Ricardo Hartley is one of five boys from Booker T. to make it to the hallowed halls of Juilliard this year.
Mention The Juilliard School, and some famously talented alumni spring to mind: Viola Davis, Kevin Spacey, Jessica Chastain, Van Cliburn. This fall, five Dallas boys join Juilliard’s elite ranks — but it’s the nature of their acceptance that makes it that much sweeter.
Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts grads Ricardo Hartley, Zane Unger, Kade Cummings, Michael Garcia, and Todd Baker are five of only 12 male students Juilliard accepted into its dance program this year — the most dancers it has taken from a single high school in its history.
Gathered together in a Booker T. classroom earlier this summer, “On cloud nine” was how each described how he felt upon discovering his fate. Also part of the conversation between the five friends: transitioning to life in New York, long hours logged at rehearsals, and their very different tastes in music.
“I play the piano every day,” says Unger. Laughter from the group ensues after Cummings replies, “He plays the same two songs, and they’re horrible.”
Here, we get to know the dance world’s new fab five.
“Sometimes I’m in the mood for throwback ’90s, like Missy Elliot or Tupac. Sometimes some Lemonade by Beyoncé. Or, I’m into my feelings, so I listen to classical music to be calm and serene.” Despite playing the violin for eight years, Hartley, a Georgia native, arrived at Booker T. his senior year to pursue ballet.
Citing ballet phenom Misty Copeland — principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre — as his primary inspiration, Hartley reflects fondly on his education in Dallas, thankful his teachers recognized that he and his peers were not there solely for academics. “They know we have after-school rehearsals until 9 pm, so they don’t pile homework on us,” he says. “They really invest in our artistry.”
“We all have that artistic mind and are so far out of the box that the box is not even there.” Unger, unlike most, loves the feeling of butterflies in his stomach before a performance. As a self-professed clumsy kid, he was a tap dancer who idolized the Rat Pack and spent his free time watching Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines in the film Tap.
Performing on stage at venues within the AT&T Performing Arts Center as a high school student offered him a glimpse into the bigger world of dance, as did attending several TITAS events in the Dallas Arts District. “Dance is hard,” he says. “But going out on stage, that’s what I love the most.”
“My inspiration is not anybody big in the dance world — it’s my grandma. She’s still a ballerina, and she is 69, I think.” Cummings’ grandmother received her Master of Fine Arts in dance at Texas Christian University. Cummings began his path to dance following in the footsteps of one of his sisters, tagging along as she visited various studios. At Booker T., he learned to compete with himself and nurture his talents, as opposed to competing with those around him.
This summer, he, Hartley, and Baker traveled to the Netherlands to perform with celebrated ballet company Nederlands Dans Theater. Afterwards, Cummings was off to Jamaica for a vacation with his parents, who are interior designers. Post-Juilliard, he says, “I hope to be part of a professional concert dance company and travel around the world.”
“I started dance when I was seven years old. My mom put me in classes because I was one of those kids who always danced when music came on. After my first class, I was hooked.” Originally from South Texas, Garcia is the first person in his family to attend a university other than a community college. Booker T. has been his safe haven, he admits, a place for him to be free, creative, and to obtain the real-world experience that ultimately appealed to the major players at Juilliard.
In January of last year, Garcia exercised his strength in a dynamic and athletic solo performance choreographed by Jessica Hendricks during Miami’s YoungArts Week, a scholarship program that recognizes talents of dancers, photographers, musicians, and other visual artists. “That was one of the best performances and weeks of my life.”
“To have an effect on people just by using your body is incredible. Expressing something that someone can relate to can almost change a life; it can do wonders.” Movie musicals fascinated Baker, who began dancing in fourth grade.
In high school, he started off as a classical jazz commercial dancer but fell in love with ballet after performing Dwight Rhoden’s “Testament,” a contemporary ballet dance ensemble, at the annual Dallas DanceFest. “It changed my path,” he says. “I was never exposed to something like that — the feeling I got from performing to an audience that’s just there to appreciate the art of dance.”