Dance By Any Means Necessary

Dance by Any Means Necessary

On a calm fall morning, Patrick Ulysse, enters a dimly lit kitchen. He walks over to the quiet coffee machine, and with the back of his hand, taps the glass of the half full pitcher, checking its temperature. The sun creeps through the closed blinds, illuminating his wide hazel eyes as he just stares into the air, listening. There’s a voice coming from another room. “Police are still searching for a suspect involved in a hit and run accident which left a woman in critical condition. More coming up on the news at 11.” Patrick lets out a deep breath, pours himself a cup of the room temperature coffee, and without adding anything to it, takes a large sip.
“I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I got that phone call.” After a long day of shooting scenes for a “Law and Order: SVU” episode since six in the morning, Patrick raced home to squeeze in a quick nap before he had to pick up his wife Jessica from the train station around seven thirty. Being a newlywed couple, living in an apartment in Brooklyn, the two shared a 2005 Hyundai Sonata. They had a schedule for who would take the car work. On this day, since Patrick had to shoot on set in Jersey and Jessica was teaching in Queens, he took the car and she used public transit.
Before falling into a fully fledged “sleep,” Patrick’s phone rang. Caller ID said it was “Jessica- Babe.”
“She told me she would just take the bus home because she knew I was tired,” said Patrick. “She is always so good to me.” Instead of coming straight home, Jessica decided to get take-out from a local Caribbean restaurant. After waiting nearly 20 minutes for the food, Jessica proceeded down the block to the bus stop. The bus was scheduled to come within 5 minutes which elated Jessica, because she too, had a long day, consisting of dance, loud music, and even louder children.
Too excited to see his wife, Patrick could not sleep. He knew she would be walking through that apartment door any minute now. He jumped out of bed and tidied the room up a little, gathering scattered boots and ballet slippers and putting them back in the closet, and remaking the bed.
Just as he finished fluffing his pillow just the way he liked, his phone rang. Caller ID said it was “Jessica-Babe.”
“The second I heard an unfamiliar voice, I knew something was wrong.” The stranger informed him that his wife was just hit by a car and needed to go to the hospital. Patrick rushed out the building, leaving everything as it was. He had to save her.
“She doesn’t remember anything after checking the bus schedule,” said Patrick. “And I’m glad she doesn’t.”
A vehicle making a quick turn onto the street Jessica was on, swerved out of control and jumped the curb only a few feet from the bus stop post. The vehicle hit Jessica and its impact launched her into a row of bushes outlining the walkway of a Brooklyn home. The driver of the vehicle stepped out, dragged Jessica from the bush to the sidewalk, got back in his vehicle and fled the scene. Fortunately, witnesses of the accident called 911 and came to Jessica’s aid.
A semi conscious Jessica mumbled something about a phone to one of her helpers before blacking out. They found her cell phone and searched through the contacts for people to call. They called mom and dad but left voicemails once the calls were unanswered. One of them noticed the wedding band on Jessica’s left ring finger and after coming across an entry named “Patrick-Babe,” felt he was the right person to call.
“After finding out how severe the injuries were, I wondered if she would be able to dance again,” said Adele St.Vil, Jessica’s mother. Aware of Jessica’s career as a principal dancer in the Forces of Nature Dance Company and as a teaching artist for the prestigious Alvin Ailey School, doctors warned that her life would change forever. Jessica suffered from a broken femur in her left leg, a few broken ribs, lacerations along her body and face, and head trauma. One of the broken ribs was resting on a vital organ which required immediate surgery. And once she was out of that surgery, she went into the next. This time, to insert the metal rod that would forever take place of her femur bone.
After the accident, Jessica had no choice but to give up her principal dancer position as well as stop teaching dance until she was fully recovered. She went to physical therapy for months and tested all different types such as acupuncture, hot yoga, and water aerobics, in order to aid in the recovery process of her thigh and ribs. The core of the body, or the torso, as well and the legs are very crucial elements used in the art of dance. Without the strength in her body, Jessica was afraid she would never be the dancer she once was.
However she kept trying. When she finally returned to teaching, her students greeted her with inspirational welcome back, we miss you, and glad you are feeling well cards. “She saw those kids and was inspired to go after what she wanted,” said Jessica’s mother. She noticed a growth in her students after the year and a half she was absent. Their growth gave her the drive she needed to realize that despite what doctors once told her, she would dance again.
“Her dreams were not over and I never seen anyone work so hard to obtain them,” said Patrick. Once gaining the strength to dance again, Jessica danced harder than ever. She went back to taking classes in ballet, modern and African dance. She spent hours in the dance studio or at the gym training. She even went on random auditions, not to land roles, but to prepare herself for the day she would be amongst the best dancers around, fighting for a spot in a company or piece. However her spirits were a little low after an audition in which the choreographer pointed at her and said “You! What’s wrong with that left leg?” Little did he know…
Besides that, Jessica felt her auditions did not go to waste. To her surprise, she landed a role in the film “One More Try” in which her character was a dance teacher. She impressed the producers of the film so much; they hired her as the choreographer for the film. While working on the film, Jessica had creative control of every aspect regarding the dance scenes and its characters. This new found leadership sparked Jessica into going into business for herself.
Less than three years after her tragic accident, Jessica started her own dance company KaNu Dance Theater. Through the company she uses dance to tell her story as well as those of others. The company has had many accomplishments performing nationally and internationally. They represented Haiti in the Festival of Nations, performed in the International Association of Blacks in Dance 25th anniversary conference and hold their own annual showcase in Brooklyn, New York. All Jessica wishes for in life is to be able to share her craft and inspire others to follow their dreams. Despite being the victim of a hit and run accident, Jessica triumphed and overcame any obstacle put in her way.
“She always told me she would do great things no matter what”, said Patrick. “And I never stopped believing her.” Jessica hated that Patrick had a DVD of the news segment about her accident. He took another sip of his coffee, walked over to the television, took out the DVD and tossed it in the trashcan. He then grabbed his camera equipment and his coffee and walked out the door.

Take a look at KaNu Dance Theater

For more info on KaNu Dance Theater, visit their website and watch their videos on Youtube.

The Gothic Puppet Takeover

On April 19th, 2013, IMANI Dance Ensemble hit the stage in Strictly Steppin’s Annual Schowcase “When Dolls Come to Life”

The showcase included a step and dance competition between Adelphi’s and Stony Brook’s step teams and Hofstra’s own IMANI Dance Ensemble and TranscenDance.

Check out IMANI Dance Ensemble’s performance entitled The Gothic Puppet Takeover here!

The judges crowned Stony Brook’s Step team as the winners against Adelphi in the step competition. As for dance, by crowd reaction, TranscenDance snatched the win.

Strictly Steppin closed the show with a cute Doll themed performance. Check it out below.

IMANI Dance Ensemble presents Studio 72!

On April 4th, 2013, IMANI Dance Ensemble took over Adams Playhouse to present their Annual Showcase entitled “Studio 72.”

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The show took the audience on a journey throughout the pretigious performing arts school. The hosts, Lamar K. Cheston & Dion Suleman of Let’s Work Ent, added a hilarious touch to the show. Along with pieces by IMANI Dance Ensemble, special performances included Isleema Songbird, Kayden “TuNe$” Wong, Hofstra’s Sp!t, and Strictly Steppin’.

Take a look at scenes from the show here!

Act 1: Home Room

Act 2: Pop Class Room

Act 3: Lunch Room

(Stage View)

Act 4: Locker Room

(Stage view)

Act 5: Detention

(Stage View)

Act 6: School’s Out

(Stage View)

BDM Studio Spotlight: Professional Center of the Arts

pca logo

BDM Studio Spotlight: Professional Center of the Arts

Published on the Black Dance Magazine website February 2013


Celebrating 25 years of dance, the students and staff at the Professional Center of the Arts, prove that there is more to dance than just putting on costumes and performing on stage. 

With over 90 percent of enrolled students attending Title 1, specialized performing arts schools, PCA prides itself on providing professional dance training while instilling the importance of etiquette, education and culture into their students. 

“One of the missions behind the school is that we are committed to being professional,” said PCA Founder and Artistic Director, Melissa Vaughn.  She said she felt a need for a professional center, outside of Manhattan, where students can display and enhance their talents. 

Based in the heart of the Bedstuy neighborhood in Brooklyn, PCA offers affordable, formal dance training opportunities to the youth of the community inside the borough. 

With classes in Ballet, Pointe, Modern, African, Tap, and Jazz, students from ages 3 to 17 are trained and nurtured as they transform into young, professional dancers.  The staff at PCA prepares students for auditions to specialized arts programs at the elementary, junior, and high school levels. 

PCA also has three competitive dance teams: Vision I, Vision II, and Vision III; students who participate in the dance teams travel across the country touring, competing and performing.   

“It would be hard for anyone not to fit in once they got past a year at PCA,” said Lauren Anderson, a current Intermediate II and Junior Class ballet teacher.  As a former student at PCA, Anderson experienced firsthand the family-oriented environment at PCA.  Many of the current staff members were once PCA students.  

Vaughn says that PCA is a family-friendly environment. Annual fundraisers, that include performances and family contests, bring the parents into the classroom in an upscale manner, Vaughn said.

“It’s never just a recital at PCA,” said Vaughn.  Through annual productions, complete with themed dances and elaborate costumes, the students are exposed to the discipline and behavior of a professional dance theater company, Vaughn said.

By maintaining a commitment to professionalism, Vaughn says that PCA provides students with a smooth transition into the professional dance world.

In addition to promoting dance, Vaughn says that PCA’s mission places a heavy emphasis on the importance of education.

“Education and dance can walk hand in hand,” said Vaughn. Vaughn is a prime example of the benefits of attending college and pursuing an artistic dream of becoming a dancer.  She is currently the principal of a performing arts middle/high school in New York City, and the artistic director of PCA.

Want More to learn more about PCA?

Be sure to check the website for the class schedule, 2013 summer intensive schedule, and for deals on fall registration.

A Dancer’s Guide to Success in an Audition

A Dancer’s Guide to Success in an Audition

Published in Black Dance Magazine January 2013 Issue

It is safe to say that auditions are nerve-wrecking experiences that many wish to avoid; however, they are a crucial element to landing a job in the performing arts world. Auditions aid dancers in the process of landing a role in a show or a principal spot in a company. Since there is no way of escaping the audition process, dancers should take the time to learn how to be prepared and exude strength in an audition.

Auditions take practice; the more auditions a dancer attends, the more familiar he or she will be with the etiquette and proper behavior that impresses choreographers. 

Research: a Crucial Step in Audition Preparation

“Dancers must research the company, its history, and its styles of dance,” said Dyane Harvey, assistant director of Forces of Nature Dance Theater.

When preparing for an audition, it is crucial for dancers to be informed about choreographers and company owners expectations.  No one would walk into a test without studying beforehand, unless they plan to fail.  The same principle applies for auditions. A dancer who wants to ensure that he/she is well-prepared for an audition should research the companies online, watch their performance videos, and even attend a show if possible.  Becoming familiar with the company or choreographer’s dance style will help dancers understand what the choreographer is looking for during the auditions.

Getting a Choreographer’s Attention

“I look for the energy, the unspoken desire and the fire in a dancer’s eyes,” said Mickey Davidson, primary choreographer for her company Mickey D. & Friends.  “You have to want it.”

Having a strong sense of confidence in one’s self and the movement are the keys to success during an audition.  Be punctual, and pay attention while learning the choreography.  Passion for the job must be evident, and a dancer should give it all they have. A lack of interest will surely be a turn-off for a choreographer.

“The dancer that usually gets my attention, is the dancer that takes their craft seriously,” said Jessica St.Vil, artistic director and choreographer for Kanu Dance Theater.  “During the audition process, a dancer should take the movement given and own it.”

An audition is a fight for attention. Many dancers place too much emphasis on perfecting the choreography, and attempting to execute the movement exactly how it was taught. Although it is highly beneficial to be able to retain choreography quickly, that is not the only factor choreographers are interested in. Don’t be afraid to add personal flavor.   Choreographers want to see a dancer’s personality; choreographers notice when a dancer gives a little something extra.  However, too much confidence and personal style can hurt a dancer’s chances at landing the job, so dancers should maintain a healthy balance of each.

Rejection: It’s a Part of Life

“You must have a plan,” said St.Vil, “and know that rejection must be part of that plan.”

Although people hate to admit it, rejection is a part of life. Harvey suggests that no one should take rejection personally.  Instead find out the reason for the rejection and work on strengthening that area.  There are countless numbers of dance companies and choreographers around the world that there is something for every dancer.  Set goals, do research and seek to train as much as possible.  Be prepared to work hard in order to accomplish those goals.

Push Your Limits. Dance Outside of the Box

Some dancers believe that auditioning for roles outside of their “comfort zone” is a waste of time.  In fact, all three choreographers agreed that staying within a “comfort zone” is actually a waste of time.  They encourage dancers to step outside the box and not to limit themselves to only one style of dance.  Trying various styles pushes creativity and gives opportunities to learn new things.   As a dancer, one should always want to grow and challenge their limits.

Final Audition Tips

Have an audition coming up soon? Be prepared.  Research the company and understand what they are looking for.  The night before an audition, eat a good meal and make sure the body is relaxed.  Take a nice bath and try to stay calm, even though that may seem impossible.  Be sure wear dance attire that compliments the body and allows the choreographer to see body movement.  Be energetic, passionate, and personable.   Remember that auditions are an experience in which dancers learn and grow.  Try to enjoy it, and eventually, your hard work will pay off.

Renee Robinson’s Ailey Farewell

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Friends and fans in the audience paid tribute to Renee Robinson in her farewell performance with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and I was lucky enough to attend.  Renee Robinson, a principal dancer for over 3 decades, is the last remaining company member selected by founder Alvin Ailey.  She also has the longest tenure in the company’s history, 32 years from 1981-2012.  Robinson is also the only dancer to perform under all three Artistic Directors, Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison and, starting last year, Robert Battle. As a former student at The Ailey School, and a member of Ailey II, Robinson is admired for her radiant performances, mentorship, and sharing the Ailey legacy with generations of performers.

Introduced by artistic director Robert Battle (click here for podcast on introduction) as “an Ailey Classic,” Renee will always be remembered for her grace in Ailey’s most renowned piece “Revelations.”  “She held that umbrella high as if it was touched by heaven.”  Throughout the entire night’s performances, spotlight was on Robinson.  Her bright smile illuminated the entire theater and her presence could not be missed.  Her winding hips in “Night Crawlers” and her  enthusiastic jumps in ” Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” could attract anyone, even those unfamiliar with dance in general.  She is praised by all the Ailey principal dancers and is looked upon as the lasting connection to Ailey himself.

Renee Robinson, hailing from Washington DC, began her training in classical ballet at the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet. She received two Ford Foundation scholarships to the School of American Ballet and was awarded full scholarships to the Dance Theater of Harlem School and The Ailey School. She has a number of accomplishments in the dance world including two performances at the White House, first in 2003 for the State Dinner in honor of the President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, and again in 2010 in a tribute to Judith Jamison.  Robinson was recently honored with the prestigious Dance Magazine Award.

Robinson has been an inspiration to many dancers, including myself.  Her poise, grace, and excellence in transcending and executing steps is exemplary and one of a kind.  She is a role model for all dancers and her legacy will always have a place in the dance world.

A Place I Love

A Place I Love

I am standing in a tight, dimly lit corner and I can feel my heart pounding fast in my chest. An undeniable feeling is surging through my veins. The temperature in my cheeks rises as they turn pink with excitement. My fingers tingle as bursts of energy travel through my arms and congregate at my finger tips. My spine wiggles as the slightest shocks of nerves skate from my neck down to the heels of my feet. The thoughts inside my head imitate cars driving on a series of intertwined highways, determined to get to their destination fast. It’s a race against time as I attempt to go over everything I was taught during the last couple months. And just like that, the lights go out.

It’s time.

Years of training have led up to this very moment. I can remember a time as a child when I would not even want to set foot in a studio. My mother started me in classes since I was two. By the age of 7 or 8, I didn’t understand why, instead of going on play dates every Saturday morning with my friends, I would be stuck taking classes. It was not until my preteen years that I started taking my craft more seriously. It was a talent that I was now becoming proud of and I only wanted to get better.

After classes or rehearsals, you could always find me in the studio, by myself, perfecting the choreography taught. I loved the feeling of my rough bare feet gripping the smooth marley floor, and call me selfish, but I didn’t want to share it with anybody. During one of my final dates with the studio, my mother calls, rushing me home in order to watch my younger siblings. Before I left, I took a good around, admiring every inch of the room. As I stood there grounded, I took a good look in the mirror and asked myself “What is it that you want to do?”

I hear the crowd applause as the group that just finished silently rushes past me. I say a few quick words to the Big Man upstairs and then to myself. “You got this! Go out there and kill it!” I quickly maneuver through the darkness, find my place and stick my starting position. I’m ready.

The lights then shine bright and I can barely see anything past 20 feet. But I know there are people out there, watching my every move. I must please them. Within a second the music I know all too well begins. And my body takes over.

My movements flow along with the smooth rhythms of the piano, something like a fish floating down a river. My back contracts and releases by command of the deep voice of the drum. My arms slice through the air commenting the sharp sounds of the violin. I am hitting all shapes and poses, and executing the choreography with all of my mind, body and soul.

Through these movements I must tell a story, my story. I can tell the story of my journey through life and through the arts, evoking all kinds of emotions. Even though my story isn’t complete, I don’t think they will mind.

As the piece nears the end and my body begins to run out of oxygen, I gather my last bit of energy. I push myself to execute these last steps at the absolute best. These steps must be better than anything prior because it is the final impression. It is the last the audience will see of me and I must leave them with something they will remember and love. To the final boom of the drum, I freeze in my ending pose. And the lights go out.

I can hear the loud thunder of the crowd as they cheer and applause, and the distinct “That’s my baby! Mommy loves you!” from my biggest fan. I was out of breath running off that stage but the energy of the crowd gives me life. An undeniable feeling is surging through my veins. I stand tall and rejuvenated as this fresh energy travels along my spine. My fingers clench with power and pride. My cheeks radiate with the glow as I can now answer the question I once asked myself. This is where I want to be, the place I love, Center Stage.