For teenagers, the Covid lockdown disrupted many rites of passage: no touring of college campuses, no prom, no graduation ceremonies. For Madison Brown, it meant no time in a ballet studio.
“The pandemic was kind of the first time I had to go through life without dancing,” she says. “I was doing it, but it was different. Very different.”
It’s not an exaggeration. Brown — who has been dancing since she was two — has no memory of a life without it. When she was young, her family moved around the Southeast coast, before eventually settling in Florida when she was five. Dance was the only thing that remained the same. “I never had a consistent friend or the same people in my life. But my mom always made sure I had a place to dance,” she explains. “Dance was my best friend when I was little. It’s funny, but that’s kind of what it was until we settled in a place, and I made real friends.”
Pursuing her passion has served Brown well. Over the past decade she’s won several dance competitions. At age 11, the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) took notice and chose her as one of their national training scholars. Brown gained national attention in 2018, at 13, when she appeared on World of Dance, an NBC reality competition show, judged by Jennifer Lopez, Ne-Yo, and Derek Hough. She was poised for a breakout.
All that was put on hold in 2020. Brown made do in lockdown, like most people, via her computer. She was lucky enough to have the space to dance in her parents’ home — her father even made her a ballet barre out of a pipe from Home Depot. But, while she could go through the motions, a crucial aspect was missing.
“I feel like for a lot of people, the most rewarding part — and most people’s most enjoyable thing — about dancing is getting to perform, and that rush of being in the theater. Doing something live and being with other people and feeding off their energy,” she says. “It made dance a little bit dull when we were just sitting in front of our computer every day. But I knew that at some point it was going to stop, and that we were going to get back into it and I needed to be faithful and stay true to the art form.”
As soon as the world reopened, she picked up right where she left off. At 18, she’s now in her second year with ABT Studio Company, whose prestigious alumni include Isabella Boylston, Calvin Royal III, and Misty Copeland (who is something of a role model for Brown). It’s also her second year living in New York. “I think moving into a dorm was definitely a big adjustment for me, but in a good way,” Brown observes of her move. “But overall, I have always loved the city. Now when I go back home to Florida, everything feels like it’s moving really slow.”
In February, she danced at the Prix de Lausanne in an award-winning piece choreographed by fellow ABT dancer Aleisha Walker. And since March, Brown has been on the Studio Company’s Spring Moves tour, which ends in New York City at the end of this month (the Company will also make an appearance upstate at the Kaatsbaan Spring Festival in June).
Spring Moves features a mix of original commissions and classics. Among them are Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto pas de deux, an excerpt from Raymonda, and Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux — one of Brown’s favorites. “It’s just so beautiful. And even though it’s hard, it just gives you such a rush when you finish, because both you and your partner have given 150%,” she says, explaining that the choreography features a longer coda, making it a feat of endurance for dancers. “You really have to push. It’s helped me discover some part of me that I didn’t know I could find.”
To still be able to surprise herself, after more than a decade dedicated to her craft, proves dance isn’t just Brown’s passion — it’s her calling.
The ABT Studio Company tour ends in New York on May 19 and 20 at NYU Skirball. Tickets are available online. Brown will also dance with the Studio Company at the Kaatsbaan Spring Festival in Tivoli, New York, on June 3 and 4. Tickets are available here.