Why I Dance
A one-time principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alicia Graf attracted attention the minute she joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2005. With her extra long gorgeous legs, vulnerable face, and mass of curls, she is a presence onstage you don't easily forget (see cover story, Dec. 06). Plus, she infuses each of her roles with heart and soul. A graduate of Columbia University, Graf has written for Dance Magazine and other publications.
Why do I dance? If I could take a guess, I would simply say that God designed my body to move. I can't sit still for more than 10 minutes. I can't read and listen to music at the same time because my mind starts choreographing. Even now, as I try to find the words to type, my leg is bouncing incessantly to some internal rhythm. There was a point in my life when I tried to leave dance behind, reconfigure my design. I failed miserably. So I realize that whatever I may do in my life, I will always be a dancer. My purpose is to move.
By the time I was 3 or 4 years old, I already considered myself an artist—not a technician or entertainer. Can you imagine? I wanted to be a performer who could make an audience cry. My mother, a woman of many talents, taught me about tension and texture before I even knew how to pirouette. She would show me how to hold a tight fist and make it shake to show anger, or how to flutter my fingers to evoke happiness. My dad, the most selfless man I know, influenced my approach as early as I can remember. My little sister is also a dancer. We grew up together in the studio. This is where I come from.
I have always taken this gift very seriously—maybe a little too seriously. I remember as a teenager forcing myself to perfectly execute eight 64-count developpés in every direction every night before bed to strengthen my legs. I slept in splits. I wanted my body to be the perfect instrument.
And now, at age 29, I understand that my body will never be perfect. And I like it that way. I have never been a conventional person, or a conventional dancer, so why start trying now? The stage is where my sometimes awkward social ways and my desire to affect people are advantages. The stage is my platform for transformation. I move my body and in turn, I move the hearts of people without so much as a word. I love my job.
Dance is by far the most challenging profession on the planet. Dancers live out of suitcases away from their loved ones. We put our bodies through insane amounts of stretching, pulling, strengthening, and stress just to achieve a desired line or to simply get through a performance day. Staring at our images in ceiling-high mirrors for days at a time, our self-esteem is constantly challenged. Most of our hours are spent in dark, cold, concrete boxes called theaters. But baby, when the curtain rises, and those lights start shining, something deep inside is ignited. We create our own cosmos of joy and inspiration.
After 10 years of being a professional dancer I still think it's crazy that this is how I make my living. It is my job to show up at a theater on time, but my privilege to perform. While I am paid to execute steps, my true reward lies in the act of conversation through movement. Movement is how I speak. This is how I express myself to an audience and to my Creator, always giving thanks for life and the many stories I can share through this art form. Dancing, although for show, is a humble craft. I am constantly reminded that I am more than myself. I am Alvin Ailey and Judith Jamison; I am Arthur Mitchell and Virginia Johnson; I am Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. I am the present and the future of this legacy. Collectively we evolve—creatures of movement.
Photo by Andrew Eccles, Courtesy Ailey.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.