How did you start dancing?
I started dancing when I was 3. There was a dance studio down the street from my house. My grandmother and my mother just put me in ballet class, and I never really stopped. I just kept going [laughs].
Where are you from?
Northern New Jersey about 20 minutes outside of Midtown in Clifton, NJ. I grew up dancing in a dance studio there, but because of my proximity to the city, I grew up dancing at Broadway Dance Center, Steps, and all the other dance programs in New York.
What happened from there?
I never really stopped dancing. I just started and never stopped. My parents were always supportive, and they just saw that it was my passion. And I knew even early on as a kid that it was my path. I did these half-day programs. I would go to school for a half-day and then come into the city and dance the rest of the day. I would dance at Broadway Dance Center with David Marquez, Mia Michaels, AC Ciulla, etc. I knew I always wanted to work on Broadway dance and theatre. When I was 16, AC Ciulla invited me to audition for the national tour of Footloose. I don’t think he realized how young I was, but I auditioned and ended up getting it. That’s when it all started. It was nuts.
You were 16.
Yeah. I was in my last year of high school. I was going to go on that tour no matter what. I would’ve turned into a runaway if my parents didn’t let me go. As I’ve said, they were always supportive of me. They supported me and figured out a way for me to finish high school, and I did the entire run of the first national tour of Footloose for a year and a half. It was bananas. I was just a kid.
What was it like when you first found out that you got the job?
Well, I was always driven. I always knew my path, but when I was going through the auditions, I remember thinking if this could actually happen. I knew I was really young, but I just walked up to the center of the room and danced my heart out. I was in voice lessons, so I had been singing. The day that I got the call—I mean I had no agent or anything—I was in high school. There was a voicemail on my actual answering machine—because this was 1999—saying that it was the production office wanting to talk to my parents. When I did get it, I just burst out into tears and jumped up and down the room. It was amazing. Life changed forever.
Was that the first audition you ever went to?
No. As a kid, I was definitely a ballet-focused dancer. My brother is also a dancer, and my parents didn’t want my brother and me being professional kids. But just because of where we grew up, there would be opportunities that would come up. I auditioned for a few things a little bit, but not a ton. Footloose was the first time I was in the room with all the adults. It was definitely the beginning of it all.
What was the life on the road like as a 16 year old?
Looking back now especially, I remember my dance partner, a great friend of mine, Nathan Peck. He’s done like a 10,000 Broadway shows since, and I can’t imagine what he thought when this 16 year old showed up as his dance partner. I was definitely a kid in an adult world. Those were formative years for me. I didn’t know who I was. I was a kid. I was definitely trying to find myself, but also have this confidence that I was a professional performer. Thankfully, I had really great people surrounding me. That whole group just took care of me. I learned from them, sat back during the show, and watched everybody. A lot of people were young—not as young as me—but people had done things. I would just watch and learn. They just took care of me. Some of my best friends in life are from that show. I’ve worked with them multiple times. Even after that, I sort of grew up in front of the community. There’s a lot that goes with being in an adult world pretty young, especially in a crazy world like our business—dealing with expectations when you start at a really high level really young, auditioning, and living in New York. Thankfully, my family is right here, so that helped.
Were your parents against you going on a tour?
They were very supportive. They didn’t anticipate me continuing after the tour. They thought I would do the show and go to college, and maybe pursue it later. My parents aren’t performers or artists. My dad was a chief of police, and my mom worked in accounting. It’s bizarre that they have two kids who are in the performing arts. They’re very pragmatic people, so it has always scared them, but they have been very supportive. The struggle for them was that they had my best interest at heart, but they always came from a place of fear. Now they’re just like, “You’ve been doing this for so long. Whatever.” [laughs]
What happened after the tour?
I moved to New York against my parents will with one of the girls from the Broadway company of Footloose. I did a production of West Side Story that was at the Scala Opera House in Italy. That was the first time Joey McKneely had done West Side Story. It was an amazing experience. I always loved that show. It was my favorite movie. It also made me fall in love with traveling and Europe and being curious of other cultures and ways of living. It was a wonderful thing to have come next after that experience. And then a bunch other things. I was living in New York and figuring out how it all worked. Had some unemployment time, down time, some other jobs. The next big thing I did was the first national tour of Aida, which then started my relationship with Wayne Cilento, which has continued even to now. He put me in Wicked and most recently American Dance Machine.
What are you up to now?
I am going back to Wicked for a few weeks, which is crazy. I went into Wicked in 2004 as one of the first group of vacation swings hired. I joined the 1 year anniversary of Wicked. I started as a vacation swing and then just never left. I spent 3 years and some change as a swing. And then I left the business. I had a little blip in my life where I left the business for a little over two years. And then I had some other things happen in life—that’s another story. I came back and filled in Wicked in San Francisco for 6 weeks and did West Side Story and other things. It’ll be the first time that I’ll be back at the Gershwin since I had left the show in 2008. So it’s really special and exciting to go back. I haven’t been on the rake—there’s a crazy rake stage—in 8 years. It’ll be interesting.
Why did you leave the business?
At that time I was 25-26. It had been about 10 years straight that I had been in the business. Like I said, they were formative years in this crazy world. I was at Wicked and loved that show and stayed there a long time as many people do in that show. I just needed a break. I was really burnt out. I started questioning if this was what I wanted to continue to do.
I had always traveled a lot. I had friends all over the world from how I traveled and had some family in Europe. I had this idea to live abroad for like 3 months. I knew it was time to quit Wicked. I knew if I didn’t leave then, I would’ve stayed there forever. So I left. I decided to go to Spain and ended up in Barcelona. I wanted to be based there and travel around. Three months turned into a year and half. It was a crazy time of really finding myself and having a different life. I was dancing—it was what I always did and love to do, but it wasn’t a way to live. When I decided to stay there, I ended up working at a bar. That time is really a whole other story. It’s a really different part of life. I learned so much about life and everything. And then I came back.
When I came back, the next show I did was the revival of West Side Story, which was bilingual. I had done West Side before as a Shark and a Jet, so they had me try all these different things during auditions. At my final callback, I was there with Arthur Laurents. They had me reading the sides in Spanish and had the translations, and I was like, “Hablo Espanol. I speak Spanish.” I got the job as Consuela and the Anita understudy and was able to pull so much from my year abroad for that show. It was interesting how life works.
How did you find out that you wanted to come back?
I was living there and having the time of my life. I had money because I had worked for a long time. I was traveling, had a little relationship and all that stuff. And that ended. I still wanted to stay. When I decided that I wanted to stay, that’s when I didn’t have a show for the first time to lean on. I was this random chick from New York living in Barcelona. I didn’t even know who I was at times, but as I started to take some of the stuff away and connected with myself on a more authentic, honest level, I started to just miss it. One of my really close friends, Kristina Fernandez, was about to start In the Heights, and she came to visit. We spent like two weeks together. She was just talking about how excited she was about starting the show. That’s when it sparked fire again in me. I also knew I couldn’t stay there. I was struggling with visa stuff. I knew it was a temporary thing, so I went back. It wasn’t easy right away. I had to get back in shape. Two years is a long time. I also knew at that age that it was either now or never if I wanted to do it. Or that’s what I thought then. That’s what prompted me to come back. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I look back at it, and I am like, “That was nuts.” But it was the best thing I’ve ever done. It changed my whole life. And my work. Changed everything.
A lot of times we define ourselves by what we belong to rather than who we are as a person.
Yeah, and growing up in it, for me, I felt really associated to the community and to the shows. It was really hard for me to sometimes define my value or meaning if I didn’t have a show. And we always have down time. We’re always unemployed and go from show to show. Being in Barcelona, in a neutral place, it wasn’t like trying to figure myself out in New York. It was a whole new level. It just showed me what I was made of.
Did you know anybody in Barcelona?
A really good friend of mine had an American friend who lived there. I had taken a week off of Wicked to go to Spain, and I felt like Spain was where I should take my time off. Last day in Barcelona, I met a friend of a friend from New York. I was picking her brain about Barcelona—the cost of living there and everything. It turned out that she had a room available to rent. I came back from that vacation, and I knew I was done with the show. I love that show so much, and it’s easy to stay a long time, and I just knew it was time. I decided to do it. It was crazy. That’s why it’s really special to me right now to go back. It supported so much of my growth as a person.
What are your aspirations?
Just to dance as much as possible. Especially right now. When I was younger, I would think about hitting 30 as a dancer. I had this idea that it was going to be the start of my decline. And it’s funny because I turned 30 a few years ago, and I’ve been dancing more than I ever have. It’s been the opposite—my ascension. I’ve been really inspired by the curiosity of learning my body as I get older. Recently some of the work that has happened—especially doing American Dance Machine working with Donna McKechnie, Wayne Cilento, and these people who are dancing well past their 60’s—it’s been really inspiring to realize that you don’t have to stop. It takes work, and you have to be a little more diligent about training, but I love that. I am always in class, and I love working hard.
I am really inspired to see where my body and my creativity can go as I get older. As you start to let go of that—when you’re younger, you’re trying to prove things and pushing yourself. I feel like as I’ve gotten older, because you know yourself a little bit better, you can get off of yourself a little bit better. Not completely—you’re still aware. But you can get off of yourself a little more, so real expression starts to come out. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I could do something like American Dance Machine, I would’ve said no. American Dance Machine was the hardest thing I had ever done. Stamina wise and skill wise. I actually don’t think I could’ve done it if I was younger. It took maturity and intelligence to approach work like that. I am just really excited to see what’s going to happen. I don’t know. Who knows. Maybe I’ll end up in Spain again. Maybe I’ll end up in Africa. I don’t know [laughs].
What’s it like to work with older dancers?
American Dance Machine is a great point of reference because we worked with people who were associates on the material or who actually danced it. Most of the material I did was from Donna McKechnie alongside with Wayne Cilento, who directed the show. They both originated A Chorus Line. Wayne is like 66 and Donna is over 70. Donna still takes ballet class. She still has voice lessons every week. During rehearsals, Donna was dancing as full out as she could when she was teaching me “The Music And The Mirror.” It was so inspiring. In addition to the two of them, there also was Gemze de Lappe, who was Laurey in the dream ballet of Oklahoma!. She’s like 93. She was up and moving and dancing. I mean, she didn’t do jetes and the Laurie jump, but you still saw this vitality and energy.
As dancers, we make all these movements, but it takes something to fill those movements that make them special. And it doesn’t go away even when you’re older. Looking at the older dancers who still had that energy with them was mind-blowing and beyond inspiring. Donna is still in ballet class all the time.
I think it’s important to live to learn and stay engaged. Hip-hop isn’t always my thing, but I know that I should do some hip-hop or figure out ways to move my body differently. So it’s really cool. Donna, I mean—you should get her on here. She is just the most gracious, most humble woman. She’s just like one of us. No ego involved. When we were doing American Dance Machine, she was passing it along. She was like, “I created this, but this needs to be yours now or whoever is doing it.” She’s such a wonderful example for people of our generation. Highlight of my life.
What’s your number one advice?
Take care of yourself. Not just physically. Take care of yourself and create a full life. Make the business an important part of your life. Have other things that inspire you. You can use those other things in the business and in your art. Diversify your community as well. Always be curious. Live to learn. Stay growing. It really is about taking care of yourself in every way possible.
What is the toughest time you’ve had?
I mean, it’s never easy, but it’s worth it [laughs]. The toughest time—I would say growing up in the business going through formative years when most people are in high school and college and having those awkward, messy times. I did it here in front of everyone. When I was in my early 20s, that brought up a lot of anxiety. I was dealing with anxiety and figuring out who I was in this world really young, which then really pushed me to examine my life.
When I was younger and growing up in front of people—we’re so awkward in those times, but I was in front of people who I still work with. There are people who I worked with as performers, and now they’re choreographers. I sometimes have those moments where I realize that they have seen me in every phase of my life. I don’t know if that’s a struggle. It may have seemed like it at the time, but it pushes you to be where you’re supposed to be. There will be times where you don’t work. I’ve had long periods of unemployment, which is scary, and you’ll be broke, and it’s rough. But those are the times when it really shows you what you’re made of. Any time I’ve been through one of those really hard hard times, you learn tools that you can use, and it gets better.
There’s a lot. I am a very sensitive person, so any time I am dancing, it’s the best time ever [laughs]. One was obviously making my Broadway debut with Wicked. Although I had done all these first national tours, Wicked was my debut here in New York. The second was being in the audience witnessing my brother’s Broadway debut with Newsies. I was bawling the whole time. And then I think coming back to the business—the whole West Side Story thing was a triumph because it helped me—not that I needed it to make sense—but I had taken this big risk in my life and doing West Side really paid it off. There were a lot of inspirations I drew on from that time for the show. And then getting to do American Dance Machine. Getting to work with Donna McKechnie and Wayne Cilento. There are just so many things.
All of the hard times, it’s worth it. It really is. It’s the most special thing in the world. I am so lucky that things have worked out. You really have to appreciate it. It’s always magical—if it’s not magical, then maybe that’s a sign to move on.
Any last thing you want to share?
Stay curious. If you have any sort of curiosity to go somewhere, explore that. If you want to try something—a hobby, a language—do it. So much of what we do as artists comes from ourselves and our life experiences. It can only benefit you. If you’re a singer, take a dance class. If you’re a dancer, learn how to draw and do different things. It can only benefit you.