A child of an organist and guitarist from Plainville, Kansas, Graves rebelled against piano lessons at an early age, choosing instead to choreograph dance productions on abandoned stages for the neighborhood children. Her formal dance training began at age eight, when the family migrated to Orlando, Florida, where Graves studied contemporary ballet, jazz, and modern dance under the direction of Gaymarie Tomlinson and later, Orlando Ballet. At the age of seventeen, she was selected by Mia Michaels to tour across the U.S. on full scholarship with LA Underground.
After pursuing an English degree at Boston College, Graves discovered her passion for teaching and began teaching ages 2-adult in ballet, jazz and contemporary genres at Harvard University (2004-2006), Boston College (2004-2010), Regis College (2012) and Boston Ballet (2002-2012). During this time, she performed as a modern dancer for Karen Murphy-Fitch’s Falling Flight Project and as a street performer for Theatre Mama and Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza. She studied choreography at Jacob’s Pillow (summer 2006).
Graves founded Urbanity Dance in June 2008 out of a personal desire to create. The last four years have been a roller coaster of growth for Urbanity; the company was voted “Best of Boston” and is now considered the second most established company in Boston (after Boston Ballet). Urbanity hosts eight paid dancers, fifty professional creative artists, two-hundred students and reaches four-hundred kids everyday in the Boston community, many of which would not otherwise have access to dance.
As a choreographer, Graves has won national choreography awards and serves a judge for competitions throughout New England. Her choreography is regularly commissioned by companies and studios across the United States, and has been considered “soulful and inspiring,” “unique and full of energy,” and “gutsy and culturally poignant.” Her work has garnered grant support from Massachusetts Cultural Council, the City of Boston and Boston Dance Alliance. In November, 2010, Graves received a grant to choreograph a 90-minute contemporary dance production “The Story of Stuff” for which she ventured to Guatemala to choreograph through an independent residency. Theater credits include Contemporary Theatre of Boston’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (June, 2010), Missa Luba, an African Opera, for UMASS (December, 2011), an original musical, Six Pair of Hands, for Regis College, Lady Gaga: The Musical (August, 2013) for American Repertory Theater’s Artist in Residence, Touch Performance Art and Boston Ballet’s Choreography Workshop (January, 2010).
Graves’ work has been showcased on stages across the U.S., including Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out, Sam Houston University, and annually at Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theatre in New York City. Graves’ work will grace Urbanity’s 2014-2015 season with innovative premieres at the ICA Boston, produced by World Music/Crash ARTS and a collaboration with A Far Cry orchestra at Jordan Hall.
Graves currently teaches at Urbanity Dance and leads master classes around the United States.
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“The first half of the program, “Dancing With Bach,” invited direct comparison with Paul Taylor and Mark Morris as well as Balanchine. The choreography of Urbanity Dance founder Betsi Graves delivered, as did the performance of her dancers.” - Jeffrey Gantz, Boston Globe (January, 2014)
Graves is a choreographer in full command of her space. Does it look easy? It’s not.” -French Clements of Dance Magazine
“Betsi Graves is a little bit of Natalie Portman from Black Swan, a little bit of Milla Kunis from Black Swan and probably a whole lot of sick of getting that comparison. Attention Hollywood: we’re gonna need a few more psycho-sexual ballet-themed thrillers. Get on that, wouldja?” -J. Pat, The Weekly Dig
“Graves’ choreography in A Midsummer Night’s Dream was ASTONISHING. (I really liked it.)” -Larry Stark, The Theater Mirror
“Graves’ work is highly emotional, startling, and expressive. I was about to burst into tears any number of times watching the dancers and absorbing their lovely lines of choreography. The show moved me in my belly, like listening to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Something primeval was touched, and every time a dancer left the stage I was aware of the leavetaking.” -Tom Kaplan-Maxfield, Independent Arts Critic
“Urbanity Dance looks stronger than it has any right to, with more fans (the performance I saw nearly sold out) and more artistic ambition that companies twice (or gosh, even three times!) its tender age.” Thomas Garvey, The Hub Review
“The crowd favorite of the night was definitely "Funkytown," choreographed by Betsi Graves. This was the most creative and gutsy act of the night, and the dancers created unique moves such as a “giant worm.” - Jaclyn Rada, The Heights
“You can detect the whimsy of Dutch choreographer Jirí Kylián in Graves’s work, but she gives subtle life to Bach’s canonic writing, and her theme of women’s unity and connection with the musicians climaxed in the final group hug.” - Jeffrey Gantz, Boston Globe
Bostinno Feature August 2014
NYFA.org Feature December 2014
Boston Globe January 2014
Boston Globe August 2013
Improper Bostonian Feature Spring 2012
Boston Herald November 2011