How did you start dancing?
I was three years old. My mom put me in dance because I was this energetic kid running around the house. At three years old, you’re not really old enough to do a lot of activities, so it was between martial arts or dance. She always wanted to take dance, but she never did as a kid. So she actually enrolled me and herself in dance at the same time. She’s likes to say, “I’ve been dancing just as long as you have. How come I am not as good as you are?” I say, “Mom, it’s all about the hours. You gotta put the hours in [laughs].”
Dance was really just an activity. I wasn’t groomed to be a dancer by any means. I did all the other stuff normal kids do like sports. As I got older, I started to take more and more class. I just enjoyed it. Every year my parents would come to me saying, “If you want to quit, you just let us know.” I didn’t want to quit. At one point someone told me that I could possibly do this as a career, and I didn’t know what they meant by that. But it unfolded this idea of dancing for living.
What inspired you to act upon that?
I was sort of curious about how you pursue this as a career. I had some older dancers that had gone through the same dance studio who were majoring in dance in college. I saw where they were headed and what they were doing. Dance majors are mostly doing modern and ballet, and I was not so interested in doing that. This was probably when I was a freshman in high school and started to explore more. I was a tap dancer with jazz and a little bit of hip-hop. Then someone introduced me to theatre and the idea of dancing within musical theatre. That’s when I was introduced to acting and singing as well, so I started doing musicals. That seemed to be a little more of what I was looking for, so that I could dance without so much of ballet and modern. It’s funny because now my idea of it is flipped—I really do respect it. And I wish I was better at ballet and modern, but at the time I had no interest in doing that. I wanted to be a tap dancer. Obviously there’s some tap dance in Broadway and theatre style dance so that’s when I started shifting my focus.
Where did you go to school, and where are you from?
I went to New York University majoring in theatre with a focus in musical theatre. I am originally from Michigan. Munger, MI is the town. It’s a very small—it kind of is exactly how it sounds. Munger, MI. Not a lot going on in the arts, very flat land, a lot of farms. In fact, much of my extended family work in the farm business. My dad grew up farming.
How did you parents react to your decision to become a performer?
My parents are such champions. I often times reflect upon this journey, and I think of them often. They had no idea what a career in theatre or in dance looked like because they had no experience themselves. But they trusted me. I think they trusted me from a very early age and thought that I was focused enough and smart enough to craft my own path. Even though they had no idea exactly what that looked like (and neither did I), their support really allowed it to happen because whenever I made a choice, they just supported me. They asked questions to keep me safe but never discouraged me. Ever. I am very thankful for that. I don’t know if it would’ve turned out the way it has if it was any other way.
How long have you been in the city now?
Including my time in college, it’s been just over 7 years. I like living in the city...for the most part [laughs]. Really the majority I love. There are times when it’s difficult. I think anybody would say that. Especially having grown up in an area of vast space and not as many people, sometimes it can get a little congested. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find little pockets out of town that I can visit. Just this past weekend, I was able to get out of town to Arlington, Vermont. And if you know a person who lives outside of the city it's nice to get out--that has helped me immensely in weathering the city for the long term. For the most part though, I love it. It’s inspiring to walk around. Even just in the couple minutes we’ve been standing here, the amount of foot traffic that seems to go by. The artistic current—it’s exciting.
What happened when you graduated?
I had the fortune of booking a relatively big gig right out of college. I did Annie on Broadway. That was in 2012, which was really unfathomable at the time. I really didn’t see my trajectory going in that way, but I was very excited. I got to work with one of my idols, Andy Blankenbuehler. I’ve continued to work with him since then. It’s pretty unimaginable when you’re in school, you’re learning about all these theatre legends and these people who you admire. And you think maybe someday I’ll get to work with them. And then for it to happen the year after I graduated college, it was really amazing. I didn’t take it for granted whatsoever. Andy is a major talent and certainly somebody I look up to. I did the entire run of Annie. It was a really great experience with great people. I am really fortunate for that opportunity.
After Annie closed, I basically had a whole year of not working. It was hard. It was one of those years where I had a lot of things that were looking like they were going to happen and didn’t happen for whatever reason. I think that any actor, dancer, performer, goes through those moments. Sometimes they’re short and sometimes they’re extended. This one was about a year. I had gotten the offer for some gigs, and for some reason, they didn’t work out. Those kind of things were happening. But I was also just pounding the pavement.
What was really beautiful about that time was that I got to teach a lot. I was teaching a lot and traveling a lot to teach. It gave me this perspective and allowed me to go backward to go forward. I had spent a lot of time when I was growing up teaching. I really do think that it’s practically shaped me into the type of performer that I am. The opportunity to be able to do that again sort of launched me forward really quickly. So this year has been very exciting. But last year, I was frustrated at times, but I had so many experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I was in another long term gig. I wouldn’t change a thing about that year. I didn’t make money, and it was scary at the very end, but everything happens for a reason, and I really believe that. I think I am better for it. I got to choreograph a little more. I actually got to choreograph in BC Beat, and it opened up new doors for me and it was something that I didn’t know I could do.
What are you up to now?
Right now, I am in Something Rotten! on Broadway. It’s a really fun show to do. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s silly. It’s a silly group of people, and it’s a silly show. I get to do a lot of different things in the show. I am wearing all these beautiful renaissance costumes in one moment, and the next moment I am wearing like leather pants and am one of Shakespeare’s backup guys. In another moment I am wearing a bowl-cut wig, and I look like an idiot, but it’s great. We have a lot of fun there, and the show is great. I am also the understudy for the role of Shakespeare, which is something I had never done before. I got to perform the role four times thus far. I’ve spent a lot of time in my training constructing this performer that was very elegant, song-and-dance man type. Now all of a sudden I am being asked to be this balls-to-the-wall rockstar. It’s something I really didn’t know I could do. After some time I was able to find it. It’s really fun. It’s definitely a part of who I am now. I also have other choreography projects that I'd like to get my hands on. I like to keep busy. I really don’t enjoy doing only one thing at one time. I like to have a couple different things going at once whether big or small.
What are your aspirations?
I feel like as artists, you’re constantly asking that question. And it’s constantly changing. Certain experiences influence you and you find yourself going on a new path. A year ago, a year when I was in flux, I was thinking, I’m not going to perform anymore. I am just going to go the choreography route full tilt. Then all of sudden, I was asked to perform again. Then I was invigorated. “People want me to perform; I’ll perform.” It’s a lot of feedback of what this business is looking for you to do and what makes you feel good. Right now I am in this ebb and flow. Whatever way the wind wants to take me I’ll probably go that way and try it. But certainly there’s a fire to create. I really love the rehearsal process. I think of any theatrical piece as a puzzle. Once I think I figured out the puzzle, I am like, “Next puzzle.” I’d love to choreograph, and use dance tell a story.
I saw that you were in Hail, Caesar! What was that experience like?
Oh man. Amazing, really. I am in this movie with Channing Tatum. It’s unbelievable. First of all, I just have to say that he’s the real deal. The dude has swag. That’s how he rolls. Everything he does—like the way he moves—is really fun to watch. Also, he works really hard. Essentially the whole number is filled with these guys from New York—all these New York dancers who were brought out to LA to do this film. A lot of it is because the choreographer, Christopher Gattelli, really wanted a certain feeling from these dancers, and I think that he thought that New York theatre dancers were best equipped to bring that. Plus, he knew all of us.
So we went out there, rehearsed, and filmed for about a month. We were in the room with Channing, and the Coen Brothers, who directed and wrote the film. Really unbelievable. I am kind of a movie buff with these 1940s and ‘50s films with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. The movie takes place in the 1950s. There’s a moment in the scene we’re dancing in—the camera goes wide, and you see the movie set as they’re creating it. So when we’re looking around, we’re looking at all these crew guys dressed in period clothing. It felt like you were transported to the 1950s on a movie set. It was unbelievable. There’s no other way you can create that but on a feature film set. I was in my element and geeking out. I felt like I was Gene Kelly or at least one of the dancers who was with Gene Kelly. It was really astounding. After we filmed the footage, I did a lot of the post with sound. We recorded the song, and I recorded a lot of the taps. In fact, I recorded Channing’s taps. When you hear Channing’s feet, they’re actually my feet, which is pretty cool. It was an amazing experience. Something that I never ever thought that I would do. I can’t say enough about it. Unbelievable, really.
What would be your number one advice?
It’s always tough because I try not to be too cliche about these kinds of answers. You could probably say a lot of things that would be good. I would just say be curious. Dare to be an expert in your field, which is something one of my teachers once told me. That can mean different things each person, but thinking about what questions are going to make you, as an individual, and your work more interesting and asking yourself questions all the time. Asking questions of your surroundings and your environment. Why the things are the way they are. You can explore all of that though your art form.
Be curious and dare to be an expert. Whether that means consuming the work of people who’ve done it before you or people who’re doing it with you. Your peers. A lot of times you can learn from the people who are coming up at the same time as you. I certainly have gotten to. Everyone has has a unique voice. Listening is really important too. Really listen to what other people are doing. It can mean literally what they’re saying or what kind of stuff they’re doing--what kind of path way they’re creating for themselves. If you're in tune to that, a lot of times you can find parallel in yourself or find something you'd like to explore further.
What would be the toughest time you’ve had as a dancer?
Injuries. I am sure you’ll hear people say things like when you didn’t get a job or didn’t get that. I really do believe that when something doesn’t work out, there’s a reason that maybe it didn’t work out. I’ve had things that didn’t work out that I thought were end-all-be-all. But what really happened was it opened me up for different opportunity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But when you’re injured and you’re a dancer, it’s really hard to believe that you’re going to be better again sometimes. Or you can get really scared that you won’t be what you were before. What’s kind of beautiful with that—and I am relatively young so I haven’t had to deal with this a lot—there’s something about the aging body in that you can discover new ways to move that maybe you wouldn’t have discovered in your younger self. I am not very old, but there are certainly things that I could do when I was in my late teens or early twenties that I really can’t do now. But there are also different things I couldn’t do then that I can do now. A lot of it has to do with wisdom and efficiency in movement and telling a story without being flashy. And being able to move your body in a way that communicates that isn’t necessarily a trick. You just have to trust that with diligence and rest that you’ll get better and you may discover some new things.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
As we gear up for the new year, I was thinking “In December, I am going to take it easy and skyrocket into the new year.” But then I had this revelation—why am I waiting till the new year? I should just start right now. Whatever you’re thinking about doing, big or small, just do it. Stop talking about it. Make a step towards doing whatever that thing is. You’ll be happier for it.