Podcast Episode 7: Erica Lynette Edwards

Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Erica Lynette Edwards is an accomplished consultant and public speaker who champions change to advance social justice. With diversity, equity, and inclusion as the core foundation of her work, she transforms visions into reality. After a rewarding 15-year career as a ballerina at The Joffrey Ballet and five years as the Director of Community Engagement, she founded Cultivating Better Tomorrows. Through this consulting company, Erica reshapes the dynamics of performing arts communities to produce environments where all can thrive. Highly skilled in delivering consistent success and effective change, she is passionate about facilitating results-driven conversations and workshops focused on reflection and knowledge-building. Her visionary leadership has earned her many honors and opportunities, including speaking on national panels, giving a TEDx talk, and being selected as a member of Crain’s Chicago Business “40 Under 40.” By developing shared understandings, Erica inspires communities to make the world a more just place.

Topics discussed:

Podcast Episode 6: Ethan Kirschbaum

Photo by Noah Powell of Osprey Visuals.

My guest for episode 6 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast is Ethan Kirschbaum, founder of the Chicago Movement Collective. I thought it would be fun to leave this episode RAW: UNCUT, UNEDITED, UNCENSORED – so there is explicit language. You will hear our entire conversation including flubs, faux commercial breaks, sirens, commentary, and lots of laughs. Enjoy.

Ethan is originally from Oakland, CA, and began his dance career as an apprentice with the Savage Jazz Dance Company while still in high school. He studied at the Ailey School/Fordham University in NYC, graduating summa cum laude with departmental honors in dance performance and a BFA degree. During his junior year, he joined Hubbard Street 2, dancing and teaching workshops around the globe while concurrently completing his degree.

He has performed with the Sante Fe Opera and danced internationally in various countries including Canada, Mexico, Holland, Germany, Israel, Switzerland, Luxemboug, France, and Russia. In 2011, he moved to Germany to dance with Donlon Dance Company under the direction of Marguerite Donlon. He was on faculty at the Lou Conte Dance Studio since 2012 and was named the scholarship mentor, delegating scholarships to promising pre-professional and early-career artists until its closure in March of 2020. Ethan also performed as a company member of River North Dance Chicago for five seasons.

Ethan is certified by the Ailey School to teach all levels of the Horton Technique and is a freelance artists performing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, choreographing locally, and teaching nationally as a guest to dance studios and university programs alike.

Ethan is proud to be the founder of Chicago Movement Collective and director of the Claire Bataille Legacy Program, continuing to provide a home for talented and passional pre-professional dancers.

Photo by Noah Powell of Osprey Visuals.

Click HERE to donate to the Chicago Movement Collective. If you want to take class (you may qualify for a FREE class!) or audition for the Legacy Program, email chicagomovementcollective@gmail.com.

Other topics discussed:

Podcast Episode 5: Melissa Thodos

On episode 5 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast, we welcome Melissa Thodos, Artistic Director of Thodos Dance Chicago. We discuss her career, the evolution of her company, and her long friendship with Broadway’s Ann Reinking.

Melissa Thodos and Ann Reinking.

At the age of six, Melissa Thodos wanted to really MOVE…so she did, by training at the Evanston School of Ballet, choreographing in high school as part of “Esande” the Evanston Township High School dance club, and doing both at Skidmore College. Following acadamia, she became a featured performer, educator, and choreographer with the Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, performing works by Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, and Ze’eva Cohen, among others until founding Thodos Dance Chicago in 1992.

Thodos Dance Chicago served as a platform for her own choreography and for other American choreographers from the national dance landscape. Melissa also collaborated with such noted artists as Ann Reinking, Yoko Ono, and accomplished architect Jeanne Gang to bring blended vision and voices to the stage and many communities. For a quarter century, the Company performed in over 25 states and six continents, and beyond the stage, Melissa created a professional environment that not only trained dancers, but also nurtured them as choreographers, and activated them to grow as educators.

The NEW Dances choreography project was part of Thodos Dance Chicago’s fabric and structure since 2000, and this special creative project for our community continues in collaboration with DanceWorks Chicago.

Listen here:

Other topics discussed:

Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble

Dance For Life

New Dances Choreography Project

Broadway Theater Project

Thodos Dance Chicago Vimeo page with interviews and dance excerpts

The Devil in the White City

Carpe Diem String Quartet

Chris Olsen

SHINE: Making A Light in the Dark

Podcast Episode 4: Jeraldine Mendoza & Dylan Gutierrez

On episode 4 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast, we welcome Joffrey Ballet Company Artists Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez. It’s also the Valentine’s episode, and this real-life couple is THE cutest!

Jeraldine Mendoza joined The Joffrey Ballet in 2011. She was born in San Francisco, CA, and trained at City Ballet School of San Francisco since the age of five. At 17, she was invited to graduate in the Russian course at the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow. She later won 1st place at the YAGP San Francisco Regional Semi-Finals in 2011. In 202, she won the young artists’ scholarship from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund and later graced the cover of Dance Magazine in May 2015, the magazine’s first international issue. You can follow her on Instagram @jeraldm

Dylan Gutierrez joined the Joffrey in 2009. He grew up in Van Nuys, CA, and received his training at the Los Angeles Ballet Academy under the direction of his mother Andrea-Paris Gutierrez. In 2006, he was awarded a full scholarship to train the The Royal Ballet School in London and later was offered a job as an apprentice with the San Francisco Ballet. You can follow him on Instagram @dylanrgutierrez

You can read their full bios and learn more about the roles they’ve danced by visiting joffrey.org. All photos by Cheryl Mann.

Links to topics discussed:

Jeraldine wins the Annenberg Grant

Jeraldine and Dylan dance together in Gerald Arpino’s Sea Shadow

WTTW’s Emmy-Award winning Nutcracker documentary (with a cameo by Kahlua)

Action Lines: Interim Avoidance showings will take place Feb. 1 – April 30 at 150 N. Riverside Plaza, Monday – Friday: 8:00 – 9:30 AM, and 4:30 – 8:00 PM, and Saturdays: 1:00-7:00 PM. All attendees are required to wear a face covering.

It Was All A Dream video

Interview on the making of It Was All A Dream

Black Star Project

Excerpt from Joffrey’s 60th anniversary book.

Restaurants mentioned:


The Bristol

Pacific Standard Time (now closed)


Mirai Sushi


Cafe Tola



Podcast Episode 3: Ahmad Simmons

Ahmad Simmons. Photo by AMBE J Photography.

My guest for Episode 3 of the podcast is Ahmad Simmons. Ahmad is a dancer, choreographer, educator, and creative producer based in New York City. He was last seen on Broadway as Diesel in Ivo Van Hove’s groundbreaking revival of West Side Story. Previous credits include the Original Broadway Cast of Hadestown, and most recent revival casts of Carousel and Cats. Regional theater includes A Chorus Line at New York City Center and a dozen shows with the Pittsburgh CLO. Ahmad co-starred alongside Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams as Ben Vereen in the Emmy nominated FX mini-series Fosse/Verdon. Other TV appearances include ABC’s remake of Dirty Dancing. Prior to his career on Broadway, Ahmad toured internationally and all across the United States as a dancer with Parsons Dance Company, River North Dance Chicago, and Eisenhower Dance Detroit. He is a graduate of Point Park University.

Listen to our conversation here.

Additional links to topics discussed:

Pittsburgh CLO: CLOse Ups! interview

Beat by Ashley Roland danced at River North Dance Chicago (excerpt)

Ahmad Simmons Takes Center Stage

Broadway Sandwich interview

Fosters Theatrical Artist Residency

Black Broadway Men

Podcast Episode 2: Nan Giordano

Nan Giordano. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

On the second episode of the Rogue Ballerina podcast, we chat with artistic director of Giordano Dance Chicago, Nan Giordano. Nan trained with her father, jazz dance legend Gus Giordano, dance with the company, became the associate director in 1985 and artistic director in 1993.

She developed the Nan Giordano Certification Program (R), continuing to teach the essence and discipline of the Giordano Technique and teaches master classes to student around the world.

Honors include: the Manford Byrd Jr. Wizard of Oz Award for Outstanding Service from Howland School for the Arts, the Grace Wakefield Lifetime Achievement Award by Star Dance Alliance, she serves on the International Ballet Competition, National Honorary Committee and the Advisory Board for Dance Magazine.

She is positive, delightful, and beloved by her dancers, students, and the Chicago dance community. Listen to our conversation here!

Links to topics discussed:

Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance

Follow me on social @rogueballerina

Endings & Beginnings

The shitastic year of 2020 is finally coming to an end, and while I have no idea what the new year will bring, I have to believe it will be more positive and hopeful.

Happy New Year from two reindeer.

Here are a few things that happened in 2020, in no particular order.

  • I voted.
  • I lost weight.
  • I gained weight.
  • I watched a ton of Beat Bobby Flay.
  • I worked from home.
  • I adopted a puppy.
  • I lost my job. (Well, I know where it is, I just don’t have it anymore.)
  • I baked bread.
  • We lost RBG.
  • We lost John Lewis.
  • We lost Ann Reinking.
  • I lost my Aunt Pauline.
  • I went to Saugatuck.
  • I turned 52. Woo?
  • I ordered a LOT of Instacart.
  • I attempted to cook various Asian foods to varying degrees of success.
  • I perfected “my” chili recipe.
  • My new uniform is a turtleneck and pajama pants.
  • Slippers are still my favorite footwear.
  • I watched 6 versions of The Nutcracker. None live.
  • Biden/Harris fucking won the election!
  • I started a podcast. (New episodes coming soon!)

Cheers to a new year and whatever it may bring! Be kind to yourself and others. See you – hopefully – on the flipside. Peace.

Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice – the first day of winter! It also happens to be my Mom’s birthday. My brother and I think it’s hilarious that she was born on the shortest day of the year, since she’s only 4’11” tall. Happy birthday Mom!

My big brother is a musician/composer and he releases an ambient, contemporary classic EP under the label Pangaea Projekt each winter, aptly name Winter. His newest album releases today! Winter VI includes four, short pieces inspired by the season. All six albums are available wherever you buy your music. I get mine here.

My bro – Michael to the world, but Mike to me – LOVES winter. He lived in Florida for a couple of decades and started writing this music because he missed the snow. And, there is a song on the first EP (Upon a Winter Solstice) that was written for my Mom’s 70th birthday. Most of the cover art are photos taken near, or in one case in the back yard, of where he lives now in Vermont. He gets lots of snow. Here is the track Arctic Snow from the new release.

Artic Night from Winter VI

Personally, I like to listen to the Winter series when I read or just need to chill. I used to play them on my headphones at work on particularly stressful days during a performance run. Block everything out and meet your deadline (ie. don’t kill anyone!). These are great for yoga, stretching, cool down, and meditation. So all you dancers teaching yoga out there…haz at it.

For more information on Pangaea Projekt and other projects Mike has done, go to michaelcrain.com. Shameless plus: Dear choreographers, he’s also available for commissions! 🙂

Podcast Episode 1: Christopher Wheeldon

I’m so excited to finally share the first episode of the Rogue Ballerina podcast! I chatted with the ever-charming Christopher Wheeldon about two of his “reimagined” ballets, his upcoming project on Broadway, and what has kept him busy and sane during the pandemic.

You can access the first episode on Apple Podcasts (which includes Overcast, Castro, Castbox, Pocketcasts, and Podfriend apps), Spotify, and PodcastAddict. It will be available soon on other platforms. Stay tuned for updates. Or, you can listen to it right here!

Choreographer/Director Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Angela Sterling.

Welcome to the Rogue Ballerina podcast. My first guest is Christopher Wheeldon. If you haven’t heard of him, then you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of decades. He studied and danced at The Royal Ballet, he was a soloist and the first resident choreographer at the New York City Ballet, he was on the cover of Dance Magazine, he founded his own company Morpheses, he choreographed the closing ceremony for the Olympics, and he has has created numerous ballets for companies and operas around the world.

His many awards include an O.B.E. designation from Queen Elizabeth II and a Tony Award for Best Choreography for An American In Paris. If I were to list all of his accolades, we would be here all day, so to learn more go to his website at christopherwheeldon.com. Aside from his many professional accomplishments, he is one of the nicest and most down-to-earth people I know. You can listen to our conversation here.

The Joffrey Ballet’s YouTube page offers many behind-the-scenes videos for Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. You can read the program from the 2016 world premiere here, and you can view the Emmy Award-winning documentary The Making of a New American Nutcracker at wttw.com/nutcracker. The Art on the Mart exhibition mentioned in the podcast was also featured in the Chicago Tribune.

HUGE thanks to Christopher Wheeldon for being such a gracious guinea pig and my brother – Michael Crain – for writing my theme music and sound editing. You can learn more about Ross Rayburn’s yoga classes at Peleton and follow him on Instagtram @rossrayburnyoga.

Don’t forget to subscribe and rate the podcast on your favorite platform, and follow me on social @rogueballerina.

Dinner & a Show: Cooking with Rogue

Since we likely won’t be going to the theater to see a performance anytime soon, I’ve decided to start having a recurring “dinner and a show” segment to satiate my appetites for dance and food where I’ll cook a meal and pair it with a dance video – likely heavy on the ballet – for a relaxing evening of culinary culture. I will share recipes, information on the dance content, and some fun tips along the way: Cooking with Rogue!

I enjoy the process of cooking more than eating the finished product (usually). It’s similar to writing for me. You’re still using your brain and hands, but there are step-by-step instructions as a guideline in a recipe as opposed to creating the content from scratch. As much as I like having rules, I love breaking them! I like to play around with things when I cook to varying degrees of success. But since it’s usually only me, who cares.

I’ve been OBSESSED with Asian food and flavors for a while. I have two cabinet shelves dedicated to Asian sauces, spices, and ingredients. My favorite place to shop is Hong Kong Market (Park & Shop!) in Uptown. I tend to spend an hour at a time looking through the store because I find it fascinating and I don’t know what the hell I’m looking for most of the time (pictures help). Often I have a post-it with an ingredient list and just show someone who works there – again – with varying degrees of success. So expect a ton of Asian dishes. Leave it to me to come up with a good dance and wine pairing*.

Dan Dan Noodles with Chardonnay.

For this inaugural “Dinner & a Show” we have the Sichuan classic Dan Dan Noodles paired with Alexander Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The thought behind this is the noodles are really spicy and spicy food gives you nightmares – Act 2 of Midsummer is basically a crazy nightmare, and viola. Pair with Chardonnay…always. *This will be a running joke because I pair everything with Chardonnay.

I used this recipe from The Woks of Life. It uses a LOT of ingredients, is VERY labor intensive, and took me WAY longer than the recipe says to finish. First you make the chili oil (it makes more than needed so you have some leftover for everything else you put it on…like everything). Then comes the meat mixture, the sauce, and finally the noodles and veg.

Chili oil. This Sh*t is HOT!

The HOT sauce and yummy bok choy.

I left out the star anise from the chili oil. I don’t like the taste of black licorice and there is already some in the Chinese 5 spice blend. I substituted ground turkey for the pork, because it’s leaner and that’s what I had in my fridge leftover from the Labor Day turkey burger fiasco (blergh). It has this strange, but delicious fermented vegetable stuff called sui mi ya cai (this was the pointing at a post-it moment). I chose bok choy as my leafy green and scallions – always! – for the garnish. Otherwise, I stuck close to the recipe. It calls for 1/2 cup of the chili oil in the sauce which also has more peppercorns. This is a “spicy, numbing” dish, so it be hot! It doesn’t seem so at first, then you start to feel it….and sweat…and your lips burn…and you need water…and holy crap! But it tastes so good, you keep going back for another bite. I like that 🙂

REM cycle.

Now for the show portion of this culinary coupling: Ekman’s Midsummer. My first viewing was the BelAir Classiques dvd of the Royal Swedish Ballet, the company for which it was created. The marketing team at Joffrey watched it to prep for the 2017-2018 season and, honestly, I thought…WTF is that? It’s definitely not something “our” ballet dancers are used to performing. What will our audience think? It was a big risk – and it totally paid off. Everyone who saw it LOVED it! This peek into the mad genius mind of Ekman was an all-evening event, not just a show. Team Sweden: Marie-Louise Sid-Sylwander, Preston McBrain, and Joakim Stephenson made the process a joy. I love these people.

Or, you can also splurge like I did and purchase a subscription to Marquee TV (Thanks IDES!) and watch Midsummer and other Ekman works there. Bon Appetit and sweet dreams!