Bahiyah Hibah: Switching Genres, Staying Positive

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Tackling one genre of dance is tough enough, but Bahiyah Hibah has made her mark in two arenas: A charismatic member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1998 to 2004, she was known for her sensual, dramatic movement in the concert realm. Now, she's a staple on the Broadway stage, having performed in several shows including Memphis and Rock of Ages. Most recently, she's been tangoing up a storm in the revival of Evita, choreographed by Rob Ashford. Though concert dance and musical theater require different skills, Hibah says her ability to shift between the two was bolstered by serious training, a steady routine, and an internal faith.

GOOD TIMING The Brooklyn native moved to Baltimore as a young child and began ballet lessons at age 4. She also enrolled in an after-school program for youngsters at the Baltimore School for the Arts, and once she was accepted into the high school, her interest in dance soared. While ballet was her first love, being exposed to jazz and modern broadened her possibilities. She attended Juilliard, then danced with Ballett Frankfurt for two years before joining AAADT.

Toward the end of her career there, a fortuitous connection with Donald Byrd, then choreographing The Color Purple, helped her transition into musical theater. Broadway's schedule was more amenable to raising a child, and the new mother was grateful for the logistical benefits. "The seamless transition I made was a blessing," she says in her mellow but commanding voice. "Coming home after a Broadway show versus touring endlessly makes much more sense with a child."

Despite the change of environment, Hibah's routine and maintenance program has remained the same. "I'm a classically trained dancer, so I have to warm up regardless of the setting," she says. "I insist on keeping the instrument tuned and healthy."

A TYPICAL DAY The former vegetarian begins her day with a breakfast of fruit and a source of protein, like eggs. Before heading to the studio or theater for rehearsal, she enjoys either a yoga or ballet class. If she takes the former, she prefers Vinyasa classes. "It's more therapeutic and gently awakens each muscle," she explains. If she opts for ballet, she seeks out teachers who offer a thorough warm-up. "I'm not trying to look cute or worry about tricks in class," she laughs. "I just want my body to be warm and honed in on technique. I'm checking in to see if everything is still operating. Onstage, you might be doing things that aren't necessarily technically healthy, so you need to take time in class to recalibrate your body."

Stretching throughout the day helps Hibah to counteract imbalances that crop up in rehearsal. "In rehearsal or in a show, you often repeat certain movements, and sometimes to just one side, so you overwork certain muscles," she says. "I take care to stretch out those muscles I've been overworking. …