Warren Craft performing with Dorrance Dance. Dana Lynn Pleasant, Courtesy Dorrance Dance

How Tap Dancer Warren Craft Worked Past His Fear of Failure Onstage

Improvisation has been my focus for as long as I've been able to move to music. At first, I was drawn to the way it transported me into a place of euphoria when things miraculously went well. I thought of improvisation as a force of its own, moving me to make certain choices. But if I wasn't happy with a performance, I would stay awake at night with tons of regrets, never accepting it as fated, always blaming myself.

I started to realize that I was dancing to "just not fail." I knew I had to stop thinking of dance as something to be afraid of. So instead, I began to see it as an ally that was revealing even more to me than it was to the audience: All of my hopes and fears were being uniquely and personally communicated through my body in a way that was meant for me to understand.

Something that plagued me when I started improvising seriously was the misconception that dancing my fullest, with my most energy, would need to take on aggressive, reckless or dark characteristics. My warm-up used to be tensing up all my muscles and thinking of something that made me angry. I was aiming for a particular intensity repeatedly without really taking stock of how I felt.

As the performances with Dorrance Dance became more high-pressure, due to the attention the company was gaining, I needed to adopt some centering techniques to calm my nervous energy before a show. Introducing meditation into my routine gave me a consistent way to ground myself. It allowed me a patience for an honest and open-ended type of creativity that wasn't just focused on success.

If I cleared my mind by being still and silent before I took the stage, I was surprised by all the different scenarios, identities and emotions that arose freely, without my forcing them. I could even get a sense for if those things were right to incorporate into my everyday life and if those were feelings I wanted to share with people close to me. That kind of information is so valuable. I now have a motivation that's fueled by a desire to explore a broader range of emotions through a more honest process.

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Studio shots by Alinne Volpato

Jovani Furlan's Open-Hearted Dancing—And Personality—Lights Up New York City Ballet

Something magical happens when Jovani Furlan smiles at another dancer onstage. Whether it's a warm acknowledgment between sections of Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering or an infectious grin delivered in the midst of a puzzle box of a sequence in Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go, whoever is on the receiving end brightens.

"I could stare at him forever," says New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild. "He's just that kind of open spirit. He's not judging anything. It's like he's looking at you with his arms wide open and a big smile—even if he's not smiling, that's the energy he's giving you."