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Why I Dance: Julie Diana
With her long neck, sweet face, and elegant bearing, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Julie Diana is the Audrey Hepburn of ballet. Articulate and generous in contemporary roles, she can be positively dreamy in classical ones. Diana discovered ballet at age 7 at the New Jersey Ballet. At 12, she began training at the School of American Ballet and joined San Francisco Ballet at 16. In 2004 she moved to Philadelphia, where she and boyfriend Zachary Hench joined PAB as principals (see “The Wings of the Dove,” Aug. 2006). The next year, after a performance of Romeo and Juliet in which Diana and Hench had danced the leads, he proposed to her onstage. This spring Diana, who earned her BA from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, looks forward to dancing Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated, and a reprisal of Romeo and Juliet with her husband.
I initially wanted to be an Olympic champion in women’s gymnastics, winning gold medals and scoring perfect 10s by age 16. This dream, however, was not meant to be. At 7, I had a tremendous fear of heights and my body was already too long and loose for compact tumbling. My gymnastics coach, wisely, nudged me in a different direction—she encouraged me to try ballet.
I fell in love. Was it the music, the discipline, the outfit, or the combination of structure and expressive movement? I don’t know. But I readily gave up the bars at the gym and practically attached myself to a barre in the studio.
Before now, I’ve never articulated my reasons for dancing. I’ve been asked where I dance, how long I’ve danced, and what roles I want to dance…but never why I dance. So as I search for the words to describe my motivation, I realize that there is no simple answer. My reasons seem to be varied and predictable, constant yet changing.
I dance to act. Ballet enables me to be the things I am not, or maybe it allows me to express aspects of myself that I would not otherwise acknowledge. I dance to travel, to go places that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to see. I dance for those rare moments when everything comes together, when my body and mind cease to conflict and when I am absolutely present, when the steps just happen and I inhabit the music, when I don’t have to think because the dance has taken over.
I do not dance to be competitive (this might seem strange coming from someone who wanted to go to the Olympics). Instead I am driven by the desire to constantly improve myself, to strengthen my weaknesses, and to disguise my unchangeable flaws. Dance presents me with an endless set of challenges from which I can pick and choose on a daily basis. There is always another goal to achieve.
In years past I would strive for unattainable perfection, driving myself crazy with self-criticism. Today, my approach to dancing is more relaxed. I still aim for excellence, but I am even more determined to enjoy the artistic process and let myself feel fulfilled. It was after the birth of my daughter, Riley, that I rediscovered the simple joys of dance.
I perform for her around the house, in the studio, and onstage—anything to make her smile! At just a year old, she keeps me grounded and enables me to maintain a healthy perspective. She makes me appreciate the more practical benefits of my job that I used to take for granted, such as good health insurance and a steady salary. And I can see the essence of ballet through her young eyes. I am reminded of its transformative power, that it is a stimulating, emotional, and engaging art capable of moving both body and soul.
Dance is more than my profession; it is an integral part of my life. It has shaped and influenced my identity, but it does not define me. I dance because I love the way it blurs the line between fantasy and reality. I dance because I am able to partner with my husband. I dance because it is a wonderful way to spend the workday. I dance because, from age 7, it’s the life I chose. My professional ballet career is my Olympic gold medal and I would not trade it for anything.
Photo of Julie Diana and Zachary Hench in La Sylphide by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Diana.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"