Here Are the "25 to Watch" Dancers You Should Be Following on Social Media
Every year, our pals over at Dance Magazine release their “25 to Watch” list, a definitive roundup of the rising stars in the dance industry. And of course, at Dance Spirit, there’s nothing we love more than a chance to highlight up-and-coming talent.This year’s “25 to Watch” features more than a few familiar faces, including three former DS cover stars (hello, Amanda Morgan, Gaby Diaz, and Yesenia Ayala). But it also happens to shine a spotlight on a few of our fave social media standouts. So stop scrolling, and check out what Dance Magazine had to say about these social stars of this year’s “25 to Watch.”
Amanda Morgan will be heard. The Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member’s long limbs paint through space with a gentleness that contrasts with the strength of her voice as a creator and leader. She founded The Seattle Project, an interdisciplinary artists’ collective dedicated to creating and presenting community-accessible work, in 2019. The Project—whose collaborators have included dancers from PNB and Spectrum Dance Theater—held its first presentation, “The How of it Sped,” at Northwest Film Forum last February. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Morgan and fellow PNB dancer Cecilia Iliesiu founded a mentorship program to connect PNB School students with company members. Last summer, she spoke out against racism and police brutality at protests following the death of George Floyd.
Morgan’s community advocacy and delicate yet striking contemporary movement came together in “Musings,” the digital work she created alongside Nia-Amina Minor for Seattle Dance Collective last summer, exploring spatial injustice against Black and brown people.
In the fall, PNB commissioned Morgan, who made pieces for the company’s Next Step choreographic showcase in 2018 and 2019, to create a site-specific work as bonus content for its first-ever digital season. “Society may have tried to silence the voices of the marginalized, but you will never silence me,” she proclaimed at a June demonstration.
The dance world is listening. —Lydia Murray
Think you know Gaby Diaz? Wait five minutes. In 2015, she won “So You Think You Can Dance” as a tap dancer. Since then, the endlessly versatile mover has embodied contemporary fluidity with Shaping Sound, tackled Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s eclectic repertoire as a company apprentice and performed Justin Peck’s ballet-inflected choreography in the upcoming West Side Story film.
Diaz’s remarkable resumé is a product of her curiosity, and her restlessness. “I’ve never liked feeling comfortable,” she says. “I’ve always needed to dip my toe in as many things as possible to stay challenged.” After training in a multitude of styles at her hometown studio in Miami and the New World School of the Arts, she didn’t want to follow any one professional path. Instead, able to do anything, she chose to try everything. “If something feels right to me, I’m going to do it, even if it doesn’t look like that’d be the logical next step,” she says. What’s feeling right at the moment is working with Peck: Diaz is relocating to New York City to pursue a new project with him. Get ready to discover yet another facet of her talent. —Margaret Fuhrer
As a dancer, Raianna Brown moves effortlessly through concert and commercial lanes, giving each the presence and authenticity it warrants. The Atlanta-based artist has performed for Fredrick Earl Mosley and staibdance, and danced alongside Shakira and Jennifer Lopez in Super Bowl LIV. In her own choreography, she’s intentional in her approach to melding dance, technology and social activism. She founded Komansé Dance Theater while still an undergraduate student studying industrial and systems engineering at Georgia Tech while also training in dance at Emory University through dual enrollment. She’s partnered with Georgia Tech on works that utilize dynamic projection mapping and 3-D–printed costumes.
For her recent dance film, rev•er•ie, Brown took inspiration from Alice Walker and James Baldwin to explore ideas of belonging without being policed, or “a lush returning to true freedom,” as she puts it. “Living in a country that often wants to quiet my voice,” she says, “I feel it is my duty to create art that highlights the stories of the silenced.” —Shaté L. Hayes
Fusing hip hop with her own dynamic movement style, Sorah Yang performs with explosive power that defies stereotypes. “I’m a five-foot-tall, very bubbly Asian woman, and there’s always somewhat of a concern that people won’t take me seriously,” she says. But Yang’s work speaks for itself. She first gained attention as a member of the renowned hip-hop crew GRV, which led to teaching opportunities in more than 27 countries. She’s also broken into the K-pop scene, choreographing Monsta X’s “Shine Forever” for their 2017 world tour.
In 2019, she joined Keone and Mari Madrid as the associate choreographer for the upcoming Britney Spears musical, Once Upon a One More Time. When the pandemic postponed the show’s pre-Broadway run in Chicago, Yang mobilized her dance clothing company, ShopSorah, to donate and distribute masks for essential workers and started an online course to help dancers plan sustainable careers. She recently founded Vessel Dance Company, which will perform her original choreography as well as provide its members with training, professional development and community-service opportunities. In all her work, Yang seeks to empower others, earning her a devoted following that continues to grow. —Kristi Yeung
Christine Flores’ resumé to date reads like a how-to list for “making it” in New York City’s dance world. She moves fluidly from burlesque shows with Company XIV to postmodern concert work with Pam Tanowitz Dance to commercial shoots, like Hozier’s 2019 “Almost (Sweet Music)” video, all with striking technical clarity and a palpable brightness of spirit.
Flores, who hails from Canada and graduated from the college program at New World School of the Arts in 2015, has not let the pandemic slow her down. She calculated that she took 455 dance and workout classes during the first four months of quarantine, and is currently at work on three films, two new pieces for Tanowitz, another venture with Danielle Russo Performance Project and ongoing projects with Company XIV. —Caroline Shadle
Melanie Greene and J. Bouey
When they founded the podcast The Dance Union in 2018, Melanie Greene and J. Bouey dreamed of creating a hub where dance artists could find community, conversation, resources and support. They couldn’t have imagined that a pandemic would expedite this dream. But as artists’ lives and livelihoods were upended, suddenly the ideas Greene and Bouey had crafted their podcast around—cracking open the systems our field has silently agreed upon; creating new models for how the dance community can take care of each other—no longer felt radical but urgently necessary. The Dance Union quickly became much more than a podcast, holding popular virtual town halls and raising and distributing upwards of $65,000 to artists affected by the pandemic.
Greene and Bouey have also become de facto public intellectuals of the freelance dance world, speaking from their firsthand experiences as major multi-hyphenates: Greene works with New Yorkers for Culture & Arts, choreographs and has danced with Okwui Okpokwasili, Skeleton Architecture, Dancenoise and others. Bouey, a former member of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, also makes their own deeply personal work, often investigating trauma and Blackness.
Though The Dance Union continues to grow as an organization—they were recently able to hire three team members, are converting the pandemic relief fund so that it can address the dance community’s needs on a rolling basis, and have a multimedia project in the pipeline—Greene and Bouey’s long-term goal is actually to leave it, so it can live beyond them. —Lauren Wingenroth
‘s Anita was the beating heart of last year’s Broadway revival of West Side Story: a woman so thoroughly alive that dance is the only way she can adequately express herself, thrumming currents of emotion running just beneath her skin. Offstage, Ayala is less volatile, but equally impassioned. Ask her what West Side means to her, and she’s quickly moved to tears. “The movie version was the first time I saw a Latina woman dancing classically,” says Ayala, who was born in the U.S. to Colombian parents. “It’s the only art I saw myself in for the longest time.”
Many audiences have now seen Ayala in West Side. In addition to the Broadway revival, she danced in a production while at East Carolina University, and appeared in two touring companies. She plays a Shark girl in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming movie remake, her film debut, and wishes she “could live inside the joy of that project forever.” But she’s fundamentally a stage dancer, and hopes to return to Anita on Broadway as soon as the public health situation permits. “Down the road, I’d love to direct musicals, particularly shows that highlight dance,” she says. “There aren’t enough productions where dance is the center, where dancers can be leads. And dancers are such beautiful creatures that we shouldn’t relegate them to the background.” —Margaret Fuhrer