America's Next Top DS Cover Model: Meet Amanda, Lee and Madison

October 14, 2010

We return with our third annual Dance Spirit Cover Model Search! While the competition was fierce (you’ll meet the runners-up next month), there can only be three finalists. As Heidi Klum would say, “Either you’re in, or you’re out.”

We’re pleased to announce that Amanda Viereck, Madison Keesler and Lee Gumbs are still in the running to become America’s next Dance Spirit cover model. This past March, they came to NYC for four dance-packed days. They took class at Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway, saw A Chorus Line, participated in a photo shoot wearing the latest apparel from Dancewear Solutions and filmed solos for 

The stakes are high—one of these three will win a feature in DS and also land on the cover. Read on to learn all about them! Then it’s up to you to vote online to decide who will be the next Cover Model Search winner!

Meet Amanda Viereck

With her blonde bob and slender frame, Amanda’s sharp, dainty movements during contemporary jazz class at Steps reminded us of Tinker Bell. But once she slipped into her tap shoes, she sure showed us. (Who’re you calling a pixie?) While Amanda may be five feet tall, nothing about the sound coming from her soles is small!

Amanda’s fresh face, sparkly green eyes and sporty style are reminiscent of the girl-next-door who steals the heart of the campus hottie in every teen movie. But Amanda is far from cliché. She’s been shuffling and stomping since age 2, was trained at the Dance Conservatory in Woodstown, NJ, competed all over and has won almost every regional or national photogenic competition she’s entered since age 12 (seven per year). Take a look at her photos and you’ll understand why.

Aside from taking tap and hip hop, Amanda loves poetry, anatomy and playing soccer with her younger brother. But her life hasn’t always been games and gold medals.

Three years ago, Amanda was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Behçet’s (her body attacks itself, affecting her neurologically). Some mornings she wakes up and can’t walk or has blurry vision. Other symptoms include severe migraines, nausea and arthritis.

“I couldn’t dance for a really long time, and it killed me,” she says. “That’s when I knew dance was my true passion, and I’d do anything to be able to do it.” While Amanda’s condition has improved, she still gets sick. She deals with it day-by-day and tries to dance through anything.

Unfortunately, while Amanda was dealing with her illness, her best friend Nate also had health issues. Last year he passed away from a brain tumor. Though he wasn’t a dancer, he attended all of her competitions and performances. “He got more excited than I did,” she says.

After losing him, Amanda became depressed and saw a psychiatrist. However, dance was her life vest. “Dance was the only place I felt happy,” she says. “It was my escape.”

Whether she’s coping with illness, loss or even an embarrassing stage moment, Amanda is a fighter. During her first tap competition solo at age 13, she slipped mid-performance. When she stood back up, she completely blanked out on the choreography. So she improvised the rest. Not letting a fall keep her down became her mantra.

You’d never know what Amanda has been through upon meeting her. She’s a peaceful warrior with a happy-go-lucky attitude. 

At press time, she was planning to audition for Tap City’s 2008 preprofessional program. Eventually, she hopes to attend college near NYC, where she can pursue a dance career.

“You just have to keep going,” she says. “If you stop, there’s nothing you can do to help yourself, but if you keep going there’s always something you can do.”

Meet Lee Gumbs

Boys will be boys, and Lee Gumbs is no exception. Our first impressions of Lee: quiet, shy, but oh-so-stylish in his vintage T-shirt, graphic hoodie and skinny jeans. Once he entered the studio, like Clark Kent changing into Superman, Lee stripped off his cool persona and became a serious contemporary dance student. The music started, and it was game on: His alpha-male competitiveness came into full bloom. Our mouths dropped as Lee hit a full split early in the warm-up, and we continued to be dazzled by his high leaps and graceful turns. As the first male CMS finalist, Lee brought his A-game and wasn’t leaving without setting the bar high.

With such a strong passion for dance, it’s ironic that he started at the request of his mom, who was a former dancer. “When I was 7, she kind of, like, made me do it,” he says with a chuckle. At the time, Lee lived in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where he was born. A year later, he moved to Orlando and became a comp kid.

Although his mother made him start, now he can’t seem to stop. Whenever he has time off, he finds a way to keep training. For instance, when he was on a weeklong cruise a year ago, he missed dance so much that he spent every night freestyling in his cabin. And during a break after Nationals 2007, Lee formed a group with other eager dancers to come into the studio once a week to stay in shape. “I just can’t stop dancing,” Lee explains. “I have to dance.”

This craving to dance helped Lee define himself. It wasn’t easy being a male dancer during middle school, so he hid it from his peers, and as a result, isolated himself. When he won “student-of-the-week,” his fourth grade teacher publically complimented him for being cast in The Nutcracker. Afterwards, his classmates taunted him.

“The other boys said, ‘dance is for girls’ and called me prissy,” he says. “Someone actually called me twinkle toes. But they were just immature and jealous that I won an award.”

Back then he’d freak out if anyone discovered his favorite after-school activity. When someone found a picture of him at a competition, he said that he was there to support his sister. He felt like he was living two separate lives. “It hurt, but it didn’t hurt enough for me to stop dancing,” he says.

In high school, Lee grew tired of lying. Now he tells everyone that he dances and has tons of friends. He doesn’t delete compliments he receives about dancing on his MySpace and posts pictures of himself at competitions.

Now that he can be himself, he only wants to share more of who he is with the world. He aspires to move to NYC or L.A. and wants to go to college for dance (Juilliard is his dream school). After that, he’d love to dance in a company, become a choreographer and work at conventions.

Perhaps being a CMS finalist is the ultimate way for Lee to tell the world how much he loves to dance!

Meet Madison Keesler

Madison Keesler’s first question on her arrival in NYC was, “Can I wear my stilettos?” She explained that she usually rocks heels even on the hilly San Fran streets. But don’t let her sleek exterior and pointy (or rather, pointe) shoes fool you—one look into her enormous chocolate-brown eyes and you’ll see this bunhead is a total sweetheart.

Madison’s life is glamorous—summers in Martha’s Vineyard studying with Ethan Stiefel, a home in Pacific Heights with the San Francisco Ballet School and a Euro-bound career (but more on that later). Madison moved west only a year ago, leaving mom (her father resides in the Bahamas) and her studio, The Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet School, behind. But she has no regrets. “I enjoy being able to make my own choices and create my own life,” Madison says.

Having been home-schooled since sixth grade in order to pursue ballet, Madison isn’t the typical high school teen. In fact, she’s more like a college freshman, living in SFBS’s Jackson House with 25 other students—including her boyfriend. However, she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on her teen years. “We have a lot of fun,” she says, a twinkle in her eye (and we envision Hogwarts with ballerinas).

As Madison put it in her blog for The Winger, it was the year to join SFBS. Both the school and company celebrated their 75th anniversaries, which allowed Madison to work with John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet’s artistic director, who choreographed Yondering for SFB’s 75th Anniversary Gala. After dancing one of the female leads, Dreamer, in the opening number, Madison fell in love with Neumeier’s work. The feeling was mutual, and when she applied to study with him at the Hamburg Ballet School in Germany, she was accepted. Though she originally planned to find a job next year, she felt she couldn’t give up the opportunity to dance abroad. Much to her surprise, her dream came true: On the day of our photo shoot, she got a call from HBS offering her an apprenticeship instead!

“I lean toward Europe,” Madison explains. “The dancing there is less about tricks, like how many spins you do, and more about the energies you’re sending out to the people in the theater.”

She learned to channel her emotions into her dancing when she was 11 and turned to the barre to help her get through her parents’ divorce. Now, like many performers, she deals with hardships by dancing. “I know I can go to a studio, turn on beautiful music and lose myself,” she explains.

She sees dance as an emotional expression. “Dance is an art and should be preserved as such,” she theorizes. “It should be as pure and natural as possible.” Madison hopes to eventually be the muse for a famous choreographer, and while she considers going to college one day, she knows that she has a good thing going now.

“I want to stick with ballet as long as my body holds out,” she says.” I want to able to work with someone and create new things for the world to see.”

Every time she steps out of her heels and laces up her pointe shoes, she does just that.