On Point

November 17th, 2014

On Point

To say fashion draws inspiration from dance is an understatement. Movies may excite, music can captivate, but the power of dance is almost visceral. Photographers, designers and editors have long looked to the work of Legnani or Nureyev when in search of inspiration and today’s stars from Benjamin Millepied to Misty Copeland wield influence from the pages of Vogue to the runways of Paris.

Though they seem dissimilar on the surface the worlds of dance and modeling are often intertwined. Both disciplines require an understanding of movement, grace and the power of the body to transcend its limitations. Many of the greatest models began their careers in dance and their formative experiences have influenced their entire careers – would Naomi Campbell or Karlie Kloss be as dynamic on the runway without their ballet training?

Photographers Alex & Iggy capture two rising stars whose careers encapsulate the union of fashion and dance for this special Models.com editorial. Classically trained catwalkers Gillian Deery and James Lasky represent the best of both worlds – skilled dancers who have translated their talents into careers in front of the camera. Their exquisite poses showcase the beauty of dance in all its serene power.

Photographers : ALEX & IGGY
Stylist: Ise White
Hair: Pamela Baumgartner
Makeup: Legend Rivera / Artists @ Wilhelmina

Studio: Artists Studio NYC

Janelle Okwodu / Fashion Editor
Kegan Webb / Producer

MODELS
Gillian Deery / Marilyn Agency NY
James Lasky / Click NY

Gillian interview by Janelle Okwodu
James interview by Jonathan Shia

When did you begin studying ballet?

GILLIAN: When I was 3 years old I took my first ballet class. It was only an hour long once a week, half ballet half tap. Believe it or not, I really did not like dancing in the beginning, but eventually, somewhere along the line, I came to love it.

Tell us a bit about your path of study – styles of dance you’ve studied, how much practice and training goes into it, etc.

GILLIAN: I switched to my current studio when I was around 5 years old and at age 10 started training seriously there. The teachers there made me realize that dance is beautiful but is not without hard work, dedication and lots of pain. Countless hours have been spent in the studio and my teachers have practically helped raise me. I’ve been exposed to many types of dance over the years and I’ve always loved ballet the most. Dedication and precision every day in the studio are required to make each move flawless and enjoyable, and sometimes the emotional delivery can be harder than the physical aspect. The way I was taught, you can have the perfect body, extension, turns, jumps, technique, etc but if it’s not coming from your heart then there is no purpose. I’ve spent nearly everyday after school and every weekend in the studio preparing for competition and shows and to just improve in general. Over the summer I’ve attended intensives to broaden my horizons in the dance world, where I get to learn different styles from new teachers and take home their corrections. This is actually how I got scouted for modeling. Dance definitely is time consuming, but the result is always worth the hard work put in.

Which dancers influence or inspire you?

GILLIAN: Svetlana Zakharova is absolutely amazing and I love Natalia Osipova as well, but mostly Andrey Shakhin and Yuliya Akopyan, my dance teachers. They have taught me since I was little that nothing comes of laziness and that any obstacle can be overcome if you want it bad enough. They really pushed me when I was unsure of myself as a dancer and helped me see that not everything has to be perfect as long as you give it 110% in every class. “Can’t” is an unacceptable word in our studio. Their crazy stories of their times as principals in the Bolshoi Ballet inspire me every day to make them proud.

What is your favorite ballet either to perform or watch

GILLIAN: I love watching Don Quixote so much and it’s just as fun to dance. There are so many fiery characters and the music, storyline, and choreography are captivating. I’ve danced many variations from all different ballets, and my favorite has to be one of the shade variations from La Bayadere. It is very soft and elegant with a lot of extension (which is perfect for my long legs).

How do you feel dance impacts your career as a model

GILLIAN: I think it really helps a lot because I feel comfortable in front of new people. In the dance world you meet new people all the time and they are almost always judging you, similar to the model world. You learn to take criticism and turn it into a lesson that will help you improve and do better next time, whether it is an audition or a casting. I also know my body and how to move fluidly, which actually helps so much on set to get the best pictures possible without being pose-y. Dance is a strict discipline that requires maturity so, even though I am only 16, I am able to act professional and carry myself well around other professionals.

What do you feel when you’re dancing?

GILLIAN: I honestly have the time of my life, whether I perform well or not I know that I gave it everything I had and delivered all I could physically and emotionally. It’s such an awesome feeling to finally be able to show others what you’ve been working so hard for in the studio all those hours, but I’ll admit I do get nervous. Endless rehearsals and privates to perfect your dance or variation, yet anything can happen on stage. I’ve had every unplanned disaster happen to me in my dance career, from falling to costume malfunctions to forgetting what comes next in your number. You learn to get over it and laugh about it (after you recover from the embarrassment) and just enjoy your time on stage no matter what happens.

How did you get started in ballet?

JAMES: When I was a kid, my mom was an Afro-Brazilian dance teacher, and she used to take us to see lots of dance of all different styles. I saw ballroom and Latin and was just floored by it, so I nagged her until she let me start studying those. I did that until I was thirteen and then I saw some modern dance and really fell in love, so she put me in ballet class because she said that ballet technique helps you with modern or anything else, and she was right. I immediately fell in love with ballet. Everyone’s always looking for guys, so I was taking a beginner class at this little studio near my house and the teacher there also happened to teach at a conservatory not too far away, so she recruited me and offered me a scholarship and then that became all I did for the next six years.

Were you considering pursuing dance professionally?

JAMES: I started a little late—I was fourteen when I started it full time—so I had a lot of catching up to do. For years, through high school, it was something that I would’ve loved to do professionally, but it seemed kind of out of reach. Then I took a couple years off after high school and filled out and kept at it full time and got to a place where it would be an option. When you’re dancing that much and when you’re that committed to ballet, there’s nothing else that’s worth doing. I had gotten into Columbia and deferred admission, so that was always there as a fallback, but I couldn’t imagine what I would do with a degree, what I would study, if I wasn’t dancing all the time. When you’re young, so many ballet studios, mine included, sell kids on the idea that if you don’t have your contract at eighteen then you’re done, that’s it, which, after going around the country and auditioning, I really saw is not true, especially for guys. Nowadays a lot of dancers have gone to college and a lot of dancers are getting contracts in their mid-twenties, so it seemed more doable to be able to go to school and then dance if I wanted to. Then once I was in school, other things started to catch my eye more. I was shown that I could enjoy doing other things and be fulfilled by doing other things. It’s a huge gift. I know a lot of dancers who don’t get to that place until it’s forced upon them, until they’re injured or until they’re laid off or can’t find work.

How did you get started in modeling?

JAMES: I started modeling a little over a year ago. I used to do little stuff when I was dancing, and I had friends who modeled who were pretty successful, and they got to travel and they were paying off their student loans. I knew I wanted to take time off after school, so I figured it was as good a thing to try with my time off as any, and if I could travel and pay some bills, that sounded great. I’d been approached a few times over my three or four years in New York, and it was always in the back of my mind, so I ended up just going for it and reaching out to a few agencies that friends pointed me towards and getting started.

How do you think your dance background has affected how you work as a model?

JAMES: In some ways, it makes it more difficult, because with ballet, it’s all about what you put into it. There’s a lot more control, so the harder you work and the more time you spend in class and the more you immerse yourself in that world, the more you get out of it and the more successful you’ll be That’s not the case in modeling. With modeling, you really put your fate in everyone else’s hands, in your bookers, in your agency, in photographers, in casting directors. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you’re obsessing over how things are going and what you can do differently. But it’s also helped in a way, as far as with photo shoots, because there’s a very particular spatial awareness and awareness of your body that dancing gives you. Ballet technique is all about presenting yourself in the most graceful, effortless way based on the audience on one side of the theater, so it’s helpful because you can play to the perspective of the photographer with a certain awareness. It’s also about the discipline. When I signed, I was forty pounds heavier, I was lifting a ton, I was much more muscular, and then I had to change things, change my diet, change the way that I exercise, just to be able to do anything besides underwear shoots, which is where I was sort of stuck in the first few months. It certainly took me a while to get the legs down to a normal human size.

Do you still feel like you’re a part of the dance scene in New York?

JAMES: Not as much as I would like, and I’m just starting to miss it more and more. When I was in Milan for fashion week, I got to see Teatro alla Scala, which was always a dream of mine. It’s an incredible ballet company and an incredible opera house, and that made me miss it a ton. Every once in a while I’ll do shoots, like this shoot, and as rusty as I feel—maybe I haven’t popped into a split in six months, so I definitely end up super sore and there’s kinks to work out—at the end of a day like that, I miss it, and I get so much more motivated to get back into it after partnering a girl, or after feeling that soreness in my feet or in my hips. It brings me back, it makes me want to do it again. As far as my day to day, we’ll see. Now I have bills to pay and I’m studying for the MCAT’s, so I still feel like an acrobat balancing all these plates.

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