How did you start dancing?
I started dancing because of my great grandmother. One day, she was sitting in our living room, and my mom was cleaning the house with music on. Next to her, I was dancing / moving around / flailing to the music. My great grandmother told my mom that she needed to put me in dance class. I don’t know how soon after she said that, but I took my first ballet class. At my very first class I remember being at the bar in dance leggings and a Hanes undershirt. I also remember running out of the room crying when I got corrected by the teacher. And that was it. Whatever it was, I wasn’t going to do it anymore. And then I was in class the next day [laughs]. I was 5 or 6, I think.
When I got to middle school, sports became a requirement. One day, my parents left a note for me, and it just said go to football practice after school. It was not a discussion. I just had to go. I hated it. I thought that was the end of dance for me. It was sports, sports, sports until my sophomore year in high school. My friend suggested that I audition for a musical. We went through an acting and singing audition, and then we had a dance audition. It was simple stuff—just some across the floor and a combination. It was at a private high school, so we didn’t really have many dancers. At this audition, I did a leap in second, jetes, and everyone was gagging because they were like, “Where did this come from?” Nobody knew that I was a dancer.
How did you decide to become a professional performer?
After auditioning for that musical, it quickly became my favorite. I got to show people a side of myself I had never shown them before. After that, I did all the musicals while at the same time doing plays and sports. I got the Broadway bug and learned all the famous names in the industry. One day, my teacher told me that I could go to school for this. That’s when I started looking into it, and no one in my high school had ever gone to college for theatre. When we got to junior year and had meetings with college advisors, mine sat me down and said, “I can help you write an essay, but I have no idea what it takes to audition for a school. So we’re going to have to do all the research together.” My chorus teacher, acting teacher, college advisor, and guidance counselor—we all separately figured out that you have learn monologues and songs and prepare for dance auditions. I got into NYU, which was where I wanted to go. It was cool that they went out of their way to learn a new thing. Now the theatre program at my high school has grown immensely and so many kids are going to school for theatre. I was one of the first people to open their eyes to this new possibility.
What are you up to now?
I just finished the International Tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. For Joseph we were in the U.S., but now we’re going to Japan. It’s really cool. It’s my first professional acting job after graduation. As soon as I graduated, I honed my skills as a dancer. It’s funny because as the bug bit me, I started focusing on what types of theatre spoke to me. As a junior at NYU, I was doing a show and didn’t get cast in any musicals. I was in a play and was livid about it. It was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. While I was getting my acting chops up, my way of coping was searching for musical theatre outlets.
That’s when Bring It On opened on Broadway. I would be in class, and if I had a bad day, I would student-rush the show. The beautiful thing was that I could always get a ticket. I saw it 13 times on Broadway. I still have every ticket stub and playbill. I don’t need 13 of them, but I kept every single one. And In the Heights was the reason why I started focusing on theatre seriously, and Bring It On was the first time I felt I found my niche. I saw people on stage doing movement that I didn’t know I could do yet but totally associated with.
The first time I saw the show, I took my friend, and we were late as hell. When we got to the theatre, we found out that we were splitting 0. We were in the front row center. I am the worst theatre goer because I show everything on my face. During the show, I was screaming, jumping up on my seat, crying, and laughing. I knew from afar a lot of people in the show, so I went to the stage door afterwards and tried to talk to as many people as possible. I remember Ariana Debose, Adrienne Warren, Gregory Haney and Shonica Gooden all came out separately, and they were like, “You were the one in the front who was getting us through the show!” That made me so happy because I had never had that experience coming from a performer seeing an audience member enjoying something so much. I felt like I was being transported into another world because they were telling stories without having to open their mouth—through dance. With Bring It On, I became obsessed with Andy Blankenbuehler’s ability to choreograph, so Joseph being my first job is a dream come true. I wanted to work for him, and my first time on the stage was working for him.
What are your aspirations?
My aspirations are to follow every option and every possibility that are healthy and enjoyable for me. I want to work in a way where I don’t have to stop and worry about what my next job will be, but I think everybody wants that. So far I’ve been really lucky. I just found out this morning that I got an offer for the Cinderella National Tour. Once I get back from Joseph, I’ll be starting rehearsals for the show, and that’s my dream. When I can’t dance anymore, I want to choreograph. While I want to choreograph and dance on the biggest stages as possible, I want to teach on the smallest stages possible. For all the kids like me who don’t realize their potential yet and don’t know that they can actually do this and enjoy their life and be able to live the way they want to live. There’s nothing as fulfilling as teaching has been for me.
What’s the hardest thing about being a dancer?
One is maintenance. Maintaining a consistent performance. I think doing Joseph really showed me that my mind is going to want to do so much more than my body is physically able to do. All the limits that I don’t think I have are real. So I have to take care of myself in order to have the career I want to have. That’s been one of the hardest things for me. I don’t really have difficulties with keeping the dream alive or keeping focused on auditions. But the faith that doing that will make something happen is hard. I don’t have a problem waking up at 6 to go to auditions, but you have no control over what’s going to happen from them.
What is your number one advice?
If you want to do it, do it. The caveat to it is that if you can dream it, it’s possible. That’s one of my favorite quotes. If you can dream it, you can do it. We have a lot more power to create than we give ourselves credit for.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
There’s a level of selfishness that comes with this job, and it’s something I had to stomach and accept. There is going to be a lot of times where you have two options. One is going to be something that benefits you and your heart. The other thing might not. But they’re going to be weighing on you equally. You’re going to come to a lot of decisions like that. Just know that it’s going to come, and you’re going to have to sit and think about it, but that’s why your friends and family are there. You need sounding boards that love you unconditionally and give you the response you need to hear.