How did you hear about Dancers of New York?
I was taking class at Broadway Donation where you were taking photos during our class. They announced what you were doing, and after class, I saw some of your photos. I actually saw a ton of photos of some of my friends, and I loved what you did. From there I looked up what you were doing, and I discovered it, and I was hooked.
Tell me a little about how you started dancing.
Like many people, I started dancing when I was three. I was born here in Manhattan. My family lived here in Manhattan and then on Long Island. I started going to dance when I was three, and I was quite hooked. When I was little--I don’t know--first grade, the teachers would catch me tap dancing under my desk. I would not pay attention at all. Serious actions had to be taken with my mom because I was constantly dancing. I think because I grew up here in Manhattan, I got to see a lot of shows. My parents are chiropractors, so they took care of a lot of performers. They would get comp tickets to shows, and they would take me. I would see all these gorgeous dancers including the Rockettes, and I knew that was it. There was absolutely no other option.
Another cool thing that really influenced me as to why I continued dancing is my grandmother, who is still living, 90 years old this July. She is one of the oldest living original Rockette’s. Anytime I would be with my grandma, she would either be playing musicals or putting on movie-musicals. I would just sit there and watch it with her for hours, mesmerized. Nobody told me I had to dance or had to be a dancer. There was just never any other option--literally at age 4. Most kids are like, “Maybe I’ll be a veterinarian or something.” I think for me, because my parents are chiropractors, initially I would tell everybody that I want to be a dancing chiropractor where I would dance around the office and do that. But obviously the dancing stuck. So that’s how I got started dancing. From there, never stopped.
How was growing up in Manhattan?
I was born here, lived in Manhattan until I was little, and then my family moved out towards Long Island. So I have some experiences here. I mean, my first word I said was ‘taxi.’ My mom told me that. I just constantly remember there was a lot of walking and a lot of meeting people. I was a very friendly child. I would talk to everybody, which maybe was not so great. But it was interesting. I don’t think I traveled around the city as much as some kids now. Some kids go to school on the upper west side and then they go home all the way down to lower east side, and they make subway commutes every single day. I think where my family was, it was all one part of town, and I probably didn’t go much farther than that part of town. But I was always excited. I was never scared about it, I guess. And maybe that’s what made moving back here from Chicago easy. It was not a huge, scary place to me. It’s not a crazy, scary jungle like a lot of people I guess imagine it to be. It’s just a lot of buildings, a lot of people, and everyone walks very fast.
What was your high school experience like?
I lived here until I was nine. And my family moved to Orange County, California. I still have family here, but we all moved to California. A very big switch in life. For high school, my mom really wanted me to go to the local catholic high school, mostly because of the academics, and they had a good dance team. We made a deal. I really wanted to go to the performing arts high school. All my friends were there from dance class, and I really wanted to go there. I told her I would try the catholic high school for a year. And if I didn’t like it, the deal was that I could go to the performing arts high school. So I did it. I was on the dance team. Three, four months in, when it was time to re-audition for the performing arts high school, I came home one day and was like, “Hi, mom. I hate school. I just want you to know that I am auditioning for OCSA, the performing arts high school. Okay. Great. Bye.” I ended up going to the performing arts high school, which changed my life. It was an incredible experience. I was there for commercial dance. They have now 15 conservatories. So my normal academics were from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then conservatory was from 2 to 5. And then I often would go to rehearsal after that until 9:30-10 or I’d go to dance class right after that from 9:30-10ish. It was amazing though. It’s going to sound so cheesy, but once I got to the school, and I was surrounded by dancers, artists, visual artists, musicians, production and design--everybody. I felt so at home. I met all these other people who were just as obsessed with going to dance class or just as obsessed about watching that movie or you know, all those obsessed performing arts kids. I finally felt like I belonged in a place. I grew up like any other kid, going to normal school, and everyone else was not really in the arts as much, especially being in California. We lived fairly close to Disneyland and such, and growing up, some kids got to go to Disneyland for their birthday, and they would invite some kids and stuff. I get invited growing up, but I would always pass on them because they wanted to go on a Saturday, and I never wanted to miss dance. I would cry if my mom was like, “Kelsey, go to the birthday party.” I’m like, “No, but I can’t miss dance class.” It was way more important to me than doing normal teenage things, I guess. It was a very cool experience though. I can’t imagine where I would be now, had I not gone to OCSA. It was a really cool, open, inviting place.
What happened after high school?
It was time for college. I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew that, at that time, at the end of high school, I really wanted to be doing musical theatre. And always wanted to dance. Like I said, I grew up watching dancers and these musicals. I was very lucky to have some great mentors who taught me how to examine the world of theatre at the time. When it was time to go to college, musicals were different. It wasn’t how it used to be where there was just the dancing ensemble and just the singing ensemble. Now musicals are so expensive to create. They have to have people who can do everything. So I knew that I really wanted to go to a college where I could continue my dancing, like full force, but a place where I can get my singing and acting training, so I could bump everything up, bring all my skills to the table. So I found a school in Chicago. Roosevelt University at the Chicago College of the Performing Arts. I got in there, and I went there. I graduated with a BFA in musical theatre, but I did everything. I danced, I sang, I acted--everything. I did Asian theatre there. I did. And circus class. Crazy. All these crazy, cool things, but I learned a lot. The guy who was the head of the program, Luis Perez, his experience--he started out as a Joffrey dancer--then after ballet, he got very into musical theatre and was a big Broadway veteran for many, many years. Fosse, West Side Story--he was in so many various things. He taught me--everything he gave me was so invaluable. I learned a lot. I mean, not just dance from him, but acting and everything.
And Chicago is a very, very different city than California. Anytime I told anybody I go to school in Chicago, everyone from California would go, “Why would you ever leave sunny California?” I mean, I loved it. I loved it. I loved being in the city. I knew I had to be in a city. And yes. It was freezing. But there’s nothing a great coat and some boots can’t fix. Chicago is an incredible city. Very different than here in New York, but incredible. So I went to school there and I started working in theatre, basically almost every summer. Then once I graduated, I worked in the Chicago-area at many various great theatres. Built up my equity points and turned equity. The experience there and theatres there are second to none. The quality of some of these productions are really mind-blowing. But in the back of my mind, I had this goal of wanting to become equity because I always wanted to move back here. There are so many opportunities here and there are opportunities in Chicago, it will always be like a home to me. But it was just time for me to move on. Time for me to grow in different directions and grow in a new place.
I moved here to New York permanently this past July. I haven’t lived here for a year yet. But it’s been going. It’s been going well.
How did you find out about Roosevelt?
I’ll be very honest with you. I was sitting in the biology class next to a girl who did musical theatre. My junior, sophomore year, I would always pick her brain because she was auditioning for all the colleges and everything. And every time whenever she’d come back from college audition, I’d be like, “How did it go?” I’d just talk to everybody. She said she auditioned for this school called Roosevelt in Chicago. I was like, “Okay.” Honestly from there, I just researched the school. I literally just made a list of all these schools and the types of programs they had. What I did largely, I tried, if possible, to see if my mom or my family had any connections in Chicago and/or anybody knew a student at the school, or I would email admissions and see if there was a student that I could speak to. I would just email the students usually or sometimes call them if they’d let me and say, “Tell me your real experience there.”
From there, I’d get a variety of things. Some people were--you could tell that they were trying to be very nice about their programs or trying to give a perfect picture--but I wanted to know: “What did you love? What do you love? What do you hate? What do you think you wish had more here?” I guess I was that annoying high school kid who wanted to talk to everybody wherever they went. So that’s honestly how I found out about Roosevelt. But from my research, I fell in more love with it. It’s super random, but Roosevelt was one of the only schools that I actually traveled to. I mean, traveling from California, especially because a lot of these places are on the East Coast, there is a lot of traveling that has to happen if I went everywhere. My mom and I flew to Chicago for the audition. They were one of the schools where if you auditioned in Chicago, they had a dance call. And I knew that at the time that was very important for me to show them that I can dance. So we went there, and I remember it was one of the best experience’s I had out of all of my college auditions. I left the auditions. I felt great about it. I left with my mom, and I told my mom, “I don’t care what happens, I have to go here. This is it.” I had the feeling. I got to meet all these students. They had talkbacks with professors and everything. It wasn’t just the talkbacks. It was literally the students. They would take you to the audition room when you were getting ready to go. They assisted with the dance calls. I got to talk to them, and I loved the professors I met, but the students I met were so nice, they were like “We’re so happy that you’re here today.” I mean, I hadn’t even gotten in, but they were so happy that I was there. Again, it may sound cheesy, but there was an instant feeling of family there, which I don’t think too many people get from college auditions alone. Especially as a high school kid, they’re scary! To meet people who instantly make you feel like they want you there and they’re happy to see you even before they know you. That was really special to me. And I felt totally at home and at ease.
What are you up to now?
I am living life. Taking all the dance classes. I audition like crazy. I assist some choreographers once in a while here. I just got to perform at the Tribeca film festival, which was really cool. Even though I haven’t lived here for a year yet, I’m still getting to get people to know me, I guess. It takes time. I forget how long it took me just to build myself up in Chicago. Just have people know who I am a little bit. Things don’t happen overnight. Especially in a giant city like this.
I take a ton of classes. I guess that’s what I am most excited about. There are a million classes here, which is a little different from Chicago. I feel like sometimes you miss the opportunity for that one class in whatever that month is, and unfortunately there aren’t that many other classes for the next few months, and that’s it. Whereas here, if I miss something, fine, I’ll just go to [other classes] that day. So that’s kind of cool. I also teach Pilates, which is awesome. That’s what I do when I am not taking class and dancing all the time.
I also work with Broadway Dreams Foundation. They’re a foundation who bring intensive weeks to kids all over the country. During these week-long summer intensives, they bring in current Broadway directors, choreographers, actors, music directors--everybody. You have a week-long intensive where you take all these classes. Sometimes like an 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. day. Sometimes even longer. But you take all these incredible classes in various disciplines, and at the end of the week, there’s a show. You just learn so much from people who are currently doing what you want to be doing. They provide so many opportunities. When you work with Broadway Dreams, and you get to know them, you become part of a family there. I worked with them last summer. This summer I am going to be working with them again as like a choreography assistant / intern, if you will. I’ll get to assist some awesome choreographers, take class, get to know some insanely talented performers. Last year, our youngest performer was six years old. Oh my gosh. She blew everyone’s mind, including myself. This little girl, I don’t know where she came from, but incredible. It’s these weeks that we get to have where this talent is discovered and honed. A student can be any age. There’s not really a limit on it. Anybody can learn. It’s a place to foster your dreams and to help make them come true.
We have a session in New York this upcoming June. They also travel around the country. Check them out at Broadway Dreams Foundation. I might miss a location but they have weeks in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Omaha, Philadelphia, Toronto. It’s pretty amazing. I always forget that it’s a week long. By the end, I feel like I’ve been with them for weeks, sometimes months. You get to know everyone so closely, and you learn so much. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true.
What do you want to do as a dancer?
I’d love to perform in a Broadway show. Dance. Sing. Everything. I just want to dance and perform. I’d love to get to do what I want to do. If it’s in front of an audience, cool. If not, whatever. Even at Broadway Dreams--in a class. I love getting to inspire people to do what they love to do. You only have one life, so why not do what you want? With my dancing, I’d love to perform in a Broadway show, commercials, whatever. I just want to dance. Maybe one day, I will get a little more concentrated on choreography as well. I love choreography too.
How do you like New York City?
I love living here. It’s crazy. But I love it. I moved here, and of course it was a new experience, but I moved here from Chicago, again a city, very different city, but a city. I love it. Especially because I sort of live close to Time Square. Some people may think I am crazy for even wanting to live near there. Sometimes I think to myself that I am crazy for living near here. However, it’s exciting to me. There are always opportunities here. Whether it’s to perform, whether it’s to be able to take a class, or to meet all these cool new people to potentially create something new. There are always people and experiences to have. That’s always exciting to me. I discover something new almost every single day. Whether it’s pertaining to performing career, dancing, acting, or whatever. Or in life. You meet some very interesting people here. But I love it. I absolutely love it here. It’s a big adventure that I love. All the time.
Could you tell me about your apartment hunting experience?
Oh my gosh. Apartment hunting. I’ve decided I hate nothing more than apartment hunting. Last July and August, I had to go on the apartment hunt. It was torture. It was absolute torture. I also picked perhaps the worst time ever to look for an apartment. Don’t ever look for an apartment in July or August in the summer. I learned it the hard way. But I had to find a place to live. It was just crazy. I ended up having to use a broker, which by the way, you never use a broker in Chicago. Ever. You either potentially look on Craigslist or you literally walk around the neighborhood, and on the building they have the management phone number, and you call management and say “Hey, do you have any apartments opening up?” So I tried that. I was like, “I am going to try to be really savvy and walk around and find the buildings’ phone numbers.” But they don’t post any of that anywhere. I ended up having to use this broker, and she was incredible. We looked at a million apartments. I think I am a very optimistic person that I could always find something better than the last one I saw, which is a great thing, but also a stupid thing. But that’s how I am. I ended up finding this apartment here in Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen area. It was a very last minute thing, and it had just opened up, and I am so happy I live there. It’s convenient for my dancing--it’s close to dance classes and auditions and all that good stuff. And work.
Anything that you’d like to share with the world?
I am a die-hard Golden Girls fan. I am obsessed with the Golden Girls. Betty White and that whole crew is comedy genius. Have you watched Golden Girls?
Oh my gosh. You are missing out in life.
I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of things.
You should watch one episode and tell me what you think. So that’s a tidbit about me. Also, take stock in the little things. That’s what I am learning from being here. Every little thing means something. It builds up to something huge. Whatever your dream is--again, I sound so cheesy. I am a cheesy person. Appreciate and acknowledge small things, the baby steps you’re taking to achieve whatever else you want in life. That’s what’s helping me survive and live in this amazing city.