Saturday, July 26, 2014

Interview: Lara Spence

Photo by Jaqi Medlock
I share so much of my own dance life online and it's time I start spreading the news about other dancers in New York City. Meet Lara Spence, an amazing dancer from South Africa whom I worked with under choreographer Jeremy McQueen last year. Read what she has to say about being a foreign dancer in the Big Apple.
Where are you originally from and what brought you to New York City?

- I am originally from Cape Town, South Africa. Born and raised! So New York is the first place that I have lived in, other than South Africa although, I managed to travel and work in some amazing places before sticking to New York City. I came here to train in dance. This was the ultimate destination so I saved up and I moved here.

How long have you been here and what schools/companies have you danced with?

- In November this year (2014) it will be 3 years in the city. I started at Broadway Dance Center, with their International Student Visa Program for 6 months. While training in this program, I auditioned for the Ailey School and in September 2012, I started a year Independent Study Program at the Ailey School. It had always been a dream to train at the Ailey School and every minute of it was completely worth the hard work!

The first company I worked with was LEON Dance Arts. Since them, I have worked with Jeremy McQueen, Spark Movement Collective, Earl Mosley, Asterial Dance, Xhale Dance Company (now Michael Susten and Company) and currently a full time company member with Nimbus Dance Works.

What has been the best part of dancing in NYC thus far?

- Definitely the massive amount of opportunity! There is so much going on and it is easy to completely fill up a day doing things that I love. The people that I have had the opportunity of working with have been absolutely amazing! I have been blessed with environments filled with talented and generally good people. For this reason, work just simply does not feel like work.

What has been the hardest part?

- Training at the Ailey School was the hardest thing that I have ever done before entering the working world in New York. An incredibly intense program with such enormous value. Since then, living. Haha. This is a hard city.

As a foreigner, how do you balance life in this expensive city - are you able to have outside jobs besides dance?

- Unfortunately, as a foreigner, I am restricted to working in the dance industry only. However, I have been extremely lucky with the work that I have. I perform, teach and assist. I also have a side job at a fitness center to help cover my monthly costs.

How often do you get to visit home? What do you miss most/least about dancing there?

- Getting home is pretty tough. Firstly it is very expensive and secondly it is far away! A 21 hour flight on average. So it isn’t exactly a weekend trip. Taking two weeks out, to go home can be hard to do, but it is very important to make time to see my family and take a second to break from the rush of this amazing city! So I am to visit once a year. I miss Cape Town because it will always be home and it is a gorgeous city. However, I was frustrated with the limited opportunity most of the time and I wouldn’t change what I have in New York for anything. I love my life here now.

What are your dancing goals for the next season?
- My goals for this season are to continue to grow. I want to get involved in projects and expand my network. This is also my second season with Nimbus Dance Works and first as a full time company member. I am extremely excited to be working with this amazing company and can not wait to see what this next year brings!

Any advice for other foreign dancers hoping to make it in the Big Apple?

- Don’t give up! It can be hard for anyone in this industry. Foreigner or local. It is unsteady and unpredictable but I think we knew that already and probably wouldn’t have it any other way. It is spontaneous and exciting! I have often felt completely overwhelmed and in need of family support. If trying to establish yourself in New York wasn’t hard enough, adding the fact that we have to fight to legal work and live here, sure puts on added pressure. The rewards are great, so stick it out. See New York as your blank canvas… Now color it and create it into the image you want for your life. That is possible here and I think that is why New York holds a very special place in many of its visitors’ hearts.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Angelina Ballerina National Tour Recap Fall 2013

I know I haven't blogged in ages but thought this might be of interest and this was the best place to share my experiences :) Hope to post more soon!

I just finished my first national tour: dancing in “Angelina Ballerina, The Musical!”

My role, Serena Silvertail, is the “most famous ballet dancer in all of Mouseland.” I don’t know about famous, but I certainly was one happy mouse!
I had auditioned for Vital Theater Company’s production at least three times before I landed the part. One Wednesday afternoon this August I was sitting at Kinkos on 56th Street printing resumes for yet another audition when I saw my phone blinking. I always keep it on silent, so it was a good thing I had it out to see it going off. An unknown New York City number flashed across my background photo of Lincoln Center.


“Hi Taylor, it’s Holly calling about Angelina Ballerina. We’d like to make you an offer!”

I’m pretty sure I started laughing.

Rehearsals started only a week later, so I had already given up waiting for that phone call and arranged my life for autumn in New York. Hearing Holly’s voice was thrilling!

In the next few days I visited their theater on the Upper West Side to sign my contract and pick up my script. I received two DVDs of the show and a CD with the tracks I’d have to sing.


Ok yes, we “sing” in the ensemble at Radio City, but we aren’t mic’ed. Looked like I’d be actually singing and speaking onstage for the first time ever.

The first day of rehearsals was just to learn music. I sat amongst 7 other actors and a piano in one of the smallest studios at Ripley Grier. The musical director was asking them to sight read and create beautiful harmonies. I was shaking in my seat praying he wasn’t going to ask me to do the same!

Luckily I only sang in one number, so I got out of there early and embarrassment-free.

We had one day learning choreography, one day with the director, and then a run through. After a full day of tech (learning how to hang and fold drops, build the set, tally props…) we set off for the first leg of tour to Ohio.

That week was a trial run. We played two cities in lovely old theaters. It was our first really long drive, first hotel rooms, first of many nights getting to know each other.

The cast was 7 actors and myself, and traveling with us were a fantastic stage manager and sound guy. Their big, theatrical personalities came out immediately. It was interesting for me, as I’m always the quiet one, to figure out where I fit with this group. In other groups of friends I am frequently the leader, the planner, or the “good girl.” This group already had many of each of those. It was a process not just of finding myself but finding myself in relation to other people.

We returned to NYC for a week and a half before leaving for the full tour. In that time, I packed up my apartment, got a subletter, and coordinated substitutes for all of my many jobs and classes I teach. I have a LOT of friends to thank of helping me out during that time!

The first week of the full tour we drove and performed through New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, among others. We traveled in a white 15-passenger van and a Sprinter truck carrying the set and luggage. I cozied into my second row window seat for each travel day and found a surprising amount of ways to keep myself busy on long drives. I was writing freelance for Veteran’s Advantage (link?), making plans for my winter Europe trip, and possibly watching an episode or two of Scandal or Glee J

One thing I couldn’t stop myself from doing was checking audition listings in NYC. As a freelancer constantly searching for my next performance opportunity, it’s just habit to keep an eye on the future. That was probably the hardest adjustment for me to tour life: accepting that I was really away from my regular life and friends, and enjoying the fact that I could live in the moment with my current job performing. The contract was for two months – that’s a pretty solid fall performance plan, when I finally thought about it!

The show itself got better and better as we went on, too. We did a total of 26 performances by the end, and each was more fun and interesting. Getting into microphone, doing sound check, and saying lines became second nature for this silent bunhead who rarely speaks anyway! Haha. I became more creative in making choices in my finale dance. I found moments to relate to the other characters onstage just as our real life relationships developed.

After many of our performances we would do “Meet and Greets” with the children in the audience. Besides melting my heart with their doe-eyed looks at my tutu and crown, their enthusiasm for ballet was invigorating. Even in the smallest of towns, girls came out in their pink leotards and fluffy skirts to hug us and sign up for classes at their local studio. Part of me wanted to say, “Don’t do it! You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into! Ballet is crazy!” Haha. But the better part of me was humbled to see such an appreciation for an art form that argues its losing its audience.

There are so many great things about touring in general, but one of my favorite parts was being in so many historic, gorgeous theaters across the country. I have a thing for big stages and empty audiences. Every time we arrived at a venue and went to drop our bags in the dressing rooms I’d head out onstage to take it all in. Some had incredible chandeliers. One was built like a castle on the sides. Others had unique artwork along the aisles. And almost all were really large stages! The performances I have most of the year in NYC (aside from my time at Radio City and the Met) are on smaller stages or intimate performance spaces. How wonderful to have space to travel and look out to the back of the house!

The other highlight for me being on tour was having the opportunity to take class with several ballet companies en route. I sent emails a few days before we approached major cities to see if I might be able to take company classes. Most responded very positively and were happy to have me for a day.

The first was Alabama Ballet. I took an open class the night we got to Birmingham, which had been my first class since we left for tour over a week ago! I was SO ready to move. It was a small class, but the teacher was positive and very complimentary. The next morning I took company class with their director. I felt encouraged to see many dancers similar in type to myself.

The next classes I took were at University of Texas at Austin. My friend Roman Baca connected me with his mentor who works in the theater department there. I was so inspired touring the college campus (that’s the nerd in me. I miss school.) The two classes I took were absolutely incredible: the teacher gave corrections and combinations that made me look differently at the way I’ve been executing certain steps for so many years. It was amazing to be exposed to new approaches and ideas. The second class was on Halloween, so it was also fun to see the students dressed up as I’ve always done on that day in my training J

On our weeklong drive to shows in Iowa, I took class with Oklahoma City Ballet. Their company manager was super nice and introduced me to the director before class. By this point I had a bad cold, was tired of hotels, and hadn’t had a real class in 2 weeks. Though I wasn’t at my personal best, I took the class and really enjoyed it. Center was much more technical than what I usually like, but it was just what I needed to keep myself in shape. The company was also preparing for a Balanchine ballet in the spring, so jumps were quick like I like.

Iowa and all the middle states we passed through were not too exciting (sorry mid-westerners!). We had several one night only stops in a row, so I didn’t get to see much of the cities beyond the hotel walls and restaurants. I did get to meet a lovely Twitter follower and dancer in Iowa, who asked for my advice about dancing in New York. As we spoke between shows I realized how much I wanted to share with her and how many mistakes I’ve made and had to figure out in my nearly 9 years in the city! I felt old, haha.

After Iowa, we drove all the way back south to shows in New Mexico, which was a welcomed change.

The warm weather was much friendlier for my body (the cast made fun of me for stretching in the van by sticking my foot on the ceiling. Whatever, my hamstrings liked it J). I took class with Ballet Arizona when we made it to the Phoenix area. That was a little more intimidating – they are tall and beautiful! It was a challenging class (for everyone, I realized later, not just myself) but a few dancers were friendly and all were a joy to watch and learn from.

The most interesting class I took was with LA Dance Project. I showed up Monday morning for class but apparently the ballet master forgot there was a meeting instead of class, so I returned the next day eager to be seen. I thought it was going to be a ballet class – wrong! It was much more contemporary than classical, though we did do barre work. Many of the dancers were recent Juilliard graduates, so I enjoyed reminiscing about New York with them. It was cool to find new ways of moving in a low key environment (grande allegro was to the song, “Hot Stuff!”)

I also took a fantastic class at Dance Arts Academy in LA. My friend and LA Ballet Dancer Christopher McDaniel suggested it to me. Reid Olson gave interesting combinations with fun challenges, like a cartwheel out of a tour jete! I wrote down the entire class so I can steal some ideas when I go back to teaching, haha.

I knew Chris was going to be in class, but as I went to hug him walking into the studio I heard someone else call my name. It was my friend Laura from a decade ago at The Rock School. I totally forgot she was living in LA doing comedy now. It was a pleasant surprise to catch up with her! I had just mentioned her when I saw my roommate from that year, Lindsey, after one show in Texas. We hadn’t been in touch in since 2004 and had fun gossiping about where classmates have ended up.

The other good friend I got to spend time with in LA was former New Yorker and dance blogger Tonya Plank. We had dinner one night and then she showed me around Hollywood and Beverly Hills. She was generous enough to drive me all around that huge city and show me the sights! We, too, spent a lot of time missing New York together and recalling the golden age of dance blogging we both were part of.

I really liked LA. I’m pretty sure I was biased because we were finally in a true big city with civilization. I had friends there and ways to get around independently, unlike the rest of our stops on tour. We also had a gorgeous hotel on the beach, so that didn’t hurt J

I paid a visit to Disneyland, too! My roommate from 11 years ago (!) at Rock’s summer intensive lives near there and knows the park like the back of her hand. Michelle was the best tour guide I could’ve asked for, and we had such a wonderful day returning to childhood. There is no better way to do Disney.

After Thanksgiving (spent by the water in a t-shirt – thanks California winter!), our tour moved to the San Francisco area. Two of my best friends from year round Rock dance up there and came to one of my last performances. Katie has visited me in New York, but I hadn’t seen Alanna in at least six years! It’s always amazing to me how the ballet world has given me such close friendships that expand around the country and remain solid after so many years. I absolutely loved seeing them and exchanging life updates.

The day we visited San Francisco itself I was able to take one more class, at Alonso King LINES Ballet. The teacher was really nice and offered advice for the other towns we were visiting. It was a dance-y class that felt great. I wanted to return another day but transportation issues kept me away.

I owe a special thank you to my stage manager and a few other castmates who drove me around to various dance studios. Not having my license was a blessing in terms of not having to share driving duties cross country, but it made it somewhat stifling to not have a way of getting around by myself. I’m so independent in New York (even if I do complain about the MTA) so having to depend on other people was an adjustment.

Besides the dancing itself, there were so many other great moments on tour. My outgoing, outrageous cast introduced me to experiences I would never have had if I were traveling alone. I ate fried food at the Texas State Fair in Dallas. I rode a mechanical bull on Halloween in Austin. I climbed a mountain in Sedona. I saw the Hoover Dam in Nevada. I spent an (mostly) free night in Las Vegas. I followed the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I enjoyed a delicious wine tasting in Sonoma. And I made some incredible friendships. If I’m lucky enough to book another tour someday and I’m in their area, I’m SURE we’ll be laughing and reminiscing about our two month adventure on the road.

I have mixed emotions about it being over. I must admit that I actually cried the night before we first headed out in October, wondering if it was a mistake to leave the city. In fact, I really needed a break and I am SO thankful for all the opportunities and experiences I’ve had. And every moment onstage is one to be grateful for.

Twelve hours after my flight landed back in New York City I started two solid weeks of Nutcracker performances, which were only booked two days before my final Angelina show. I am awed at how life works, sometimes. What a gift to do what I love, make a living from it, and share it with audiences young and old, near and far.

I will end with the closing lyrics from our show: “Whatever you dance, whatever you do, whatever you think you might want to pursue: do it with your heart.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Taylor's on Twitter

Hi blog readers!
It's been a LONG time since I've posted on Off Center, and a LOT has happened. Because my schedule has gone from crazy to ABSOLUTELY INSANE these days, I have no time to write long form blog posts. However I am very active on Twitter and Facebook and am keeping my dancing life in New York City very open over there, so please follow me :)

Feel free to peek through the blog archives - they're not going away.

Since my last blog post I've danced with the Metropolitan Opera, rejoined Radio City, performed at Jacob's Pillow, finished my Pilates certification, and moved into a LOT of teaching. Thanks for keeping up with me :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Performance This Weekend

This weekend is another Performing in NY Showcase!

I'm assistant director of the whole production, which means a LOT of work coordinating 230 dancers under 14 directors. Good thing I enjoy putting on a show because man, it's a lot of emails! Haha. This round I helped my teacher stage parts of Swan Lake Act II and will be dancing as well. Looking forward to it :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Sat Where Misty Copeland Sat

Awesome ABT soloist Misty Copeland was interviewed last week on Ashani Mfuko's The Kiner Hour - Let's Talk Dance and it's great to hear how her perspective has grown and changed as a professional dancer.

I personally think it's a super cool interview because I sat in the same chair as her a few months ago when I was interviewed on the show!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dance Moms - My New Guilty Pleasure

Confession: I have never watched a full episode of So You Think You Can Dance. Nor Dancing With the Stars. For some reason I just can't get into it...I know a lot of professional dancers (and former dancers) who say they don't like to go to the ballet because it's like a doctor watching a show about doctors - it's your job. I actually love going to the ballet, but haven't joined the dance on television craze until this:

It's hilarious.

Having been on an episode of a reality show about dance (MTV's MADE back at The Rock School) I can assure you a lot of this must be staged. They're certainly feeding into stereotypes (and sadly making the -super talented- kids into stereotypes too...the bored teenager, the perfect star...). But the point of the show is pretty real. My family owned a dance studio and no, to my knowledge, they didn't have screaming cat fights every other day with the mothers, but the basis for a lot of the drama is real. And the teacher is real - I've worked with teachers as harsh (or more) as her. Sometimes it's hard to decide who's right in all the arguing.

But besides the backstage drama it's a show of good dancing. The girls that it's focused around are young but very advanced and lovely performers. I watched the first 5 episodes in 3 nights - say what you will, I like it, haha.

My only other current regular show is Glee, but that's off for the summer. And everyone knows I'm a huge Friends and Sex & the City fan, but those are sadly gone for good. A little bad tv never hurt anyone :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

RIP Alex Espinal-Rodriguez, Dancer

I got news this morning that New York City area dancer Alexander Espinal-Rodriquez passed away. Alex was a guest with Exit 12 Dance Company for a show we did in Connecticut last June 2010, and though I didn't know him well besides that weekend away, it's very clear he was a talented young dancer and very well-liked in the NYC dance community.

It's sad to see any young life taken - another reminder to live every day to the fullest. Another reason to appreciate every single day I get to wake up and dance.

If you knew him, there is a Facebook page set up in his honor, here.

RIP Alex.

Alex, center in blue, with Exit 12 Dance Company June 2010. I'm second from left.

Photo Gallery: Venice Trip

After London and Paris on my first Eurotrip back in June, I spent a week exploring different places in Italy. First top: Venice, which quickly became one of my favorite places on Earth.

More Italian photos coming soon :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Cool Cause - Brewla Bars

My friend and fellow dancer Rebecca Dengrove is working on a new line of ice pops called Brewla Bars (they're yummy!), and she needs your support through Kickstarter. You get cool prizes for donating. They were featured in The New York Times last week and you can find them all over the city at different outdoor markets. Help 'em out.

"Brewla Bars: Daniel and Rebecca are a brother and sister team. Rebecca is a trained food scientist with experience innovating for some of the largest food corporations in the world. Daniel is an automation engineer with a background in philosophy and molecular biology. The two siblings founded Brewla Bars in 2010 in New York City, and are dedicated to making the ice pop a delicious, fun, and healthy part of your diet."

NYC's Summer Secrets

Summer used to be my busiest time for ballet - I'd run off to an intensive (or 2...or 3) and dance all day long, everyday. Now, as a freelance professional dancer my seasons are reversed. This spring I was going nonstop, performing something new every other week. This summer, things are *quiet* for once.

I shouldn't complain - during the busy season (and upcoming Nutcracker season...) I'd kill for a day off after going weeks without so much as a free Sunday afternoon. And I do admit I'm enjoying the extra sleep. But...I'm getting restless. I've been back to taking class a lot, which I haven't been able to do basically since before my surgery a year ago. After my recovery I jumped right into performance mode and only took warmup classes or lower level classes because they fit my schedule. But I'm really enjoying focusing on technique for a little bit and getting feedback from some of the wonderful, knowledgeable, fun teachers I trust whom I hardly ever have time to take from.

Also luckily rehearsals start tonight for our Performing in NY Showcase at Ailey at the end of the month (which also means lots of admin work, since I'm assistant director of the whole shabang), but besides that I've been trying to find ways to enjoy the city in the heat.

I've seemed to discover 2 hidden NYC summer spots in the past two weeks that have been great fun without the crazy crowds I would've expected: Randalls Island, and Rockaway Beach.

I spent my birthday last Sunday playing mini golf at Randalls Island. It was a piece of cake to get there: a 10 minute shuttle van ride with no traffic. At $11 round trip leaving on the half hour most of the day, it was super convenient. And when we got there we didn't have to wait or anything. Being one of the few mini golf places around NYC (and only $7/game), I expected it to be packed on a sunny Sunday. Wrong! Why doesn't anybody know about this place? In addition to the mini golf with a fun waterfall, they have a driving range, batting cages, a ping pong table, old school board games (I won at Parchisi :), and a yummy restaurant/bar with comfy chairs that make you feel like you're enjoying your own private backyard. It was a great place to spend the day - so if you're bored in the city, go!

Then yesterday I spent a Groupon I had bought a while ago: roundtrip ferry tickets to Rockaway Beach in Queens. American Princess Cruises offers a 75-minute boat trip around Brooklyn on the weekends leaving from Wall Street. We took the 11:45am ferry out and there were not even 10 people on the entire boat. Amazing! And it's not a small boat, either (a little bigger than the water taxi). It was so nice to enjoy the sunshine and water with great views of the city. They have a cheap snack bar, too.

After passing the majestic Verrazano Bridge and cool Coney Island, we arrived in Rockaway. Because I was totally unprepared with directions, we ended up walking way out of our way before finding the beach, but good thing it was a nice day! There's not a whole lot around, though the beach itself is beautiful with big waves. It was my first (and probably only) trip to the beach this summer and even though I'm not a sit-in-the-sun person, I really enjoyed walking through the water. There's not so much as a hot dog cart for what seems like miles and miles, but if you pack a picnic it's great trip!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cool Class: Jeremy McQueen at BDC

If you're in NYC this summer you know that the opportunities for master classes with exciting teachers are nearly endless. A good one you should hit? Jeremy McQueen at Broadway Dance Center this week.

Jeremy was one of my partners at Radio City and has an extensive theater dance resume (and check out my review of his choreography here).

Jeremy will teach Intermediate Level Contemporary Jazz Dance on Tuesday, August 9th and Thursday, August 11th from 1:30-3:00pm in Studio 5 at BDC.

Broadway Dance Center is located at
322 West 45th Street, 3rd Floor
(between 8th & 9th Avenues)
New York, NY 10036

$18 per class (*$15 per class for Union Members).

If I weren't working I'd be there!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Photo Gallery: Paris Opera House

One of the highlights of my entire trip was visiting the Paris Opera House. The history! The elegance! Though the theater itself was beautiful of course, it was the lobby that was most thrilling. There's a long hallway of gorgeous chandeliers and gold everywhere. So amazing. In terms of the house, the Met still has my heart won - but the stage looked really deep and the seats went way up high. Here are a few snapshots.

And this was random - as I was roaming the Parisian streets I did a double take and saw Nureyev's house!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Andy Blankenbeuhler Intensive

Stage Door Connections is offering a weekend intensive with the ever-awesome Andy Blankenbeuhler!

WHO: Andy Blankenbuehler

WHAT: 2ND ANNUAL! Andy Blankenbuehler Theatre Dance Intensive - 2 Day Workshop!

WHEN: Saturday & Sunday, Aug 27th & 28th, 10:00am-4:00pm

WHERE: Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC), 450 West 37th Street, 4th Floor

WHY: Understand the way in which our technique can be used to create stunning detail. Dance many diverse pieces of choreography. Get to know and connect with a Tony Award winning Director/Choreographer. Receive 12 hours of classes over 2 days for only $150!

I took one of their master classes with him last year and WOW! Such fun and so much to learn. This is a great opportunity to work with Broadway's big talent. I have performances this same weekend otherwise I'd be there in a heart beat. Go!

Photo Gallery: Paris Trip

The second leg of my dream trip to Europe was in Paris. I'm breaking my photos into two separate posts - one for the normal tourist stuff, and one for the bunhead tourist stuff :)

Again I only had two days in this beautiful city, so I crammed in all the sightseeing I possibly could. I must have 800 pictures of the Eiffel Tower alone - what a site! It was quite unbelieveable to be standing in front of it in real life.

I did visit the Louvre but sadly I didn't get to the Musee d'Orsay as I really wanted to see the Degas sculptures :(

Many more photos to come! Next Gallery: Paris Opera House!