Feature Articles

Changing the World – One Jazz Hand at a Time

By Mary Callahan of Dance Informa.

It’s all too easy to forget the true meaning of dance when you are at your third cattle-call audition of the week, sweating it out for a job you need more than you’d care to admit. Networks for dancers can be difficult to locate – and more importantly, maintain – with performers often shipping off across the states (or the world) for months at a time.  How then can dancers hope to maintain a network, a system of support, and a home base? ALMA, a burgeoning performing arts company in New York City, is striving to provide just that.

ALMA, which translates to “soul, spirit, and heart,” is a theatrically driven not-for-profit company comprised of dancers, singers, actors, visual artists, and musicians in New York City.  Both graduates of Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester, Zanza Steinberg and Stephanie Brooks became fast friends thanks to their shared love for musical theatre and community service.  Steinberg (Artistic Director) and Brooks (Co-Founder) started ALMA/NYC Dance Company back in November 2011 with a dream to unite and empower performers from around the world. By combining Musical Theatre and community service, Alma blossomed into a place where artists could use their talents for good.  “In a stereotypically challenging and competitive industry,” says Steinberg, “ALMA strives to foster a sense of community through workshops, performances, and outreach projects.”

“When I moved here from the UK,” explains Steinberg, “I had a difficult time finding a sense of community in the dance world.  With no other connections in the city to the dance industry it was easy to feel very alone during audition season and between jobs. I wanted to make that network accessible for everyone.”  With an open door policy, the company invites all performers to be part of the team and contribute to the core ethos that ALMA strives to create.  Even when they are not rehearsing for a performance or charity event, ALMA makes a point to get together weekly.  Whether attending a company class or just a brainstorming potluck, everyone contributes to help ALMA progress and move forward.

Stephanie Brooks, ALMA/NYC Dance Company

Stephanie Brooks, Co-Founder of ALMA/NYC Dance Company, performing at the Salvatore Capezio Theater at Peridance.

While the company started off as Brooks, Steinberg, and a few of their close friends, ALMA is gaining recognition in the New York City dance community – and beyond!  “ALMA is truly international,” remarks company member, Nikki Croker.  “Not only is our mission about changing the world through dance, but many of our dancers are from other countries like Australia, England, and Spain.”  The ALMA/NYC Dance Company currently includes around fifteen dancers; the number fluctuates based on who is in town at the time of any given performance.  “We’re all working artists and sometimes have to leave the city for a gig,” says ALMA’s Executive Coordinator, Kelsey Emmett.  “But when we come back, ALMA is here for us.”  Currently, ALMA has dancers performing in national productions of Memphis, A Chorus Line, West Side Story, In the Heights, Elf, and Chicago

“Our style is primarily inspired by Fosse-jazz,” says Steinberg.  The company donned black fishnets, leotards, blazers, and bowler hats for their recent rendition of All That Jazz.  “But collaboration is a big part of ALMA,” explains Steinberg.  “And we like to explore styles that our dancers specialize in such as contemporary or contortion.” In early September the company recently graced the stage – or rather, the runway – of New York’s Couture Fashion Week with a circus-inspired contemporary routine to “Paris Is Burning.”  “It was definitely something different!” admits Steinberg.  “But the risk paid off and the audience seemed to really enjoy the piece.”   

Besides Fashion Week, other credits include, the Young Choreographers Festival, the Actor’s Home, Project Dance, the Paul Taylor Theater, Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, and the Salvatore Capezio Theater in aid of Toys for Tots.  In addition to performing, the company has volunteered at organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, the Harlem Community Food Bank and at Abraham House in collaboration with Artists Striving To End Poverty’s (ASTEP) ONSTAGE program.

ALMA/NYC’s current outreach project is Giving Africa, a charity organization working to build schools in Africa and help eradicate poverty.  Two of ALMA’s company members, Zanza Steinberg and Kelsey Emmett (along with eleven other dancers from the UK) flew to Nairobi with the Giving Africa team to deliver medical supplies to hospitals, visit orphanages and schools in the area, and collaborate with local dancers for a benefit performance for the Children’s Garden Orphanage of Nairobi.  The trip culminated with a seven-day climb of Mount Kilimanjaro to support the construction of the Bethel School in Burkina Faso.  To raise money for Giving Africa, ALMA organized GIFT, a workshop series taught by Broadway performers, world-renowned choreographers, and Emmy award-winning artists.  Teachers such as Jim Cooney, Jenny LaRoche, Shauna Sorensen, Emily Cook Harris, Hettie Barnhill, and Zanza Steinberg graciously taught GIFT classes and donated 100% of the proceeds to Giving Africa and other charitable causes.

“2013 has been an incredible year for the company so far,” notes Steinberg.  “And there are many more exciting opportunities on the horizon!”  

For more information about ALMA/NYC Dance Company – including booking information, upcoming performances and outreach projects, and ways to get involved – visit www.almanyc.org.

Photo (top): ALMA/NYC Dance Company at the Young Choreographer’s Festival. Photo by Jaqi Medlock.

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