Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight: Jemma Wilson


Jemma is currently in her third year studying Musical Theatre at Laine Theatre Arts in the UK. She writes for London Theatre Direct in her spare time and will soon begin teaching at a local theatre school, Tomorrow’s Talent.


Jemma Wilson

Jemma Wilson

1. Can you tell readers how you became involved with dance?

I remember attending my older sister’s dance classes when I was very young and wanting desperately to join in with what the older girls were doing! It didn’t take long before I began taking classes too, and it has just grown and grown from there. My parents are very supportive and have always encouraged me to do what I enjoy doing, which I am very grateful for.


2. What do you find you like best about dance class?

Dance classes are the best when you have a great atmosphere. Dance offers a sense of unity, both on stage and in the studio, that I have not found anywhere else – everybody works diligently and it is amazing to give and receive support from fellow performers. The feeling when you ‘get’ something better than you’ve got it before is really good- you might not nail it every single time, but if you get a tiny bit better each time then you are improving!


3. What is the hardest part about dance for you?

Pirouettes on the left side!!

The best and worst thing about dance is how it drains you – emotionally and physically! I love feeling like I’ve worked my hardest, pushed myself further than I did yesterday and consequently achieved more, but it certainly is exhausting! It makes you appreciate any quieter time you do have in life, although it is very difficult to shut off from it. Sometimes I close my eyes to go to sleep and can hear my teachers shouting “once more from the top, 5, 6, 7, 8!”. I have learned to value my weekends a lot more, and to give myself ‘me-time': watching television with my housemates, reading a book, having a bath.


4. What advice would you give to other dancers?

It’s such a cliché, but make the most of your training. I am now coming to the end of my three years at Laine, and am growing increasingly worried about how quickly my remaining time is slipping away. Once I leave college I know it will be up to me to maintain my physical fitness, ensure I keep motivated, and make sure I don’t let my technique slip for auditions. Also remember how lucky you are to have picked the best job in the world (in my opinion!) – you are hopefully going to be paid to do the thing you love the most, which is performing on stage. Technique classes seem awful at the time, but all your teachers want you to be the best you can potentially be – that is why they nag you so much!


5. How has dance changed your life?

Dance has always been a huge influence on me, and now it is something that my life would not be complete without. I think every performer knows how exhilarating the feeling of being on stage is and I’m so grateful that I have discovered it. Changing dance from my hobby to my career choice was a scary thing to do, but I know that I have chosen an amazing, if impossibly competitive, industry to go into. I intend to learn as much as I can from everybody in the industry that I come into contact with, as I believe that you never stop learning.


Student Spotlight: Celia Tolan

dance student from STEPS

Celia Tolan at The School at Steps’ Holiday Performance, photo by Eduardo Patino

How did you first get interested in dance?

My older sister, Hannah, danced at The School at Steps. As a 2 ½ year old, I remember sitting in my stroller outside Debbie Roshe’s musical theatre class every Thursday night watching her dance. I loved watching the class and knew I had to dance too. Soon after, my mom signed me up for tap, ballet, and jazz classes where I discovered dance was my passion.

How many classes a week do you take now, and what kind are they?

Right now I take twelve classes a week. In addition to the five ballet, three pointe and two Horton classes, I take jazz and musical theatre. I hope to add in hip hop and tap if I can fit them in my schedule!

What is it about dancing that you enjoy most?

I enjoy the freedom, empowerment, and positive energy I feel when I’m dancing. As I enter the studio, my mind travels to an entirely different world, where I am able to express myself in various ways. When performing on a stage, I feel empowered, as though I could do anything! No matter what, when I dance I feel as though I am pushing away any negative energy and creating something positive. I love movement – it makes me feel so alive!

What is it that you find most difficult about dance?

What I find most difficult about dance is finding the confidence to believe I can learn new steps and routines. I sometimes think to myself ‘I can’t do that’ when learning new choreography, or trying to hit that triple pirouette. But when I doubt myself, or lose my confidence, I know I need to tell myself “Just relax, you can do it. Just go for it.” And I do!

What have you learned about yourself from dance?

Before I started dancing I felt as though I knew very little about myself or what I was capable of. Now that I have been dancing for 9 ½ years at The School at Steps, I have begun to understand so much more about myself. I have learned I am strong, passionate, disciplined, and focused. I use these four assets throughout not just my dance career, but in my daily life.

What advice do you have for other dance students?

There are two things I always tell myself. The first is not to worry about anything that’s happening in studio or out of the studio. Use dance to free your mind and body, and just have fun when you dance! And the second is when you think you have given it your all, when you feel as though you are done, dig even deeper within yourself and leave it all on stage – or in the studio! You will love the feeling it gives you! Most importantly, love dance as much as dance loves you!

The School at Steps is a training ground for students, ages 2-18, who are interested in exploring various dance styles, as well as for those students already focused on a particular discipline. The school offers an Academic Year and Summer Programs, with classes in ballet, modern, tap, jazz, theater dance, hip hop, and Pilates. Students at the school are also given performance opportunities, and workshops on dance and career-related topics. Beginning with the Young Dancers Program and continuing through the most advanced pre-professional classes, The School at Steps provides children with an opportunity to explore the world of dance, to learn and experiment with technique, and to enrich their appreciation for the various forms of the art.


Student Spotlight: Nathan Owen

Nathan Owen, originally from Essex, UK, is now a resident of Huntsville, USA. At the age of 19 he moved to the United States to obtain a Bachelor in Nursing in Keokuk, Iowa. However, Nathan changed his degree to Theatre in Denison, Texas where he gained an Associates in Theatre. He now attends Sam Houston State where he will earn his BFA in Musical Theatre.

Can you tell readers how you became involved with dance? 

Nathan Owen

Nathan Owen

I had not taken a professional dance class before the age of 21, but I had always had a love for dance from an early age. I have inclined towards musical theater since childhood but never been within the dance chorus, always just singing and acting. After moving to the United States at the age of 19 to pursue a career in nursing, I sat in on an open audition for the theater department, was persuaded to audition and was subsequently cast in a small role, but was told if I switched majors to theater I could receive scholarships! So naturally I went back to my first passion of acting at Grayson college in Denison, Texas.

When the next season came I was cast as lead, Luther Billis in South Pacific, and was awarded an Irene Ryan nomination for region VI. I traveled to Louisiana to compete and this is where I saw two productions from Sam Houston State University. Its production of Enron blew me away and I immediately knew this was the school for me. I auditioned in April 2013 and was accepted on my first attempt, even though I stopped during my dance audition due to my lack of training. Being accepted onto the musical theater program here has really expanded my horizons more than I could have ever imagined. Within my first year I have taken multiple dance techniques including ballet, jazz, tap, aerial and theater workshop where we learn stylized dance from within the theater work or whole routines from the stages of Broadway, West End or movies.

What do you find you like best about dance class?

When it comes to dance classes the thing I like most about them is the discovery you make about yourself and what you are capable of. If you go to math three times a week, you don’t have these moments of pure excitement like when you hit a 13 part riff perfectly in sync with your whole tap class, or the first time you do a 360 release from the aviator in aerial! I will never stop being amazed at what I can do if I just put my time and energy into it.

What is the hardest part about dance for you?

The hardest thing about dance for me, is walking in with 30 other musical theater majors and being taught a combination, then having to pick it up in 15-20 minutes and regurgitate it in front of all my extremely talented peers and professors!

What advice would you give to other dancers?

As a new dancer I would say two things; one, it’s never too late to start learning. I have met people who have been dancing for 15 years and come to university and tried a new dance style, and it has an impact and improves all aspects of their dance by gaining an even greater understanding of their body.

My second point would be, don’t let dance be a blood sport. Auditions and competition should never divide this community, we have enough people in our lives saying NO! Or that you can’t do it professionally. So I would say to you out there, let the love of the arts strengthen our ties. Let it create empathy for one another because we all know how hard a ‘no’ is, but also the elation of a ‘yes’. So why not be cast in a chorus of their happiness, instead of the lead of your sadness.

How has dance changed your life?

Dance has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I now have a much greater appreciation of the craft of musical theater and the depth that dance can have within it. From the portrayal of story with movement, to the understanding of dance’s influence within the art, such as Agnes de Mille’s Oklahoma or Bob Fosse’s Cabaret. Dance has broadened my horizons further than I could ever have imagined and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.


Student Spotlight: Melo Ludwig

Today for our Student Spotlight we have a pre-professional student from The School at Steps. Meet Melo Ludwig!

Melo Ludwig, photo by A. Greenwald

Melo Ludwig, photo by A. Greenwald

When did you start dancing?

I started dancing when I was two years old.  I took a “Mommy and Me” ballet and tap class and it was lots of fun!  I continued taking ballet and tap each year and, as I got older, I started taking jazz too.  After moving to New York City last year, I immediately signed up for classes at The School at Steps and was invited to audition for their Pre-Professional Program.  I am just finishing up my first year in the program and absolutely love it!

Did you like it right away or did it take a little time?

I loved dancing right from the very start!  I have always been the kind of girl who dances everywhere; at home, in grocery stores!  The first time I danced on a stage was at my first recital when I was three years old.  My mom was waiting in the wings and, when I came running back to her after my performance, I flew into her arms and squealed, “I love dancing under all those lights!”

What do you like the best about dance?

This is such a hard question, I’m not sure I can pick just one thing!  I love how dance makes me feel like I can do anything!  My body feels strong, powerful, and happy.  I love going to class and look forward to all my classes each week.  Most people don’t like Mondays but they’re actually my favorite day of the week because I get to go back to ballet class after a long weekend with no classes.  Performing is another thing I like best about dancing.  I love to be on stage in front of an audience!

What do you think is hard about dance?

It’s hard to watch older dancers doing certain steps that I can’t do yet because my body isn’t ready for them.  I’m really excited to one day go on pointe, but it’s so difficult to be patient and wait for that time to come.

What do you think is easy about dance?

Staying focused in class is easy for me because I love dancing so much.  I also find it easy to learn and remember combinations, probably because they are so much fun. My secret to remembering them is that I practice all the time!

What does it feel like when you are moving to the music?

It makes me feel alive, happy and free!  Sometimes I close my eyes to feel the music and I feel like it flows through me.  I make up my own moves to songs and let the music take me to another world.  I listen to music as I go to sleep but, sometimes, I literally have to get out of bed and start dancing around my room.  It’s hard to listen to music without dancing!

How do your teachers help you dance better?

My teachers are the best!  They explain things really well and give me good corrections to help me become a better dancer.  They are incredible dancers themselves and to watch them dance inspires me!  They also teach great combinations that I love to go home and practice.

Do you think you will dance for a long time? Why or why not?

I think I will dance forever! A dream of mine is to dance professionally and I can only hope it will come true one day! I can’t imagine my life without dance.


Student Spotlight: Lorian Kurzweil

Dance Student Lorian Kurzweil (pictured right) with friend

Dance Student Lorian Kurzweil (pictured right), with friend


Assistant Editor Jessica Wilson interviewed dance student Lorian Kurzweil for us to learn more about her journey in dance…

1. Can you tell readers how you became involved with dance?

I first asked my parents if I could have dance lessons when I was about 4 years old, because I was jealous of my friends who got to change into their pink leotards and walk across the road from my nursery to our local dance school. I started off with Ballet and Tap and immediately loved learning with my new friends and teachers. As I grew up I joined Modern and then Jazz classes too, always motivated by the idea of working my way up through each exam. I loved watching the older girls in higher grades; I thought they were absolutely amazing and wanted to be just like them.

2. What do you find you like best about dance class?

I love the buzz it gives me to feel I am improving my performance each week. If you push yourself to always work hard, you are the one who is going to benefit from it and feel stronger the next time you try something. I also love how I can completely zone out during a dance class, forgetting anything else I might be worrying about.

3. What is the hardest part about dance for you?

Overcoming limitations has always been quite difficult for me, whether it is to do with physique/facility of my body or general confidence in class. However, passing exams has always been a reassurance that if you work hard enough, you will be able to achieve your goals, which is an invaluable lesson.

Lorian Kurzweil in performance

Lorian Kurzweil in performance

4. What advice would you give to other dancers?

At every dance environment I have experienced–be it at my childhood dance school, local ballet company, university and so on–it has always struck me how low self-confidence can hinder your overall dance performance and ability. If you’re hung up on your body or don’t believe in yourself, it can really prevent you from being as good as you could otherwise be.
Whenever I have come across a dancer who is comfortable in their own body, they seem to be able to focus on what is important and reach their full potential in dance. My advice would be that you should never simply accept your physical limitations and give up: I truly believe that, with enough practice, you can overcome them and achieve amazing things. You should never stop yourself from trying for something just because you don’t think you’re good enough! I learnt this after I spent many months beating myself up about my ballet, which I realised was silly after passing my Advanced 2 exam!

Lorian Kurzweil

Lorian Kurzweil

5. How has dance changed your life?

Dance has brought an incredible amount of new and inspiring people into my life, some of whom I know will be lifelong friends. Looking back on the years I spent at my little dance school in Brentwood, England, I can safely say that I had the time of my life. It has also taken me into a new career at the Royal Academy of Dance, which I never would have imagined I’d be capable of. I now know that I am going to dedicate my future to bringing the joy of dance to as many students as possible!

BIO: Lorian Kurzweil is currently studying at the Royal Academy of Dance in London for a BA in Ballet Education. She is in her first year at the RAD and has previously danced with The Chelmsford Ballet Company, an amateur company which prides itself on its professional standards.


Student Spotlight: Julia Dinella


Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy of The School at Steps

How did you get involved in dance?

Even before I started dancing, I wore a leotard and tights every day. Once my mom realized my obsession with ballet apparel was more than just a childish whim, she promptly enrolled me in weekly “Mommy and Me” ballet classes at The School at Steps when I was four. A few years later, I began ballet classes of my own with the Technique Program at The School at Steps, and by the time I was eleven, I knew dance was my passion and joined their Pre-Professional Program. I started taking ballet, jazz, and musical theater classes, and have since been dancing six days a week.

What is your current dance schedule like?

I dance Monday-Saturday for 20 hours a week. I participate in ballet technique five days a week, as it is the starting point and foundation for all other forms of dance. I also take pointe and variation classes twice a week, partnering, hip-hop, jazz, and musical theater one to two times weekly.  My dance schedule includes a variety of styles, which combines aspects of performing and technique that have helped shape the dancer I am today.

What do you enjoy most about taking classes?

My favorite part is to learn variations or new choreography, because for me, these aspects of class are my reward. I work six days a week perfecting my dance technique, and variations and choreography allow me to take that technique and bring it to the next level. Here I am able to personalize my dancing and truly perform to my fullest.

What do you find the most challenging about dance?

I find getting frustrated to be the most challenging part of dance. When you get to the advanced levels of dance, you’re almost expected to look and dance effortlessly even when you’re in class. Sometimes I get so caught up and frustrated while learning new steps that I forget to really appreciate and enjoy what I love to do.

How do you think dance helps you with other areas of your life?

If dance has taught me anything, it has taught me to be passionate, focused, and dedicated—qualities that have become ingrained in me and have transcended into other important aspects of my life. For example, two years ago, I started volunteering at a program that helps autistic children develop basic life skills. While my volunteer work has been a rewarding experience, it has also proved itself to be both physically and mentally challenging. Dance instilled the understanding that true progress takes time and patience.

Additionally, I love school; I strive to achieve academic success. However, when I have innumerable assignments and don’t want to go on, dance helps me understand that I must persevere because it reminds me that with focus, I can succeed. Whether I’ve had a tough day at community service or received a bad grade on a test, I know I can come to class and dance away the stress.

Do you have any plans that include dance in your future?

I am currently in the process of hearing back from colleges. While I did not apply to any conservatories, all of the schools I applied to have outstanding dance programs. I plan to minor in dance during my collegiate experience and I hope that dance will always be a part of my life.

The School at Steps is a training ground for students, ages 2-18, who are interested in exploring various dance styles, as well as for those students already focused on a particular discipline. The school offers an Academic Year and Summer Programs, with classes in ballet, modern, tap, jazz, theater dance, hip hop, and Pilates. Students at the school are also given performance opportunities, and workshops on dance and career-related topics. Beginning with the Young Dancers Program and continuing through the most advanced pre-professional classes, The School at Steps provides children with an opportunity to explore the world of dance, to learn and experiment with technique, and to enrich their appreciation for the various forms of the art.


Student Spotlight: Dolly Williams

Dolly WilliamsDolly Williams, 27, currently works as Communications officer: PR and digital media at Northern Ballet. She is a former dancer and LIPA graduate. Dolly is also a dance writer and manages the ballet blog

1. Can you tell readers how you became involved with dance?

I started ballet classes when I three but not because I wanted to be a ballerina but because my brother got to go to karate club and I wanted a club of my own, it was that simple. My mum was always amazingly supportive of my interests and I got professional training until I was eighteen and then went abroad to work as a dancer for a few years. Due to injuries and some family illness I came back to the UK and I decided that I wanted to go into dance management. I knew I wanted a degree but there are no specific dance management degrees, so I went to Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in the UK and studied Music, Theatre and Entertainment Management. This was an amazing course and the perfect choice, it gave me a wide variety of experiences and through that I got an internship in the communications team at Northern Ballet. After graduation, I was invited back to Northern Ballet to work as maternity cover for a year.

2. What do you find you like best about dance class? 

When I am in class I completely zone out from everything else that is on my mind. I work full time and study in the evenings, so when I take class it is a little bit of me time to unwind.

3. What is the hardest part about dance for you? 

I absolutely love working in the business side of dance now but I still find it strange and hard that I don’t perform anymore. I trained and performed for so long it just feels natural, but having been injured, I am restricted to what I can now do, I definitely miss it. When I watch dance, I end up twitching and looking like a crazy lady! I think it is that old saying: once a dancer, always a dancer.

4. What advice would you give to other dancers?

Dance for yourself and don’t give up. I had several people throughout my training tell me that I would never make it but they were wrong and I have some amazing memories and friends from dancing. No matter if you end working as a dancer or just doing it as a hobby, if you want to dance you should, dance is universal and for everybody.

 5. How has dance changed your life?

I definitely think it has made me a more disciplined person. Having such a strict dance schedule as a child kept me focused and as I did dance training at least four to six nights a week, I didn’t have time to get in trouble. I am always very grateful for that.

Interview courtesy of Jessica Wilson


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