When Galen Hooks danced with Ne-Yo at the 2010 American Music Awards, they paused mid-routine—and kissed. “It was the first time I had to kiss somebody onstage,” Hooks says. “Not only was it televised, but I was really shy about it!” Plus it was, you know, Ne-Yo.
Performing a passionate duet is one thing—but having to kiss your partner in the middle of the choreography can be awkward and nerve-racking, especially in front of an audience. Read on to see how some of your favorite dancers handled their first onstage kisses.
Hooks played two characters in Ne-Yo’s music videos and was on the creative team that choreographed the AMA number. “It was my idea to have the kiss happen,” Hooks admits. “It made sense for the story. When my character kisses him, she goes from being nice to being evil. It was all in fun.”
They didn’t rehearse the kiss during the tech run-through, though. Instead, they stood without making eye contact and waited a few seconds before moving into the next segment. “We only did it on the actual show,” Hooks says. “It was just part of the choreography. There was no romance to it.” Watching the kiss, you’d never guess it was so polite. Ne-Yo grabbed her face and pulled her close. “But there was no tongue or anything!” Hooks laughs. “He’s a true gentleman—very respectful.”
Tiffany Maher, runner-up on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 9, calls her first onstage kiss—in the Top 14 routine choreographed by Mia Michaels—her “Spiderman kiss”: Cole Horibe hung upside down, spinning, while Maher swung by a rope attached to her wrist. “I had to grab him and smack his lips to mine,” she says. “In rehearsal, we’d smack heads, or I’d end up kissing his nose, or he’d end up kissing my eyeball.” Plus, Maher and Horibe weren’t star-crossed (spinning) lovers: “He’s like my brother,” she says. “It was the hardest kiss of my life!”
As Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid, Broadway veteran Bret Shuford kissed Ariel countless times onstage. But his first professional kiss happened years before in a regional theater production of Lady in the Dark, featuring cabaret star Andrea Marcovicci. Shuford played Marcovicci’s high school sweetheart and had to kiss her during a flashback scene. “She’s twice my age,” says Shuford, who was 22 at the time. “When we got to that part, I was supposed to be the one kissing her,” he remembers, “but she was the one kissing me! I just went with it.”
Peter Chu was going over his choreography before the premiere of Crystal Pite’s Dark Matters at the National Arts Centre in Canada. Pite, who was also his partner for the work’s last duet, gave him a note. “By the way,” she said, “I think you should kiss me.”
Chu was so nervous that he ran back to his dressing room and started practicing the kiss on the back of his hand, all the time worrying that someone was going to walk in on him. “It’s a beautiful show with amazing dancers,” he says, “but I was more stressed about how to kiss her! You don’t want to bump teeth or anything.” So how did it go during the performance? “It was a passionate, desirable kiss,” Chu says. “Very honest.”
On Season 3 of “SYTYCD,” Lauren Gottlieb and Dominic Sandoval wowed the crowd with their rumba. But it wasn’t their dancing that got all the attention—it was their kiss (the first ever on the show)! “When we practiced it in front of the choreographers, they flipped out,” Gottlieb says. “They thought it was way too much.”
Gottlieb and Sandoval decided to run with it. “We went for the shock factor,” Gottlieb says. “But I was young—19—and my boyfriend and whole extended family were in the audience!” Gottlieb was also overwhelmed by the millions of people watching at home. Her nerves caused an awkward moment at the end when they were both breathing so hard their lips came apart. “He tried to go back in and my head was moving away,” she says.
The Juliets|For some ballerinas, the first onstage kiss is a gentle peck on the lips in
The Sleeping Beauty or an innocent smooch in La Fille mal gardée. But these ballet dancers were thrown into the deep end, having to bring the passion in Romeo and Juliet.
In Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Carla Körbes has to do more than just kiss her partner. “There’s a section where we’re rolling around in bed kissing,” Körbes says. “Then we go under the covers.” She and her partner, Lucien Postlewaite, rehearsed it in the studio so they wouldn’t feel awkward later. “It was more like acting than a ballet kiss,” she says. “It felt like a movie experience.”
Luckily for Körbes, what shows on film doesn’t always show onstage. “The first time, my nose was kind of running and I was crying during the second act,” she says. “We were kissing and all of a sudden there was snot everywhere! At that point we didn’t know what was happening, but when we got offstage, we were dying laughing.”
“When you’re doing something like Romeo + Juliet, everything from an arabesque to the kiss is full of meaning,” says Sterling Hyltin, a principal with New York City Ballet. Hyltin was 21 when Peter Martins choreographed the tragic love story for her and NYCB’s Robert Fairchild.
“I didn’t know if he would kiss me in rehearsals,” she says. “But it happened from the get-go. It was happening in the music, so that’s what we did.” Six years later, Hyltin says she and Fairchild save the kiss for the stage. “All that matters is the moment,” Hyltin says. “If you really believe what you’re doing, there’s nothing strange about kissing somebody you don’t kiss in real life.”
At 18, Victoria Jaiani danced her first Juliet with Joffrey Ballet. “They hired Jason Reilly, then a principal from Stuttgart Ballet, to come dance with me,” she says. “He was an incredible partner and everything worked out well, even though we only had a few days to rehearse before we got onstage.”
The first time they rehearsed full-out in the studio, Jaiani felt comfortable. “You get so involved and live in the moment,” she says. “It felt natural to kiss him. It would’ve been weird not to. I wanted to be kissed.” Jaiani remembers the first show, at the end of the balcony scene, when her Romeo unexpectedly gave her an extra goodnight kiss. “I was surprised because we hadn’t rehearsed it that way,” she says. “It just happened.”