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.


Help! I Think I Want To Quit My Company

Dancer: Eliza Larson Photographer: Bill Watt

Dancer: Eliza Larson
Photographer: Bill Watt

Goodbyes with Grace

by Katie C. Sopoci Drake, MFA, GL-CMA

There comes a time in every dancer’s career where they think about moving on to another company or just away from the company they’re currently in. Or to a desert island where they lie on the beach all day and bartend at night… But there are a few things to keep in mind while you are contemplating the shift:

Why do I want to quit? Is it because I’m unhappy with the company, the dancers, or dancing?

What does my contract look like? If not, do I have a verbal agreement or understanding?

And most importantly, what relationships do I want to foster after my departure?

If I only ever gave one piece of advice to my friends it would be, “Don’t burn your bridges”.  Then right after that, I’d say, “Take care of yourself”. The two go hand-in-hand and there’s almost always a way to take care of yourself without burning bridges. Believe me, I’ve learned this all by trial and error through many regional modern dance companies (sorry, no union experience, but “read your contract” will apply doubly, and you could probably safely toss in “talk to your representative” in there too), and hopefully my experience will spare you some of the error!

First, why do you want to move on?

Is it the choreography? Then yes, it’s time to move on. Every company has a mission and a vision that they’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and money into. Try writing an artistic statement of your own, forming a company around it, fighting for funding, and then see if you feel differently about their particular vision. If you find that you are not jiving with the company’s direction, that’s probably not something that is going to change until you’re in a new company.

In this case, you should be able to have a conversation with your director about your interests and they may be able to suggest avenues to investigate. Just be careful how you use your words. Make sure you steer the focus onto your interests and away from their choreography. After all, there’s an audience for everyone, and someday you may be facing a young dancer who “isn’t interested” in what you’re creating.

That being said, you did make a commitment to the company and they are putting oodles of time, effort and money into you, so look at your remaining commitments as a time to grow and expand your range of appreciation.

Is it the way you are being cast? That could be your own problem. My first inclination is to suggest sticking it out for a couple of seasons to see if you can’t improve your standing over time. If this is an ongoing problem over many seasons, it’s time to have a conversation with your director about your future in the company. They may not see you in a leading role…ever.

Is it the dancers? Are they just awful to be around? Are any of them planning on moving on? You might outlast them. On the other hand, the dancers ARE the company. Weigh your options carefully, you might consider getting advice from your director, or another person removed from the company dancers. They can help you figure out your options as well as gauge the current company climate against the whole history of the company.

Is it you? Some dancers just need a break. You might be there. Are you finding that you have the same problems no matter what company you are in? Are you consistently unhappy whether you’re dancing for your company or guesting?  In rehearsal or in class? You might need to turn your attention to just training, just making work or your own, going back to school, or shifting your focus entirely, even if it is just for a couple of months.


You’ve decided to leave. So, what do you need to do?

Check in with yourself. Have you identified why really want to leave? What does that tell you about your future options? Write down those goals and what people you’ll need to reach out to to accomplish them.

Check your contract. Read it 10 times. Then have a friend read it and tell you what you’re missing. Figure out the minimum and maximum you need to do to fulfill your contract and have it at the ready for your next conversation.

Check in with your Director. Or the level of administration that is directly above your position. Talking with them first, before rumors get around will let them know that they are your first priority and leave the conversation open-ended.  Then schedule a follow-up check-in. This is important. You need to let them know that you haven’t made any final decisions before you’ve gotten their opinion and had time to process it. They’re putting their resources into you now (no matter your personal feelings towards them), so the least you can do is show deference.

Assess your options. Get a second opinion from other professionals who can be discreet. Their experience and inside knowledge of the dance community can be invaluable.  Every dance company and history is unique.  Use that history to help you make a graceful exit.

Talk to your allies. These are the people who you will actively keep in contact with.  You may want to dance with them, for them, or work with them in another capacity in the future, but that won’t happen without a little work on your part.  We dancers are busy.  It’s amazing how much we rely on rehearsal time to be the glue for relationships.

But, don’t talk to them about “that rotten so-and-so.” Here’s where the bad blood may come in. I have committed the sin of talking too much many a time.  Don’t you do the same.  Focus on the good, and remember, less is best.  Tell your family and your trusted bestie about “that rotten so-and-so,” but don’t tell your coworkers.

After you’re gone, thank everyone for their time regardless of your personal feelings. I know, you had a terrible time and feel like a jilted lover.  Well, pull up your superhero Underoos, and make sure that people know that you know that you appreciated the resources that were expended for you. The dance world isn’t the corporate world, it’s a family, and every show is Christmas.  Don’t make Aunt Mary regret the time she spent knitting that horrid sweater for you.  Just send her a freaking thank-you card. It’s just how we do things.


Contributor Katie C. Sopoci Drake, MFA, GL-CMA, is a Washington D.C. based professional dancer, choreographer and teacher specializing in Laban-based contemporary dance. Holding an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Graduate Certification in Laban Movement Analysis from Columbia College – Chicago, and a BA in Theatre/Dance with a minor in Vocal Performance from Luther College, Sopoci Drake continues to take classes in as many techniques and practices as she can handle to inform her work and life as a curious mover.

Katie Sopoci Drake Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Katie Sopoci Drake
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Katie has been on faculty at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College-Wolfson, Miami Dade College-Kendall, Carthage College, and Lawrence University.  She currently guest teaches and gives masterclasses around the D.C. area and wherever her travels take her.

As a performer, Sopoci is described as a “sinuous, animal presence of great power; watching her dance is a visceral experience.” (Third Coast Digest).  Company credits include Mordine and Company Dance Theater of Chicago, Momentum Dance Company of Miami, Wild Space Dance Company of Milwaukee, and Rosy Simas Danse of Minneapolis.  Katie has also made appearances an an independent artist with many companies including Brazz Dance, Your Mother Dances, The Florentine Opera, and The Minnesota Opera.

Katie’s choreography, described as “a beautiful marriage between choreography, music and poetry” (On Milwaukee), arises from her fascination with the idiosyncrasies of daily life, and the flights of fancy that arise from ordinary inspirations.  Her work has been performed by numerous companies, colleges and studios across the country and her latest collaboration, Telephone Dance Project, will take her to states up and down the East Coast while investigating long-distance creation and connecting far-flung dance communities.


Summer Intensive Tips From Ballet Austin

Summer intensives are all about learning and growing as a dancer. The best of them challenge you, shape you and open your eyes to different things in the world of dance. Everyone wants the time they spend at a summer intensive to really count, but how do you go about getting the most out of your time there?

We reached out to William Piner from Ballet Austin to see if he could share some tips for success. Mr. Piner is the Director at the Ballet Austin Academy, and he was happy to share these five points to keep in mind for your next summer intensive..


Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin’s artistic director working with a student in class

1.       Don’t worry about your level placement. Usually the directors know what they’re doing and place you in a level where they think you will get the best results and make the most progress in their program.

2.       Stay focused on your classwork and try to absorb as many new concepts as you can from your teachers.

3.       Be open to new ideas and perspectives and try to see how they can augment your home studio’s curriculum.

4.       Journal. It’s the best way to remember your time away and retain the information/corrections you received in class when you return home. It’s also a great way to remember all the new friends and fun times you had!

5.       Be open to new styles of movement and be willing to give them a try. You may discover something about yourself, including a new love for a different way of moving.

Have any good summer intensive tips to share? Feel free to post them here!


Finis: Ang-Yi Sheu – Studio 5 At City Center

by Christopher Duggan

Studio 5 at New York City Center is a dance event built around in-studio performances that really gives the audience an intimate look at the dances performed. Hosted and curated by Damian Woetzel, former dancer with New York City Ballet and current Director of the Vail International Dance Festival, the performances give his unique perspective on dance. His connections to the world’s most amazing talent makes the series a hidden gem in New York.

I photographed a performance in February by Fang-Yi Sheu, formerly of the Martha Graham Dance Company, and just as she was in Vail last summer, she was fantastic.


Contributor Christopher Duggan is a wedding and dance photographer in New York City, the Berkshires and beyond. Duggan has been the Festival Photographer for Jacob’s Pillow Dance since 2006. In this capacity, and as a respected New York-based dance photographer, he has worked with renowned choreographers and performers of international acclaim as well as upstarts in the city’s diverse performance scene.
Christopher Duggan, Photo by Julia Newman

Christopher Duggan, Photo by Julia Newman

He photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions ( Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.

Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.

His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

His Natural Light Studio ( at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.


Snacks For Dancers: Popcorn – With A Twist!

by Catherine L. Tully

If you’re the type that likes to curl up on the couch and snack away the hours while watching movies, you probably already know that the calories can really stack up. Resting on your days off is good, but mindless snacking in front of the tube can be a dangerous thing.

The next time you decide to go on a movie binge, choose popcorn as your snack–but make it air-popped and watch what you add to it. With a little bit of advance planning you can minimize the impact to your diet and your waistline.

DCF 1.0Air popped popcorn is a great choice as long as you don’t pile on the butter or salt. The best news of all is that popcorn is actually considered a whole grain, and when air popped, has only 31 calories per cup. It also makes a great on the go snack–simply toss it in a baggie and pack it in your dance bag.


Here are a few more facts* about this snack food that may help you become a fan:

  • 3 cups of popcorn = 1 serving from the grain group
  • Air popped popcorn doesn’t contain additives or preservatives
  • Popcorn contains fiber which aids in digestion

Investing in an air popper is not a big expense. You can usually find one for around $20 – I found this via Google search at Target. Do your homework on it though, I haven’t used this one myself.

Those used to eating microwave popcorn may not take to the air popped variety too well at first. After all, there is not a lot of flavor in comparison. Still, there are a number of ways to add taste to it without dumping a lot of calories on top.

Here are some of my favorite choices:

- Use a little bit of spray butter and toss to coat. (I do this sparingly since I’m not entirely on board with the whole spray butter thing. And I opt for the ones that are made with olive oil.) Or, simply opt for olive oil, but go easy as it is fairly high-calorie.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

- Add some herbs to the mix such as oregano, basil, marjoram and red pepper flakes.

- Sprinkle black or white pepper over the top for a little bit of bite.

- Try a little taco seasoning on top for plenty of taste. (This does add salt though, so use sparingly.)

- Mix up some sugar and cinnamon for a sweet kick. This will add a few calories, but it can be worth it!

Here are a few more recipes you might want to try:

Do you have a healthy favorite topping for popcorn? We’d love to hear from you!

*Info taken from



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