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."