This story originally appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Pointe.
You could say that Alison Stroming is a model ballerina, literally. This spring, when the Dance Theatre of Harlem member appeared in store signs and a TV commercial for Tumi luggage with dancer-contortionist RubberLegz, she joined an exclusive list of ballet dancers who star in national advertising campaigns, like American Ballet Theatre's Misty Copeland and San Francisco Ballet's Maria Kochetkova.
A former competition dancer who started training in jazz, tap and hip hop as a preschooler, Stroming has pursued modeling nearly as long as she's been dancing. She landed her first gig, a photo shoot for Costume Gallery, at just 8 years old while competing at Starpower. “Someone approached my mom and me, and asked if I wanted to do a photo shoot," she remembers. “I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, yes." She's modeled consistently for costume catalogs, dancewear lines and Capezio ever since.
Stroming modeling dancewear in Jackson, MS. Photo Capezio/Matt Wagemann, Courtesy Stroming.
"Modeling helps with stage presence and gives me confidence," Stroming says. "I feel beautiful, I feel strong, I feel like I can conquer the world." Early on she dreamed of working in high fashion. "But as I grew older and I wasn't getting as tall as I would like to be, I realized that I couldn't seek modeling as seriously as I wanted to," recalls the 5' 5 1/2" Stroming. Until she signed with Bloc Talent Agency earlier this year, Stroming booked all of her own modeling work by promoting herself through social media, where photographers reach out on Instagram or Twitter to set up photo shoots. "They submit the photos to different clients. It's a great way to get your name out there," she says.If business savvy has been key to Stroming's success, so, perhaps, has destiny. Born in Recife, Brazil, she was adopted at 8 months old into a New Jersey family with four dance-loving siblings. Her older brother, Gil, a former professional tap dancer and founder of JUMP Dance Convention (and the dancer pictured on Capezio tap-shoe boxes), has hired her for demonstrations.
Stroming found her calling in ballet a year after that first Costume Gallery shoot, when a teacher encouraged her to audition for the School of American Ballet. Leaving the competition world behind, she studied at SAB for three years, then accepted Franco De Vita's scholarship offer to the new Junior Division at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre, where she completed her training. Professional stints with ABT Studio Company, Alberta Ballet and Ballet San Jose followed, with roles ranging from George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments to Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room utilizing her versatile technique. Then a friend suggested she audition for DTH during a visit to New York City last summer; artistic director Virginia Johnson hired her that day.
Johnson notes that the poise Stroming gains from modeling is apparent in her dancing. “Alison is comfortable onstage. It seems very natural for her," she says. Not surprisingly, Stroming's fashion sense stands out, too. “She wears the most unusual leotards I've ever seen! Every day she comes in wearing something new and different."
In addition to her inaugural ad campaign and her debut season with DTH, Stroming recently shot her first music video, for Brooklyn-based indie-pop duo Junior Prom. All that poise is coming in handy as she learns to balance her passions. “Anytime I get an e-mail from a photographer that likes my work or my look, I get really excited," she says. But, she's quick to add, “I will always put ballet first."