Porretta in Molissa Fenley's State of Darkness. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

As clichéd as it sounds, asking me why I dance is like asking a fish why he swims or a bird why he flies. I dance because I'm meant to. It's who I am. Even as a little boy in New Jersey, whenever adults would ask me what I wanted “to be" when I grew up, I'd answer, “I wanna be a dancer!"

I'll never forget the first time I was shown a video of Mikhail Baryshnikov. My mouth dropped open and my eyes widened. I got closer to the television screen like a moth to a flame. I couldn't believe what I was seeing: His magnificent jumps, astounding turns and artistry.

For me, Baryshnikov was a god. Growing up in a town where a boy like me wasn't quite the norm, having him as my role model reassured me that what I wanted to do in life and who I wanted to be could really be achieved—there were other people out there just like me.

Nine years later, I got to take ballet classes from him at the School of American Ballet, where I trained. I was so nervous and excited. I couldn't believe I was going to meet him! The lessons he taught me in those few classes have lasted me throughout my entire career, right down to the way I hold the barre when facing it, always with wrists crossed to keep myself squared. I even teach this to students now. And I always say, “Baryshnikov taught me this."

To this day Baryshnikov is still my hero. He represents more than just stellar talent and artistry; to me he is freedom. Freedom to be who you are and fight for what you want. The stage is where I truly feel the happiest and most comfortable with myself. Even on days when I'm exhausted and sore, I feel so lucky that I have been given the gift to do what I love every day of my life.

It's hard to compare the feeling you get after hitting your last pose in a ballet. That moment of realizing what you've just accomplished. Not every ballet is as rewarding as others, but to be in front of a crowded theater, giving the audience everything you've got and feeling them feeding you their energy back—I live for those moments when everything comes together onstage.

It's those moments that I savor. Dance is and will always be my first true love.

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Studio Bleu students Jaxon Keller, Samantha Halker and Alia Wiggins. Photos by Chris Stark

How Turning Boards and Practice Mats Can Revolutionize Your Dance Training

When it comes to equipment, dancers don't need much—just shoes and whatever can fit in their dance bag. But between rehearsals in the studio and performances on stage, one major piece of equipment often goes overlooked—the floor.

Dancers too often find themselves warming up on the concrete or carpet backstage, or wanting to practice in a location without a proper floor. For years, Harlequin Floors has offered a solution to this problem with its innovative turning board, offering a portable and personal floor that can be flipped between marley and wood. Now, they've revolutionized portability again with their practice mat, offering dancers the option to roll up their own personal floor and sling it over their shoulders like a yoga mat.

We spoke with experts from every corner of the dance industry to see how Harlequin's products have become their everyday essentials: