Ever dreamed of being a dancer on tour with Beyonce'? Tajana Bunton-Williams not only dreamed it -- she achieved it. But she's not stopping there.
Tajana is a professional dancer from London currently working in Los Angeles, California. She trained at two of the UK’s most prestigious performing arts schools — The Brit School and Doreen Bird College.
Her University granted her early leave when she was selected to be a dancer in the West End production of 'The Lion King.' From there, she toured with artists such as Iggy Azalea, Kylie Minogue and Lily Allen. Her career took a great turn when she moved to the United States and was fortunate to tour as a dancer for Janelle Monae and Beyonce'.
Tajana has been a Dance Captain, a Body Maintenance Captain and a Movement Director. She is now focusing on giving back to the industry through panel discussions and master classes and developing her career in Movement Direction — working with actors and artists to enable them to perform a character through movement.
Aspire to Inspire
Evolving Through Dance
She encourages others to embrace what makes you unique, and to never doubt your abilities.
"Nobody is like the next person so we must identify what makes us unique and love ourselves for it. It can often be hard to stay motivated and keep going but persistence is the only way we can achieve greatness," Tajana said. "We can not give up. We must keep our dreams at the forefront of our minds and never lose sight of them."
She says to keep an open mind and be open to new possibilities.
"Try not to attach yourself to methods or a strategy that you believe will get you to where you want to be, because nine times out of ten, the success comes in a way that you may not have imagined," she said. "So just do what you know, work hard, stay persistent and also be open to opportunities that come your way."
Tajana also shares that once you are a working dancer, it can change how you feel about dance. She urges dancers to find other hobbies and not over saturate yourself with just dance.
"It's also good to think about ways in which we as individuals can evolve with dance," she said. "There are so many jobs available to us — we just have to get creative and think of ways in which we can utilise our strengths and make a business or living out of them."
She takes chances and creates to express herself. "Perfect" is not her goal. Through dance, she's also learned to take risks.
"This has allowed me to improve so much in dance and in life," Sophie said.
Sophie was awarded Titans Force at Titans of Dance. She'll embark on a new adventure this dance season traveling with Titans of Dance to different cities, where she will assist with dance classes.
"I am so excited to work with the incredible faculty at Titans and to meet so many new dancers and friends," she said.
Sophie has met many of her closest friends through dance and values the bond that dance creates. She loves to travel and make new connections and is grateful for the past and upcoming opportunities to do so.
She appreciates how lessons learned in dance apply to her life outside of dance.
Sophie has memorized pi to 75 digits and has challenged herself to get to 100. She collects small things like "rocks, shells, small figurines, you name it."
She also loves animals so much that she's written several persuasive pieces to her parents to get additional pets.
"At this time, we still only have a dog," she said. "I guess I need to work on my skills of persuasion."
#dfm_logophotocontest photo shoot with stark photo productions
In June, Sophie was one of our winners of #DFM_logophotocontest - in which we asked dancers to post photos inspired by our logo. One of her prizes for her photo entry was a free photo shoot with Chris Stark of Stark Photo Productions. Here are a few of the photos they created during that session.
"Dance is who I am," Peyton said. "I think dancers reading this will understand what I mean by this. Dance is my life so it shapes and impacts everything about who I am and what I am. I wake up thinking about dance and when I go to bed I dream about dance. Dance is my passion, my life style and a dream I get to live daily."
Because of dance, Peyton has been able to travel the world. Her first trip with her studio was to Montreal. Since then, she's traveled a lot through the Southeast, East and West Coast. More recently, she trained in Paris, London and Copenhagen.
Modeling has also become an extension of dance that provides her with a creative outlet.
"I have been photographed by some of the ballet photographers in the industry," Peyton said.
She stresses the importance of paving your own way through dance.
"Dance is your own journey, no one elses'. I did the summer intensives that I thought would benefit me, not the ones all my friends where going to," she said. "I took time before and after class to stretch and work on things versus being the social butterfly in the halls.
"I really worked on me on a daily basis. It is okay to work on you and stay in your own dance lane."
This past year, Kurtis Sprung helped to create and perform a character at Cirque Du Soleil’s “The Beatles Love”; danced for One Night For One Drop as a soloist with Jewel for water cleanliness and relief in our world; and ran a education program called The Evolution. He directed, choreographed, and soloed in The Phoenix Ballet’s “String of Thoughts” Nutcracker and Galas.
He is Mr. Dance of America 2015. He has taught master classes on faculty at Dance Masters of America and LA Dance Magic, and has performed with a plethora of celebrity artists and well-known companies.
He grew up in a small town in upstate New York. He and his older sister’s dance studio was and hour and fifteen minutes away from their house. Growing up, Kurtis did gymnastics, played on traveling soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams, competed in Kart racing on both dirt and blacktop tracks, and served in academic honors groups and community service programs. He graduated from the University at Buffalo with a B.F.A. in Dance/Choreography and B.S. in Mathematics.
Amidst all this, he continued to focus on dance. Older dancers inspired him, such as his sister, Albert Cattafi, and Rasta Thomas. He trained under the direction of Mara and Marlene Merritt, Master Ballet Academy’s Slawomir Wozniak, Irena Wozniak, Zherlin Ndudi, and Bill Gentes of the San Francisco Ballet.
“My mentors never let me feel complacent,” he continues. “They never let me feel like I had enough. They always kept me intrigued and interested… They just had this focus in their eye everyday for what could come next.”
He knew dance and choreography was something that could take him to places he had only seen in movies or had only heard about. He wanted to explore the world. “Now, I get to go to places and share my passion and art with other cultures and opinions - and when all that comes together it just feels good. You feel connected to the earth and you feel why we are all here together.”
“I have many cherished moments in my career,” he explains. “Everything has been a blessing and everyone that has been a part of it will be in my heart forever. My favorite moment, though, was getting to dance with my mentor. As a kid growing up, watching Rasta Thomas on stage and watching him travel all over the world as one of the best male dancers in history, all I wanted to do was work in his company.
"I probably sent him over a hundred emails over the course of 4 years showing him my improvements and my new tricks. Every time he would send back words of encouragement and notes on how to get better. At 22, I found myself in a Gala for New York City Ballet, Complexions and Joffrey Ballet standing back to back with Rasta about to start a duet we had choreographed a few days before. It was one of the most full circle moments of my life.”
“I’ve been teaching these core principles along side classical, neo-classical, contemporary/fusion, and classic jazz movement through my own style concepts to help students be the strongest, smartest dancers that they can be!”
“I tell my students all the time, ‘It’s ok to fail!’ There was definitely a time when I thought everything had to be perfect and you couldn’t make mistakes. Slowly but surely I learned that those mistakes are also things that fuel us to new discoveries. Every time you fail you learn something about what you did and can then fix it. I like making mistakes and falling down. That’s how I know I’m pushing myself further than where I’m at.”
“I was way behind the other girls that were the same age as me, and I understood very little of the ‘Vaganova’ technique, but I had this immediate draw to it and was determined to commit fully to ballet, “ Riley said.
Riley has been able to travel all over the U.S. and build networks and connections within the dance community. She has realized that new doors of opportunity will open through hard work and discipline. She has received summer intensive scholarships and secured a role as a supernumerary with the American Ballet Theatre.
Her biggest lesson in dance has been to “do it for yourself.” She acknowledges dance and ballet as a competitive world and urges others not to get caught up in rankings and score.
Currently, she is preparing for her performance of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ with the Northern Virginia Youth Ballet in which she performs several roles, including Silver Jewel Fairy, Friend of Aurora, and Vision Fairy.
Continues Riley, “Although I spend the majority of my time now in ballet, I have still found ways to bring all of my different training and experiences together, which has helped me immensely in so many ways."
From working with dancers as young as two-years-old, she learned to teach with a gentle heart, an open mind, and patience. As a freshman making the ‘top 5’ in a 15-19 year old category, her dancing and confidence matured. Watching and joining others celebrating the win of another dancer has taught her to genuinely be happy for others' achievements. Giving pep talks to her company team has taught her to believe in herself and others.
“Dancing is something everyone should be exposed to, for it truly does make you so much stronger and better of a person,” Caley said.
When Caley began dancing in 2014, she had no idea that it would transform her life. She feels that starting late in dance makes her journey even more special. She has been trained by "some of the most amazing instructors." Her dance peers embraced her with open arms, and now she considers them an extension of her family.
“Overall, the opportunities that come with dance are literally endless, and (they) have shaped me into a more experienced, well-educated artist.”
Caley believes that her dance education at En Pointe Dance & Acrobatics is limitless, and that a key to finding success is to be proud, but humble.
“I am truly so passionate about what I do, and hope it stays with me for the rest of my life.”
"It took me a while to love and appreciate myself as a dancer, but the constant push from my family, friends, and mainly God is making me stronger day by day,” she says.
Not having the body type of the “ideal” ballerina is what she considers to be the most unique facet of her dance journey. She focuses on who she is on the inside rather than comparing herself with others on the outside.
“I have been teased all my life for being short, but when people saw me dancing, they couldn't believe that this short girl could move that way.”
Dancing since age 5, Anamika has studied many types of dance, including dancehall, jazz, contemporary, flamenco, latin, hip hop, street stilettos, kathak, and Bollywood. Her favorite genre is Classical ballet. She gives it credit for making her a versatile dancer, stating that it "sets the base for all the dance styles because of the strength and control it gives a dancer."
The biggest lesson she has learned in dance is to perform your heart out like no one else is watching you and be your own competition.
When she was 10 years old her dad passed away from cancer. She started choreographing around age 15, with most of her pieces relating to her life in some way. “Choreographing made me fall in love with more than just the dancing, I loved being able to create my own work and put my own thoughts into my pieces.”
Last year she choreographed a piece called “Winter” in which she was able to channel all of her left over feelings from her dad’s passing into a beautiful dance.
“I feel the arts are so important for children to be able to let their feelings out. I love being there to be that outlet for them,” she says. She believes it is important to connect with the students you are teaching.
Teaching dance has helped her learn how to explain things in different ways so that children can better understand what is being taught. She currently choreographs for Company Elite in Pennsylvania and recently coached at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange.
Dancing has made Kendra a better individual by opening her up to so many different types of people. It has made her understand that no one is the same and that the beauty in people lies in their differences.
She has trained with the Joffrey Ballet School in NYC, traveled to California to dance with Millenium Dance Complex, participated in American Ballet Theater’s Teacher Training Program, and participated in choreography showcases around NYC to show her work.
The biggest lesson she has learned in dance is to always listen to the instructors. “Always be respectful and take what they say and fix it to the best of your ability. They will help you get where you want to go, so you should never take them for granted.”
Kendra’s dance journey has had its struggles, but she says, “When you love something so much, there isn’t any reason to give up.”
For Kendra, resilience has been key.
“I pushed through the tough times of my illness and now I am able to do what I love everyday.”
She has learned important life skills from dance, such as working hard, staying focused, time management, and the importance of nutrition. Dance has taught her perseverance. It has taught her that she can do things she didn't think she could.
She was born partially blind in her left eye, so she mostly relies on what she "feels" both physically with her feet and emotionally when she dances. Her condition, called refractive amblyopia, makes anything in the distance look like blurry shadows and colors. She has a special contact lens that helps bring clarity to closer objects.
“I want everyone who feels that they can’t do something because of a ‘disability’ to know that yes, you can. It may be a bit more of a challenge to do, but if I can, so can you,” she says. “Anything is possible if you are willing to work hard for it and not make excuses.”
The biggest lesson she has learned in ballet has been that not everyone is nice or supportive.
“Many want to tear you down, especially if they feel threatened by your abilities,” she says. She experienced bullying at her ballet school at the age of 9 by an older girl who was 12. She did not understand what was happening. She kept quiet about the verbal abuse she was suffering for over 2 months.
“When I finally told my mom, she addressed it with the school and thankfully it got sorted out.” Her self-esteem plummeted, though, and she started developing social anxiety and becoming angry.
Her and her mom decided to open a non-profit organization called The M.I.N.C. Project where they are trying to promote that it is not cool to be mean. She created the hashtag #meannessisnotcool. (M.I.N.C) and has an Instagram page, @themincproject.
“Mean and rude people have taught me to stand up for myself. I firmly believe that I will have success in anything I decide to do and still be kind to others.”
It was a cloudy Seattle day in 2016. Dora Belme, creator of BalletPoppin’, arrived at ‘What’s Poppin’ Ladiez?! (WPL?!)’ — an event series celebrating female poppers. The competition was a 7tosmoke concept, meaning the first person to win seven rounds would win.
It required being able to freestyle for seven to ten rounds without repeating yourself. The battle lasted about 45 minutes, with Dora battling approximately 15-20 minutes constantly. In the final round, Dora and Inyoung ‘Dassy’ Lee were tied with six wins each. Dora knew Dassy was one of the best female poppers in the world, having recently proved her talent on Season 14 of ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’
Dora relied on her passion. “I went through a challenging period in my life, and dancing it out liberated me,” she said. “I was focused on leaving everything on the dance floor every single round. I wanted to win against myself, being the best I could be in that moment, not holding anything back.”
When the final round ended, Dora was the champion.
A short time later, in March of 2017, her unique style was coined by her friends as BalletPoppin’ because of the combination of popping with ballet technique.
“I didn’t intend to create a new style,” Dora explained. “BalletPoppin’ was and still is a movement and community of like-minded dancers.”
Dora didn’t begin dancing until her late teens, but within seven years she moved to Canada to pursue dance full-time and won several freestyle competitions in Europe and North America, including WPL?!. She worked extra hard, following hundreds of workshops across Europe in multiple styles including popping, hip-hop, house, contemporary, jazz and ballet.
Her goal with BalletPoppin’ was to give girls the confidence to freestyle and step out of their comfort zone to express themselves.
“I believe we, as female dancers, have an obligation to help other girls express their unique talents,” Dora said.
In addition to inspiring girls to freestyle and express what’s within, she wants to “build a community that supports unconditional love, support, and freedom — letting you be whoever you want to be.”
Dancing has proved to be Dora’s greatest path to self-discovery.
“I looked up to strong female dancers from Europe and North America who showed me that it’s ok to be myself,” Dora said. “I’m eternally grateful for their silent guidance in my quest of finding myself through dance. They advocated a level of authenticity that I dreamt of.”
And now, it’s a dream she calls life.