How did you start dancing?
My parents met swing dancing. They formed a swing dancing club and taught me how to cha cha when I was in diapers. I picked dance up really early. I’d love to say that I never looked back, but there was definitely a middle school period where I tried to be “cool” and stop dancing. But dance was the only thing I was passionate about, and I didn’t care anymore about what people thought of it in high school, so I got back into it. Then, I really never looked back.
What was the reason why you stopped dancing?
I moved from Ohio to Nevada. I was distraught from leaving my dance studio. So I didn’t take up class right away. I realized kids are mean, and when they found out that I was a dancer, there was so much bullying. I thought, “Why would I do that to myself?” It started out as sending a message to my parents for moving to another state, and it turned into kids don’t think it’s cool. So I only tapped during that time. That was the only thing I thought was “cool” enough.
What sparked you to go back into dance?
I started getting back into it when I found studios where I felt a little more at home. I got the motivation to get better. I was just being lazy and slacking during that time off, but by high school, I wanted to get better. I’ve always wanted to dance, so finally I didn’t care about what other people thought about it. I started taking it seriously and grew up a little bit.
How did you decide that you wanted to do this as a living?
In high school, I thought I was going to go to college for something else to have a “backup plan.” I had a mentor who told me that if you have a backup plan, you’ll use that plan because this career is too difficult and you’ll give up because you spent all this money to go to school for something and you’ll take that road because it’s easier. The road I was going to take was physical therapy, but I didn’t really want to be a physical therapist.
After applying to some schools for dance and some schools for physical therapy, I decided to go to Oklahoma City University for dance. Somewhere in that time I got the courage to just do it. I knew I wanted to, but I was told by so many people that it was too hard to make a career out of it. I was told you’d always be poor and struggling. But even if I was poor and struggling, I’d rather be dancing than doing something I don’t like.
How do you feel about your choice now?
That was 10 years ago. I am so glad that I made that decision. I am happy. I’ve made a career out of it. I am financially responsible and “adulting,” as they say. I love proving all of those people wrong, especially people who told me that it was going to be too hard. What’s funny is now the only contact I have with those people is them asking me for tickets to a show. I am so glad that I made that decision because I just wouldn’t be happy otherwise. Being a performer has its trials and tribulations, and I’ve definitely had some tough times, but if you have to do it, you just have to do it.
What happened after college?
Senior year spring break, I came to New York with OCUNYC (a workshop OCU puts on for students), and there were some auditions. I auditioned for the national tour of Cats, which was my dream show. I was offered the job on the spot, but I told them I had to finish college. I had two months left, and I didn’t pay all that money to not get a degree. They said they’d keep me on file, but it seemed like I wasn’t going to get it. But, one of the cast members ended up getting injured a week before I graduated, and they called me asking when I was available. When I got the call on Friday, I told them I was graduating on Saturday, so I could fly out after 2pm. They flew me out on Sunday. I joined the cast right away and toured for 7 months. That gave me a bit of savings and allowed me to move to New York with a little more gusto, because I was pretty terrified. Coming up on graduation, I was scared to make the move. I got lucky and got that break, which gave me the confidence that I could do it.
I moved here right after the tour with two suitcases and a dream. I’ve been here 6 years now but I’ve actually been in the city for less than two years between touring and regional jobs. I have an apartment here, wonderful friends and have made New York my home.
What are you up to now?
I am currently touring with Newsies. We just celebrated our two year anniversary of the show. There are a handful of us who have been here the whole time. Newsies wasn’t an easy job to get. I didn’t get the original production, and I went back when they transferred to Broadway and didn’t get it. I went back to the audition when the first person left the show, but I didn’t get it. That happened 7 times before I finally got the phone call. Everyone I knew from every walk of my life would be like, “Have you auditioned for Newsies? You’re so perfect for that show.” Everything happens for a reason, and I am so glad that I got to tour with it for the first time because I have seen friends and family all over the country. It has afforded me so many opportunities like teaching and filming my first movie. It’s such an inspiring show for kids too. The reason why I went to 7 auditions was because I grew up loving the movie. It’s just been a dream show of mine even before it was a show. We actually just wrapped up filming the movie version of our tour, which is the epitome of a dream come true. It’s so cool that the movie that I grew up with is now being re-filmed, and I’m in it. It will be a nice memory of our show, which obviously had a huge impact on my life. After tour, I am heading back to New York and back to the grind: auditioning, taking class & hoping for the next thing to come my way.
What are your aspirations?
I hate even saying the word “older” because I am not really that old. But as a dancer, they say a career is limited. I still have some kick in me for sure, and I want to keep dancing. But I also want to break into choreographing more. I feel like every dancer does it because they have to or they’re told to. It’s just what you do. But I think there’s a difference between just doing it because you’re a dancer and doing it because you have a story to tell. I think that as I continue dancing, I am looking more to tell stories through choreography and build that side of my career. Ultimately, that would be the next step. I also aspire to be an artistic director at a theatre—it doesn’t have to be a huge company. I would love to have a hand in cultivating the next generation of performers. I know that those people are under-recognized, but they all have such an influence on us when we’re younger. I’d love to do that.
Toughest time as a dancer?
This past summer, I had an injury that sidelined me from Newsies. I tried to push through as much as I could because that’s the dancer spirit. At some point, when I was crying on stage during the show from pain, I had the realization that I should get it looked at. It turned out that I was right, and I needed to take some time off from the show. I’ve been lucky to never have been seriously injured before, and the psychology of it really threw me for a loop because performing is my passion and all of my eggs were in this basket. To be done for a minute in the snap of a finger and have the fear of never getting it back, I was terrified. I had all of these doubts about what was going to be in the future. Luckily, I was able to get physical therapy to rebuild back up.
I am back, and I’ve learned so much about how to prevent that in the future. Dancer spirit of pushing through pain might not always be the best idea. It just might be complicating the injury. It’s a hard lesson to learn because you’re taught to persevere through pain and not complain. But you have to listen to your body. I stopped doing the show on my own accord and needed to see a doctor. I knew my limit, and I am glad I didn’t push it anymore. I was tempted to. But I had the support of the company and the support of physical therapists to get healed and get better. It was a humbling experience. You’re living this dream, riding this wave, having success, and having happiness but something like this injury can flash in your face and make you stressed about every aspect of your life. It was a tough summer.
I am certainly more aware of my body now. I have learned one of the lessons dancers don’t really think about. When you’re doing a show for such a long time, you have to be able to cross train with different styles of dance or different physical exercise. If you’re doing the same thing on the same side for two years, your body is going to be morphed and not balanced. I was just doing Newsies for so long, and instead of being smart and proactive about cross-training, I was just straining my body.
What would be your number one advice?
Find what you’re good at and cultivate it and also improve immensely in all the things you’re bad at. The thing you’re good at is going to get you noticed but things you’re not good at will get you jobs. I think we all are so comfortable in our comfort zone of being a tapper, a ballerina, a dancer, a singer—and we just do this one thing. You should focus on the things that you’re good at because that will get you a callback, but the thing that’s going to get you a job is the thing that you used to be not so good at. Having the courage to say, “I am not good at this and need more training,” is key. At some point, you just have to understand that you have to be good at all of it.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
With Newsies, I’ve gotten to meet a lot of young people across the country who are inspired by the show and who look up to the performers in the show. I think they put us in a different category than them, and I find that kind of odd. It’s important for them to always know and remember that we were the same kid. I was the kid that waited at the stage door to get autographs from people and took every master class that came to my hometown. Nowadays we’re so connected because of social media, and they think of us as some type of celebrity and something unattainable, but I was the same as them when I was their age. I want the younger generation to keep doing their thing and know that a career in performing arts is totally possible. You don’t have to be born into it. You don’t have to have a big break. We all grew up the same way. We all started at a dance studio or a theatre and worked our way up and learned a lot of lessons along the way. We all had the same humble beginning. It’s important to know that sometimes it seems so far away, but it’s really not that far. It’s completely attainable.