Dancer Spotlight: Breaking The Mold

Onstage, Dusty Button defies categorization. The Birmingham Royal Ballet corps member from South Carolina uses her long, swan-like lines with typical English softness but bursts with energy in spiky contemporary work. Once told by a teacher at American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School that she had “too many ingredients” in her soup, Button may be the unlikeliest dancer to find a home in an English company.

 

Ballet did not start out her favorite genre. Button began dancing at age 7, dividing her time between jazz, tap, hip hop and ballet. Within a few years, she was winning prizes at competitions like  Showstoppers and New York City Dance Alliance. “I loved it because it was a way for people from elsewhere to see me dance,” she says.

 

Although she didn’t focus exclusively on ballet, her interest grew steadily. At Miss Libby’s School of Dance, her home studio, Button followed the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus. A week spent when she was 13 at White Lodge, The Royal Ballet Lower School in London, further cemented her growing love of the art form. Button later returned to The Royal for two summer intensives.

 

After competing, at 15, in Youth America Grand Prix, Button was offered a slot at ABT’s JKO school. She moved to New York, setting her other dance training aside. Button was soon rewarded by an offer to join ABT’s second company. To everyone’s surprise, the young dancer turned it down. Instead, she enrolled at The Royal Ballet School.

 

“I felt like I needed to finish my training because of my background,” she says. Button had dreamed of studying there full time since her first White Lodge visit. In fact, the school had previously offered Button a place, but she couldn’t afford to go. By the end of her stay at JKO, she had finally raised the funds needed, with the help of a partial scholarship from RBS and individual sponsors in England.

 

Button does not regret her choice. “It refined my style,” she explains. “I was told that I needed to have strength and grace, and they were right. I could do things, but not very gracefully.” The former “bull in a china shop,” as one of her teachers called her, thrived on the corrections. This was England, where the number of pirouettes didn’t count so much, as long as they were pretty.  Eventually, she blended in so well that she won the prestigious Ninette de Valois grant and was hired upon graduation by David Bintley, director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who had set his ballet Galanteries on the school.

 

In the two years she has been in Birmingham, Button has had opportunities she didn’t expect. “Dusty’s diverse training is such an asset,” says BRB ballet mistress Marion Tait. It has allowed her to absorb different styles very quickly, from Balanchine to Bintley’s ballets.

 

She took center stage last fall for a piece by Garry Stewart, The Centre and its Opposite. The Guardian critic raved, “Wheeling her torso and limbs through daringly, dizzyingly off-balance arcs, Button contains all the drama of the title in her own fiercely concentrated body.”

 

But Button has goals beyond showcasing her ability. She wants to excel in the classics and eventually reach the top of the company. And she dreams of one day branching out to musical theater. “Hopefully my name will ultimately be in many different places,” she laughs. And given the many ingredients she has to draw on, anything seems possible.

 

At A Glance
Name: Dusty Button
Age: 20
Company: Royal Birmingham Ballet
Training: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, The Royal Ballet School
Favorite Ballet Performed: Garry Stewart’s The Centre and its Opposite
Dream Roles: Aurora, Odette/Odile

Ballet Careers
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This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

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At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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