Charlotte Ballet's Juwan J. Alston is on the rise

“Footloose, kick off the Sunday shoes… everybody cut, everybody cut footloose.” It was the small-town story that inspired a new generation of (literal) movers and shakers—including UNCSA School of Dance alumnus Juwan J. Alston. “When I was a freshman in high school I performed in the musical ‘Footloose,’” he says. “It was then that I discovered dance and I wanted to learn more about it… I fell in love.”

A current first company dancer with Charlotte Ballet, Alston initially taught himself to dance by watching YouTube videos and joining dance classes at his high school. At age 16, he traveled from Texas to North Carolina to attended an American Ballet Theatre summer intensive and was introduced to UNCSA for the first time. His vision was clear: he would become a professional ballet dancer, and UNCSA would be the school to help him achieve his goals. 

“I clicked on every link on the website, read every handbook and researched the faculty,” he recalls. “I reached out to alumni through social media and talked with current students and staff while I was on campus.” After thoroughly educating himself about UNCSA, it was the small class sizes and the quality of the training that stood out and helped to fuel Alston’s excitement about applying to the School of Dance.

Once enrolled, he adapted seamlessly.

The guidance I have received from the faculty as a student—and as a working professional—is the one thing I have valued the most.

Juwan J. Alston

“The guidance I have received from the faculty as a student—and as a working professional—is the one thing I have valued the most,” he says. Under their guidance, Alston blossomed in a single school year, dancing Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Birthday Offering,” Susan Jaffe’s “Metallurgy,” George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brilliante” and five roles in UNCSA’s annual production of The Nutcracker.

He also had the opportunity to learn about the art of capturing a dancer’s form when photographer Dane Shitagi worked with UNCSA students for his acclaimed Ballerina Project in 2015.

Photo: Dane Shitagi

Juwan J. Alston and Amanda Potts were photographed in Old Salem for the Ballerina Project. / Photo: Dane Shitagi

“Our first day on the shoot I had to be ready to go by 5 a.m. and it was so worth it,” he says. When he wasn’t in front of the camera, Alston carefully studied Shitagi’s technique: “I was able to see the angles he was going for and talk to him about the shot and all that you consider when creating the image.”

Alston’s eagerness to learn didn’t stop in the studio or behind the camera. “A very memorable experience for me at UNCSA was when I became a Student Ambassador,” he says. “I loved being able to give tours and talk to parents and prospective students. It was also a great opportunity to learn about all of the different programs at the university.”

Alston fulfills a similar role at Charlotte Ballet, where he serves as a professional mentor for Texas Future Dance Educators, sharing his experience with students who plan to pursue dance in higher education or for future careers.

“I think it is so important to give back,” he adds. “Especially because so many people have taken the time to pour their knowledge and experiences into me to help me grow as an artist and as a dancer.” 

Joining Charlotte Ballet has also increased his opportunities to experience new aspects of dance. Dwight Rhoden’s “The Groove” provided an educational experience for Alston, who noticed that his movements had been safe and slightly reserved. “It pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and be even bigger,” he says—something he looks for in each piece that he tackles.

Juwan Alston in "The Nutcracker"

Juwan J. Alston performs in Charlotte Ballet's "The Nutcracker." / Photo: Peter Zay

Alston’s first principal role with the company, in Sasha Janes’ “The Red Dress,” was challenging.

“Learning how to coordinate your breath with your movement to keep yourself relaxed is very difficult,” he explains. “I sat down with Rebecca Janes—a former Charlotte Ballet principal dancer—to help develop my character and work through how to apply that to my movement. It was an eye-opening experience for me and a growth point as an artist.”

This spring, Alston looks forward to dancing the Pas de Trois in Charlotte Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty.” 

“I’m excited to be challenged in a new way, with very quick movements, lots of allegro—both grand and petit and sudden changes of direction throughout my variation,” he says.  

Above: Alston practices for his role in "Sleeping Beauty."

In his second season with Charlotte Ballet, Alston keenly looks ahead to the future, where he hopes to experience as much as possible.

“My future is open for adaptation. I still have so much to learn and so much to experience,” says Alston, who plans to become a ballet master later in his career. “Every time I work with a new choreographer/style, I take away something different. I want to be able to give back what I learned throughout my career.”

Everything is an opportunity to grow, Alston concludes. “You get out what you put in… if you really give it your all, you will find yourself growing.”

by Hannah Callaway

February 22, 2017