How did you start dancing?
I started dancing at 13. I had always wanted to dance when I was little. I would traipse around in little tutus and these ballerina costumes. But I was really into sports. It was mainly prompted by my dad who was convinced that I was going to be the next Venus Williams [laughs]. I like sports well enough, but when my mother took me to see a production of Firebird by Dance Theatre of Harlem, it was the first time that I had seen ballerinas that looked like me, and it was really inspiring to me. I remember turning to my mom after the show and saying to her that I was going to be in that company. That prompted me to start ballet, and that summer I went to Dance Theatre of Harlem for the summer program.
How did your dream of becoming a ballerina evolve into where you are now?
I wanted to be a ballerina when I first started, so all of my training was heavily surrounding ballet. I never really thought about musical theatre or acting as a career. When I was approaching my senior year of high school, I started to realize that a lot of people who were doing ballet weren’t necessarily going to college, but I really wanted to go to college. My junior year, I went to Ailey for the summer and was exposed to another side of dance, which helped me decide that I really wanted to train for college. Education was really important to me. I ended up going to NYU so that I could get quality academic education as well.
When I graduated, I started dancing for small companies. I was gigging around in the concert dance world, but I wasn’t sure about what I was going to do. I couldn’t really maintain a lifestyle off of this gigging life. I was either dancing for a company or I wasn’t dancing. At the time I didn’t really know about some of the things I do now.
I started to look into musical theatre. I had always thought that if I was going to be in something, the only show I could ever be in was The Lion King. It shows you how limited my view of musical theatre was at the time [laughs]. So I thought The Lion King was the next step because it’s modern dance, which I could do, and I am a person of color. I became super obsessed with the show, and it was the only musical theatre audition I went to for almost three years. I went to every ECC. Every ECC I would make it farther and farther in the process until I finally started to regularly make it to the end. The casting director encouraged me and told me that I could do it, but if I wanted to get into musical theatre, I had to go take voice lessons and make sure that my body was right for what this type of work requires. That’s when I started to get serious about it. I got an agent, and things started evolving. It was weird how it just happened—how I moved into musical theatre like that.
How was moving to the city for the first time?
It wasn’t as scary as you would think because I had already been here for a summer program twice. I had already experienced a little bit of what life was like around the city. When I came here for Ailey, I was really on my own. I had to figure it out. So it didn’t feel as big of a transition as it might have been for someone who just came here for the first time. It was definitely weird to be fully responsible for my dance schedule and all of those things because they were mapped out for me up until that point.
How did you make your Broadway debut?
My Broadway debut was with Aladdin. I had gone in for the audition a couple of times. First time I tried to get into the invited call, my agent was unable to get me in because everyone wanted to be seen for it because it was a new Disney musical. I was non-equity, and I remember it being like 300+ equity girls at this ECC. I wasn’t going to be seen, so I just let it go.
I got a random call in May when I was ready to go off to do my first equity regional job. My agent said that they wanted to see me again. It was the first time in my life where the full creative team was there. It was clear that they were casting from this group of people. I was honestly very pessimistic about it because no one really knew me, and it seemed like a lot of people knew Casey. We had one day of auditioning. We danced, sang, and tapped. I didn’t hear anything the day after, so I thought I didn’t get it. A couple days later, I left to do my first regional job. When I got there, I landed with a message from my agent that said, “Give me a call back, I have some good news.” I called back, and I thought it surely wasn’t about Aladdin. When my agent answered, he started singing, “A Whole New World.” I thought he was kidding, but he told me that I got it. No callbacks. I envisioned having to do five million callbacks for my first Broadway show, but it just happened in one day. I had the whole summer of doing a regional job, working at the Muny, and looking forward to starting Aladdin in the fall.
How long did it take you to book your first Broadway show since graduating from college?
It took me five years.
Toughest time you’ve had as a performer?
Even though it was one of the most influential times for me, it was when I was in this limbo place between concert dance and musical theatre. I didn’t know where I fit in. I was grasping at straws often trying to figure out if I could really do this and if it was financially lucrative for me. I had a lot of other random jobs I was pretty good at. I worked at lululemon for a while and thought that maybe this could be a career for me. I was sort of picking at things, but that passion for dance was always so strong even in the times when I couldn’t afford to take dance class. Even though I had no idea how it was going to work out and how I was going to be able to sustain myself in New York doing it, I just felt strongly that it was what I needed to do and what I was supposed to do. I feel like a lot of dancers go through that moment where they’re going on auditions and getting cut left and right. When you’re non-equity and waking up at 4am signing up for calls where they don’t even see you at the end of the day, it’s really, really hard to stay motivated and really hard to feel like you’re actually good at it because there are so many people who want the same thing. It’s difficult to push through that. But being on the other side of it, I’ve seen time and time again, the only people who don’t make it are the people who stop trying. The hardest part of it is to keep going even when you feel like you're going nowhere or like you’re never going to be on Broadway—or whatever it is. Broadway doesn’t have to be the epitome, and it’s not. But whatever that goal is for a person, and especially for me, I realized that if I just kept pushing, eventually I was going to get there some sort of way.
Looking back on your experience, what would be your advice to your younger self?
I would tell her to relax and that what you do in the moments when things are not happening or when you don’t seem to be getting affirmation are the things that really matter once things start blowing up. For me, I noticed that it got more difficult as I started to find success. It got difficult for me to really hone in and remember why I am doing this. During those times when I didn’t have a job and was struggling, I would want to remind myself to hold tight to the joy dancing brings you. That’s the reason why you started doing this. It shouldn't always be about getting a job. Sometimes it can really be about a personal goal that you set for yourself, which often times for me is just to have fun. I would want to tell her to enjoy the ride. Enjoy the free time and the space you have to really create.
What are your aspirations?
I would love to do a Fosse show. I started doing a Fosse workshop with the Gwen Verdon estate under Lloyd Culbreath, Valarie Pettiford, and Nicole Fosse, and it was life changing for me. I had never been exposed to Fosse before that. The type of dance that’s popular right now is opposite from Fosse and the work that he created, but I feel like it sits naturally for me, so I’d love to do that.
I am in a weird place where I accomplished something that was so amazing and it all happened at once. It’s kind of scary that I don’t have a concrete plan right now. But I think that what I am trying to do is ride with that and ride the wave of figuring it out and not necessarily always having a plan. But I know that Fosse would be something that would be amazing for me. If I get the opportunity to do that, that’d be awesome.
Is there anything you want to share with the world?
It’s really important to me and the people I surround myself with to really try to find the joy in everything and uplift one another. Because of the nature of this business, we are often pitted against each other. This is especially true for me as a dancer of color because there are usually not as many opportunities for us. Now Broadway is sort of exploding, and it’s amazing. But if I were to go in for a particular show where they only want one person of color, which has been the standard, it creates a lot of competitive energy. It’s not necessarily the most fun to be around that energy. I really appreciate rooms that just have an element of joy to them knowing that whoever is supposed to get the job and needs it most is going to get it. You’ll never miss out on anything that was for you. From that perspective, it’s really easy to walk into auditions because you know that you’ll get the job if it is the right thing for you regardless of how well or not so well you think it went. Whatever is meant for you will be yours and no one will be able to take you off of that course.
While we're out grinding and hustling, uplifting and loving all those around us should be our goal. Ultimately, it’s going to make our art even better when we can truly connect with and support each other. For me, that’s the thing I live by in any instance. Wherever I am, I try to be conscious of what I am bringing into the space, and I hope that more often than not, it's joy, love, laughter, and supportiveness.