The Ultimate #TBT: When Madonna Went to ADF

Before Madonna became a one-name superstar, she was just a 19-year-old dance student taking part in American Dance Festival's first year at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, training under teachers like Pearl Lang. Yet she already had the kind of stage presence and over-the-top confidence that would eventually make her an icon. A reporter from the Charlotte Observer who visited the festival was completely taken with her, and wrote:


"Her name is Madonna Ciccone, and her face matches her name.


Round eyes, arched eyebrows, finely drawn mouth—Da Vinci would have loved it. It is a theatrical face, a dancer’s face. And she has a dancer’s body—thin as a blade, lithe and agile. Doll-like, she looks as if she’d snap in a strong wind.


She wouldn’t."


She told the writer, Richard Maschal, that ADF was "pretty draining and demanding." And he described her as being "what the American Dance Festval is about." (Though I'm not sure many dancers today would quite agree with that particular assessment.)


Unfortunately, not much else is known about Madonna's summer at ADF, and there are no descriptions of her actual dancing. But North Carolina's The News & Observer dug up the 1978 story and photo recently, just in time for ADF to kick off its 2015 season today. More than 400 students take part in the festival each year—who knows what kinds of talent will come out of the program this time around.


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Sometimes you're thrown a big opportunity mid-season—but aren't always given all the rehearsal you need to fully prep for it. At Houston Ballet, for instance, there are often 12 casts of Sugar Plum, according to ballet master Amy Fote. That means some dancers might only get one full run before performing the role.

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