Courtney Crain: Dancing Queen
Driven to Dance: Bayou Artist Courtney Crain pursues her passion, making dance her life’s work.
article by Kay Stothart Rector | photographs by Brad Arender
Whoever said “choose a job that you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” was certainly wise, although perhaps a bit naïve. Even work that one is passionate about can be grueling at times. But this sage advice has been repeated, in some form or another, at countless graduation ceremonies, motivational seminars and self-help workshops because it contains a universal and undeniable truth. One of the great inspirational quotes penned by author Maya Angelou is this: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”
Dancing is what Courtney Crain loves, and she has been doing it for as long as she can remember. Beginning at around age two, she grew up in her mother’s business—Missy Crain’s Dance Studios—learning ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance and performing as part of the Missy Crain Performance Company in dance competitions all over Louisiana and throughout the United States. She has been dancing with the Louisiana Delta Ballet since its founding in 2004, and is now a principal dancer with the local ballet company. By the time she was in high school, she was teaching others to dance, first as an assistant instructor, and for the past three years as a primary dance instructor. “We sort of threw her in the lion’s den once she graduated from high school, teaching full time, all ages,” says Missy Crain of her daughter. “She was teaching classes with students ranging in age from three to 18, going from studio to studio teaching all forms of dance.” Courtney also choreographs recital routines, as well as the dance company’s pieces.
This young woman is no stranger to hard work and long hours. She recently graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, a field she chose because of her plan to eventually take over her mother’s dance studios.
In addition to taking 15 hours of course work each semester, Crain continued her job as a dance instructor, teaching classes 20 hours per week, and spent an average of 30 hours every week rehearsing. “Before going to class in the mornings, I would pack my dance clothes in my car,” Crain recalls, “and then after school, I would drive to whatever studio I was teaching at that day.” With studios in four locations—Monroe, Ruston, Sterlington and Calhoun—there was always a lot of time on the road. Nights and weekends were spent studying and rehearsing for performances with Louisiana Delta Ballet and the Missy Crain Performance Company.
Even with college classes behind her, Crain still spends many hours during the week and at least 5 to 6 hours each Saturday rehearsing. In addition to her rehearsal schedule, her summer plans include working with talented young dance students and renowned professional dancers during the Louisiana Delta Ballet Summer Intensive Workshop being held July 14th through 17th in Monroe. This year’s workshop faculty will include Kersten Todey, an incredibly talented dancer and choreographer from Los Angeles who has assisted and danced for some of the most renowned choreographers in the industry, including Mandy Moore and Michael Rooney, and who was recently awarded the “Emerging Choreographer Award” at Regional Dance America for her work with Louisiana Delta Ballet. Also on staff will be Christian Vincent, a multi-talented performer who served as dance captain of Madonna’s Drowned World Tour and has performed with such artists as Prince, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder, Brittany Spears and Ashanti.
Courtney lists Todey and Vincent as artists that she admires and has been fortunate to work closely with. Another valuable mentor is Jackie Sleight, co-founder of LA Dance Magic, an internationally known dance company committed to teaching dancers and choreographers and providing a nurturing learning environment for artists to explore and challenge themselves through dance. Courtney has interned and toured as an assistant with LA Dance Magic for a number of years during school breaks, and was lucky enough to spend an entire summer living with Sleight in Los Angeles, watching her work and honing her own dance and choreography skills.
Crain says she would like to dance professionally before coming back to Monroe permanently to teach. Her ultimate dream is to become a Rockette, dancing with the legendary group at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. She has already taken the first step toward this lofty goal. After auditioning with hundreds of other dancers earlier this year, Courtney landed a coveted spot in the Radio City Rockettes 2016 Summer Intensive Program. She will travel to New York in August to participate in this two-week program designed for aspiring professional dancers to learn invaluable dance skills while training in the Rockettes style. The program concludes with a performance at a New York City theater. She was also chosen as an alternate for the Rockettes’ Invitational Week, which is the considered their elite program. The Rockettes Summer Intensive, and possibly the Invitational, will ultimately prepare her for later auditions and a chance to reach what Crain considers the pinnacle in the world of dance. While in New York next month, she plans to audition for the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular.
In a year or two, Crain hopes to be living in New York, or perhaps some other large city, dancing or choreographing professionally. “We don’t want to lose her,” says Missy Crain, “but we will let her go for a little while.” Courtney assures her mom that if she leaves she will come back. “I really enjoy teaching here, and I love my kids.”
Teaching is what Crain feels she is good at, and she has found a passion for that, too. “I know that I’m making a difference in my students’ lives, and they are making a difference in mine,” she says. As Crain points out, both dance lessons and performing teach students so much more than just how to dance. It teaches them discipline, etiquette, responsibility, time-management, sacrifice and a good work ethic. She recognizes that, “To be really good at it, a dancer must be determined, and must give up a lot, socially and in other ways, to make the time to dance. But I think in the end, it makes you a better person.”
Crain notes that most people don’t realize how very physical dance is, particularly ballet. “Dance is both an art form and a sport. It can be just as physically demanding as football and basketball, but unlike those sports, dancers also are expected to look good doing it.” The perception is changing, though, thanks in part to people like Misty Copeland of the American Ballet Theater. “Misty Copeland is changing the face of dance,” Crain notes, pointing to the Under Armour ads featuring Copeland as the athlete that she is.
Of performing, Crain says, “I try to give each performance everything I have, every time I step out onto the stage, no matter how many people are in the audience or what it’s for, so that whenever I walk off I can think ‘I couldn’t have done it any better.’” No matter how many times she has performed in front of an audience, Crain admits she still gets butterflies each time she takes the stage to dance. “I get nervous at that moment right before I go on stage, when I’m standing in the curtain—always. Even if it’s a dance I know really well, but especially if there is a hard skill that I might not have gotten right during rehearsal. Pointe pieces are the hardest. But once the music comes on and the lights go up, the nerves just go away and I become a completely different person. I don’t think about anything. I don’t even think about the dance steps. I just do it, and it’s a really overwhelming but good feeling, especially after I’m done.”
Crain is as humble as she is energetic. Not one to tout her own accomplishments, she neglects to mention that she was valedictorian of her Ouachita Parish High School class, or that she was recently selected by the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council as the recipient of the Dorothy Bassett Award. This award, formerly known as the Emerging Artist Award, honors young artists who demonstrate “a commitment to the arts and a desire to pursue a career in their chosen discipline.”
Courtney is not quite 22-years-old, with plenty of time to pursue her dreams. Having a clear picture, at this point in her life, of what she wants the future to look like, she is way ahead of the game. “I’ve known from an early age what I wanted to do as a career,” says Crain. “I’m blessed to have been able to realize that and have the opportunity to do what I love. Like my mom, I want to inspire as many people as I can through dance.”