How did you start dancing?
When I was about 4 or 5, my parents put me in ballet class. I started swimming and was a girl scout as well. My parents said that I couldn’t do all three. I had to pick two. So naturally, I said bye to ballet. I wanted to be a professional swimmer and a professional girl scout [laughs]. I was a girl scout for a short time, but I came home one day and wanted to go back to ballet.
At the age of 7, I was told that since I took a few months off I would never amount to anything and that I should not pursue dance. My parents were very patient and graciously thanked the studio director and took me to another studio. I started training 6 days a week in ballet and a variety of other styles all the way through high school. I dropped swimming at some point. I took dancing to college, got a BFA at Towson University, and moved here four days after graduation.
How did you decide to pursue performing as a career?
When I was dancing at little things like recitals growing up—it sounds so cheesy—but I came alive on stage. Being on stage didn’t scare me. For me, I was plugged in, and I just went for it. I had an incredible support system that facilitated me to continue. I enjoyed the excitement of being on stage and realized that I could make something out of it.
All of my extended family lives very close to the city, so when I was young, we would always come up here and see tons of shows. I remember being so obsessed with the shows. I was in love. I always said that I was going to move here. It’s so crazy that now I am actually living it out. Little did I know what it would entail. When I saw those shows and was in class all the time, I knew it was what I wanted to do. It made sense.
How long have you been in the city?
It will be five years this summer. I graduated in 2011 and moved here about 4-5 days later and attended BDC Professional Semester.
How was your first move here?
It was good. I was going through some big transitions in my life. I had my heart broken out of school—there were a bunch of personal things that definitely made me feel very vulnerable. I told my parents that I couldn’t come to the city because I felt all over the place. After thinking and praying about it, my parents said that I needed to go now so that I didn’t go home and get comfortable. I am so unbelievably grateful for that. It forced me to come here and start fresh. Being that vulnerable in a city like this was terrifying but rejuvenating. My move to the city was the only time I’ve ever seen my parents anxious. They’re so calm, cool, and collected. That first night after we had moved in, we had dinner together and parted ways. That was the moment that I was like, “Oh my gosh, I am here.”
I always do this #nycismyboyfriend, and my friends make fun of it. I was and am still genuinely obsessed with being here. People would always ask me if I actually love New York as much as I say I do. Thankfully, the answer is yes. I think that’s the biggest thing I am so thankful for. It could’ve been one way or the other. That was the only thing I was so nervous about when I came here—what if it wasn’t the place for me? It’s not for some people and that’s fine, but it was the place for me. That was a relief and so exciting.
What are you up to now?
I am currently just living that audition dream. That is the full time job. You go in, and sometimes you get chopped, or make it to the end, wait for the call, and get the call. Sometimes you don’t.
But in the meantime, I am so thankful to be teaching at Broadway Dance Center. I am loving it. People have been waitlisted to take my classes, which is a blessing that I do not take for granted at all. It’s so cool to be fueled by my students. They do so much for me. It’s this incredible cycle of energy that reboots you to go right back into that audition a few hours or a day later. Another incredible thing is that my survival job is wrapped up in this industry. That is one thing I will never ever take for granted.
I’ve been also doing some gigs with different choreographers and assisting different people and taking class all the time. I believe the best teachers remain students. I want to keep pushing myself and always learn to be a better teacher, although I am not ready to settle into teaching or choreography just yet. But it’s something that I want to make as a career for the future.
Fitness is a wonderful outlet for me too. I am obsessed with using and training my body. I love fitness for what it does for my body, and I also love that it’s not an audition. It’s a wonderful outlet. I am filling my time as much as I can with the industry but still maintaining a healthy balance. At the end of the day, I am very thankful that my issues in life involve rhinestones, sequins, and my LaDucas and that I get to dance, sing, and teach.
How did you start teaching?
I finished the BDC Professional Program at the end of 2011. I was very, very thankful that they employed one student from the program at the end and that I was hired by them. So I started managing the retail store, which was great. I wasn’t making millions of dollars, but it facilitated making connections and taking classes. I was so thankful to be in the center of that environment.
I ended up getting a promotion into the office to work under the director of our groups department. We handled relationships with schools and parents in different states and represented BDC nationally and internationally. That kept me in the center of the industry, and I was able to rest my body while still being able to take class, train, and audition.
One day, I was sitting in the office, and a teacher unfortunately did not show up for a class for some reason. I was contacted at the last minute and was thrown in to teach. The whole team at BDC believed in me, but I was in a full sweat, shaking. Thankfully, I studied a lot about education and teaching at Towson University, and because of the incredible mentors I’ve trained with—like Al Blackstone, Ricky Hinds, Jim Cooney—because of these people, I was immersed in how they teach classes, what they offer, and how they educate. They weren’t just throwing choreography at you. It really fueled me. It was cool to jump in, save the day, and get the feedback I received. And then Jim Cooney had me sub his class once, which I was able to prepare for and really plan my warmup and get my mix. From there, BDC started offering me to teach Absolute Beginner Workshops for people interested in learning the basics of movement. Teaching those classes really forced me to be a good teacher, because you couldn’t just tell them, “Kick, ball change.”
They started giving me substitute spots for drop-in classes, and from there people would come to class and tell their friends, leave comments in the boxes, and email BDC about their experience. They gave me more slots. More students would come in. And this January, an advertising agency contacted BDC to have a musical theatre class for Grease Live. BDC asked me to do that, and I was very, very flattered and was very nervous. A little under 80 people showed up for that class. From that day, my classes have been full and waitlisted. I am so thankful for those people who came to class and keep coming back because they’re loving what they’re getting. I get that it’s hard to try new teachers. Money is an issue. Time is an issue. For that, I am so thankful for the opportunity because it threw the doors open, and all of these people are coming back. It’s great. I am so thankful for that incredible boost and build in clientele. It keeps pushing you to be better because you can’t just get comfortable with the regulars. People like Sheila Barker will pull me outside of class and give me advice and pour into me. I mean, it’s her, for heaven’s sakes. It’s so surreal to get this feedback at Broadway Dance Center to teach. I still pinch myself.
How long did it take you to go from being a last minute sub to having waitlisted classes?
I want to say it’s been about 2 years, maybe 3. There were many days when I would show up and only have a handful of people. I would be nervous that it may not even be in the teens. That’s how you start. I think there are certain rules about canceling classes, but I made the decision that even if there were two people in class, I wouldn’t cancel. It would still force me to be in a room for an hour and a half to teach and get better at teaching. I am so thankful that I stuck with that because now there’s not a second I look around the class and take it for granted.
Another thing about this industry is that it’s such a rollercoaster but it’s your own rollercoaster. You can’t jump onto someone else’s. I am thankful for the amount of ups and downs that I’ve experienced because I will not take it for granted when great things happen—just like having full classes.
That’s a really great story. You started from the bottom and now you’re here [laughs]. It shows that perseverance pays off.
Exactly. Also, you grow so much through those times. It wouldn’t have been good if I booked a Broadway show when I was 18. It’s perfect for some people, but it’s not for me. Had I not gone to school—at the age of 18, I would not have been emotionally, spiritually, physically ready to do any of this stuff—teaching 75 people in a class. I am so thankful for all of the time, work, blood, sweat, and tears that I had to go through.
A lot of teachers are also working choreographers in the industry. What is it like to be a performer and a teacher at the same time?
The other day someone called me out and asked if I practiced what I preach. That’s a big thing I try to do. In all my classes I start by saying that although it is the midst of audition season and we’re all grinding, this class is not an audition. I tell my students to take all their need for perfection and competition and throw it out the window. That’s how we always start and you see people smile and breathe. When I am at auditions, I say the same thing to myself, and it makes me breathe.
Sometimes when I am teaching, I see people getting discouraged and feeling defeated if they mess up 8 counts of choreography. But perfection isn’t what anyone wants. People want someone that’s teachable. The hours of rehearsal will lead you to being stage-ready. You learned choreography in minutes and seconds and you’re expected to nail it minutes later. First of all, that’s an incredible skill set to have. Second, it reminds us that we’re a bunch of warriors. It’s a lot of pressure to get into a room and have that spotlight on you. As both a teacher and a performer, it’s certainly interesting to be on the other side for a second and see things from a different perspective.
I encourage my students to persevere and keep pushing, but I also have to remind myself to do the same. I had a few tough moments during this audition season. There are a lot of people, and it’s an industry filled with talent. And it’s been tough. Just a lot of no’s. I had a moment with myself—I have these full classes of people that I am teaching and coaching and encouraging, yet I may also get cut and struggle just like them. I thought to myself, “Am I being deceitful? Am I being hypocritical?” But I had a friend who said that deceit would come only when I look at people in the eye and say that it’s fine and say that they’ll book it tomorrow like nothing. As a teacher, I hope to always be genuine and show the reality of the industry, letting my students know that it’s doable although it’s not easy.
I think being on your students’ level would also attract people to take your class. They don’t have to feel like they’re auditioning for you and just enjoy the class.
Exactly. At the end of the day, it would be great if I could give them a job, but right now, I just can’t [laughs]. Hopefully one day in the future I can. The other day, I had to cancel one of my classes for the first time for a callback. I had a student who approached me and said that it was cool that I was in a final callback and that she’s still able to take class from me, someone who’s in the industry just like her.
It also shows that people aren’t just taking class to get seen or for jobs.
That’s very, very true.
There’s still hope in this world [laughs].
What are your aspirations?
I am so thankful to be able to live in the city and making ends meet doing what I love. Growing up, I definitely was set on certain goals. I wanted to get a specific role or dance for a specific company. Now I am realizing that this industry is so much bigger with so many opportunities and options and that I am fulfilled in so many ways. I am just plowing ahead doing exactly what I am doing right now—teaching and seeing where this career takes me.
The ultimate goal is that Broadway show. Being able to live here in the city and perform in the city. It’s cool how my teaching career happened because I was open to the idea of it, and I’ve been trying to look at the performing element of my life that way too. I want to open up my hands and see what will happen in my performing career.
Advice to your younger self?
I think it’s super important to remember that your self worth does not depend on other people. Especially in this industry where it’s easy to compare. Thankfully comparing myself to others never caused me to stop pursuing my dreams, but it definitely made things more difficult. It’s nearly impossible to take a step out of comparing yourself with others, but it’s so much better when you are able to take yourself out of it. I don’t think I realized at a young age how much I did that. Whether it be resumes, connections, body type—so many things. That’s going to get you nowhere. At a young age, it definitely discouraged me or made me question my self worth, my body, my skills. You just can’t do that.
I am thankful that my faith is my number one thing I am grounded in, but I do wish that I had continued to remember and remind myself to stay grounded in that. My faith helps me center what reality is and just maintain a healthy perspective. It fuels me in a healthy way.
Toughest time as a performer?
I definitely had my eyes set on the Radio City stage when I first moved here. I had seen a bunch of Broadway shows and wanted to be on stage, but I definitely thought that stage was going to be Radio City for a while. I plugged in and was asked to be an assistant for a lot of the things they did. I had auditioned many times before, trained privately, attended intensives, and just poured a lot of time, money, and energy into pursuing that dream. I was—and I can fully own this—unhealthily obsessed. I was not very healthy about it in so many ways—physically and mentally. I just put all of my eggs in that basket. I am thankful that I put so much into it because it taught me so much. But when that audition day came, I got cut in the first round. Completely chopped. A slap in the face sounds so dramatic, but the doors had never shut that fast and that hard on something that I had worked so hard for.
I left the city for a weekend because I was so taken aback. A group of us had been very serious about training privately for it, and I was happy for all my friends who made it far, but it was hard for me. I compared myself to them, and that’s when it really started spiraling out of control. I just thought about what I was doing and if this was how it was going to be the rest of the way. It was terrifying. It was a low but a low that I needed for so many reasons. I was really able to see that my dream to become a Rockette had become my savior. God made that very, very clear, and it should not have been. But it was. It became an unhealthy addiction, and I wasn’t handling it well. Thankfully, when I came back after that weekend and re-centered myself through prayers and thinking to myself, doors started flying open for musical theatre. Connections started happening. I fell in love with it and started going down that path.
Last February, the Rockettes had their summer audition, and I was in a completely different place. I was a completely different person. I decided that I was going to go the audition and prove that I can treat it like any other audition. I genuinely had never walked into that building and walked out with a healthy mindset. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and that it wasn’t my god anymore. It was just another incredibly exciting job that some amazingly talented women have the opportunity to do. I walked in, didn’t get cut, made it all the way to the end, was measured for costumes and photographed. It was three of us rookies—who had never been a Rockette before—that made it to the end, and it was the coolest thing. It was incredible to realize that I am a different person on a different path now. I am healthy, thankful, and doing these awesome things, and that audition was just another incredible part of a wonderful day in February. I am sure the calls went out already since they start rehearsals soon, but that didn’t make it or break it for me. Getting that call wasn’t what mattered. Enjoying the audition, making it through the cuts, and being okay with the fact that I didn’t get the call was a milestone for me. I would not have believed myself if I said that a few years back when I was so desperate for what I thought was the end-all be-all for me. A few years ago, I was on a tightrope, and when I fell off of it, I didn’t know what to do. It was cool to see that I was no longer walking on that tightrope.
Is there any last thing you want to share?
Last November, I was at an unofficial after-party for the US Marine Corp Annual Birthday Gala. It was a time when I was having a low in the industry. I was also feeling guilty because my low was me still pursuing my dreams in the city—living a dream that some people would kill just to try it. They would kill to get cut at auditions, as silly as that sounds.
At the gala, I had the privilege of shaking the hands of so many servicemen and women and thanking them for serving our country. I also had the pleasure of speaking to a serviceman about what I do for a living. During the course of our conversation, I sheepishly laughed about what I do for a living and the silly problems I face—involving rhinestones and pirouettes—compared to what they do—risking their lives for the greater good. In his response, he gently reminded me of the necessity for what we do as performers. He said that people in his position would not have any healthy escape from reality or glimpses of joy and hope without people like us doing what we do. He thanked me, told me that what we do matters, and asked me to never discount what we do. It was incredible to hear that from someone whom I hold with utmost respect. It was just one of those “Thank God, I’m a Dancer” moments. That’s a big thing I want to remind everyone in this industry. We often question the ups and downs we go through and ask ourselves if it’s all worth anything. We have to remember that what we do impacts other people in an incredibly positive way.