched toes also make the feet an unstable platform to stand on, creating problems for the rest of the body. The muscles and tendons of the foot, knee, and ankle must work together to perform a relevé or jump, says Edward Ellison, director of Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program in New York. Clenched toes will place unwanted stress on the joints of the legs, leading to imbalance and overuse injuries. On pointe, knuckling over can damage the bones and tendons of the feet.

Master ballet teacher Sara Neece of Ballet Arts in New York says that when the first joint of the toe presses down into the floor too hard, the second joint of the toe jams into the metatarsal. For Neece, the key to remedying clenched toes lies in “bringing sensation to those unused tendons" beneath the second joint, and teaching the toes how to work in a careful and deliberate manner. While seated, a dancer should prick the back of each clenched toe with a fingernail about 20 times. Sitting on a chair with the foot on the ground, she should drag it back toward the body, slowly raising it to demi-pointe with a forced arch. Teachers must pay attention to the response of the feet to this localized work, since overstressing the tendons can damage them. Another way to teach the toes to stretch out is to weave a strip of cloth over the second toe and alternate below and above successive toes, leaving it there during barrework and nondance activities.

Giving In to Extreme Hyperextension

Hyperextended legs, in which the straightened knee naturally curves behind the thigh and calf muscles, are prized in the world of extreme ballet bodies. Christine Spizzo sings the praise of a moderately hyperextended leg line, as the leg fits snugly in fifth position, and the arabesque looks gorgeous, with that slight curve offsetting the arch of the foot. However, dancers with extreme hyperextension must take special care. “The hyperextended dancer tends to have weak external rotator muscles," she says, so the legs are more prone to collapse in on themselves when landing from a jump, letting the body weight fall on the knees. This can result in damage to the joints that maintain the alignment of the leg, including twisted knees and sprained ankles. Even if the dancer understands how to avoid giving in to her hyperextension, she has to learn how to express herself fully while restraining her legs.

But Spizzo points to dancers such as international star Sylvie Guillem, who has used her extreme hyperextension to her advantage. The dancer must think of lengthening rather than straightening or locking the knee, even if it feels slightly bent. She must develop a heightened awareness of the turnout muscles from the top of the thigh down to the calf. “The muscles must be activated to not allow the dancer to give in to the hyperextension," says Spizzo. She uses the image of the barbershop pole to encourage dancers to apply that feeling of an infinite spiral to their legs. Somatic practices such as Pilates can help to strengthen those stabilizing turnout muscles. Spizzo insists that dancers stand with the heels together in first position and never be allowed to press back into that knee joint. To do this, “the quadriceps must remain soft. As soon as you grip, it pulls that kneecap back dangerously."

Using Unnecessary Tension

“Tension," says Daniel Lewis, dean of dance at the New World School of the Arts, “pulls you off balance. It tightens the muscles and causes injury." Stiff muscles are injury-prone muscles, which make free and confident movement impossible.

Unwanted stiffness can also limit your versatility as a dancer. “Modern dance is concerned with trying to go into space off-center and off-balance," says Mary Cochran, chair of the dance department at Barnard College. “If you spend too much time holding your body stiffly, it's hard to make the transition from working in-balance to working off-balance."

Rhythmic breathing helps dissipate tension. Think of the lungs as another limb and pace the breath with the dynamics of the music. Sustain a sense of motion in the body, even when you are still, advises Cochran. Doing so will help reverse the muscle memory of using tension as a form of stability.

Pinching Your Shoulder Blades

Although used as a strategy to open the chest in front, pinching your shoulder blades together immobilizes the back. The serratus anterior on the sides of your rib cage is so overstretched that it can't work. Edward Ellison says that pinched shoulder blades impede the freedom of the arms and the support of the upper spine. He feels that they “cause your weight to fall behind your axis, and strain the trapezius and rhomboid muscles of the back."

Irene Dowd suggests thinking about widening the tips of the shoulders to the side, to allow plenty of room for the chest. “It helps to think about the chest—full of your lungs, your heart, all those organs—as a sphere," says Dowd. “We need to have enough room for all those precious organs to breathe." To relax shoulder blades, sometimes she will tell students to focus on the movement of the hands. “Is the hand really a lively part of my being?" Dowd has her students ask. “The shoulder blade should support that hand."

Getting Stuck in a Rut

While physical habits impede progress, the deadliest sin is losing the drive to improve technique at all. Franco De Vita, principal of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, says good technique begins with a dancer's approach to class. Being present and focused enables the dancer to learn combinations quickly—and correctly. “Not listening and changing the exercise is unacceptable," says De Vita.

Michael Vernon, chair of the ballet department at Indiana University, feels the worst thing a dancer can do “is to get fixed into doing something a certain way, being safe. I love young dancers who understand that you have to dance for tomorrow, and not yesterday." Keeping an open mind means more than just trying a different preparation for a pirouette. “Being open to new styles of dance and new ways of moving the body is vital to keeping the art relevant."

News
Ramasar and Catazaro, photos via Instagram

New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)

The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:

"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."

Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.

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Dance Training
Lauren Sanford teaches contractions to demonstrate the connection between breath and movement. Photo by Jenn Shaw Fleming

If a teacher or choreographer has ever commented that your dancing looks stiff, the problem could be that you aren't breathing effectively. "When dancers aren't breathing, their shoulders are up and there's no length in their movement. They start to look like they're just waiting to get to the next thing," says Maria Bai, artistic director of Central Park Dance in New York.

It may seem like a no-brainer—of course you can't move without breathing. But beginning dancers often hold their breath because they are so focused on picking up choreography, says Sarah Skaggs, director of dance at Dickinson College. Even advanced dancers can benefit from focusing more on their breath. "Sometimes they are paying so much attention to what their limbs are doing that they forget about the lungs, the chest, the trunk. Breath is the last thing they're thinking about, but really it should be the first," says Skaggs. The more integrated your breathing is, the more relaxed and present you will feel.

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The Creative Process
Jordan Isadore with one of his mobiles. Photo via Instagram

I've been a fan of Jordan Isadore's for about a decade. His gorgeous, spine-contorting renditions of Christopher Williams' repertory are legendary, and for many years I had the privilege of making dances with him and producing his works through DanceNOW[NYC].

Over the last year or so, as he began winding down his performance career, Isadore began making odd, phenomenal objects: dribs of Labanotation scores rendered as hung mobiles, gorgeously crafted in stained glass and metal. The designs are stunning, imbued simultaneously with a hipster-nonsense contemporaneousness and reverence for dance history.

I spoke with Isadore about his retirement from the stage, and transition to crafting full time.

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Career Advice
Negotiating a higher salary doesn't diminish your love for dance; it only reinforces your value. Getty Images

There's always that fateful day each year, usually in February or March, when ballet contracts are renewed. Dancers file into an office one by one, grab an envelope and sign their name on a nearby sheet of paper to signify the receipt of their fate. Inside that envelope is a contract for next season or a letter stating that their artistic contribution will no longer be needed. This yearly ritual is filled with anxiety and is usually followed by either celebratory frolicking or resumé writing.

Whenever I received my contract, I would throw up my hands joyfully knowing that I would get to spend one more year dancing. In 14 years at Boston Ballet, I never once looked at my pay rate when signing a contract. The thought of assessing my work through my salary never crossed my mind.

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The Creative Process
Rami Malek performing as Freddie Mercury. Still from Bohemian Rhapsody, via foxmovies.com

Watching Bohemian Rhapsody through the eyes of dancer, there's a certain element of the movie that's impossible to ignore: Rami Malek's physical performance of Freddie Mercury. The way he so completely embodies the nuances of the rock star is simply mind-blowing. We had to learn how he did it, so we called up Polly Bennett, the movement director who coached him through the entire process.

In a bit of serendipitous timing, while we were on the phone, she got a text from Malek that he had just been nominated for a Golden Globe. And during our chat, it became quite clear that she had obviously been a major part of that—more than we could have ever imagined.

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25 to Watch
Photo credits, clockwise from bottom left: Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Jayme Thornton; Jochen Viehoff, Courtesy Stephanie Troyak; Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet; Jim Lafferty; Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet; Scott Shaw, Courtesy Shamar Wayne Watt

What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.

Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.

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Spotlight
James Alsop has choreographed for stars from Beyoncé to Janelle Monae. Photo via Facebook

Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.

Enough! www.youtube.com

We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:

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