We may live all over the world and study different styles, but there are (at least) eight things that we can all relate to:
- We're not Hermione with her time-turner, but we come close: "So you dance 15 hours a week and take 3 Advanced Placement classes and compete every weekend and assistant-teach at your studio and make honor roll?" Yep.
- We can always get one. more. loop. out of our hair elastic.
- IT'S NOT CALLED PRACTICE! Say it with us: Rehearsal.
- An empty studio holds infinite possibility.
- A moment not spent stretching or doing self-massage is a moment wasted.
- We really wish we could make it to your birthday party/that concert/prom but we just can't. We have dance.
- We will verbally take down anyone who suggests dance is easy.
- Finally hitting the stage is the best feeling in the world.
(Dancers at the Houston Ballet Academy, including Cover Model Search finalist Tatiana Melendez!)
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(L to R) Ashley Everett, Hajiba Fahmy, Sarah Burns and Hannah Douglass (photos by Erin Baiano)
A year from now, many people won’t be able to tell you who played in that important football game on February 3, 2013. They won’t remember the first downs, the second downs or the touchdowns. What will they remember? Beyoncé, who absolutely threw down for her much-anticipated Super Bowl halftime show performance.
For 13 minutes that Sunday night, the superstar celebrated her greatest hits, bringing the roaring crowd at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome in New Orleans—plus 108 million home viewers—into Beyoncé nation. The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers may have come to play at the 2013 Super Bowl, but Beyoncé was the night’s true victor.
That groundbreaking performance was all about girl power. Beyoncé and her team of more than 100 “single ladies” plowed their way into the stadium and showed the world that women can be sexy and classy at the same time—not to mention showstoppingly talented. And for eight of those lucky women, performing at the big game was the beginning of something even bigger: the sold-out, nearly 50-city The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour with Queen Bey herself.
Kimmie Gipson (photo by Erin Baiano)
“Dance for You”
When hundreds of dancers showed up in NYC, L.A., Atlanta and Chicago to audition for a spot on the Super Bowl stage, they were actually trying out for a much longer gig as well. “This year’s tour audition process was the Super Bowl,” says longtime Beyoncé choreographer Frank Gatson Jr. “We saw 800 girls and once we got down to 100, we paid close attention to who was professional and magical. Beyoncé was very clear on who to pick for the tour—she means business. She’s hands-on and she wants her dancers to shine like stars.”
In the weeks leading up to the tour’s April 15 kickoff in Serbia, the dancers were in rehearsals daily, typically beginning at 9 am and lasting “until…” says Kimmie Gipson, who has been dancing with Beyoncé since her 2009 I Am…World Tour. Gatson and fellow choreographers JaQuel Knight and Chris Grant led the rehearsals; most days Beyoncé joined the dancers as well. “The whole rehearsal period was a lot,” says Sarah Burns, who joined the Beyoncé team in 2012. “Emotionally, physically, mentally—it was very stressful.” During rehearsals, the eight dancers were required to wear all black, and if Beyoncé was in the room, they also had to wear heels.
For Ashley Everett—one of the original “Single Ladies”—the rehearsal demands are no longer shocking, but that doesn’t mean the process has gotten any easier. “Don’t let the hair flips, heels and booty shaking confuse you,” she says. “Beyoncé’s choreography is very diverse—we do it all.” Ashley has been Beyoncé’s dance captain since 2009. “I have to know all the choreography, counts and timing,” she says. “I pay attention to every detail.”
Of course, attention to detail can be difficult when you’re learning choreography alongside the queen of pop. “The first time I met Beyoncé was the day after I auditioned for her tour in 2009,” says Kimmie. “She came in bright and early to rehearse ‘Naughty Girl’ with us. Everybody stood so far away from her, giving her so much space. She looked at us like, ‘Guys, I don’t bite!’ That day I began to see her work ethic firsthand. She was right there with us trying to get the steps.”
Ashley Everett (photo by Erin Baiano)
With so few female dancers accompanying Beyoncé onstage during this tour, it was crucial that the casting team pick eight girls perfectly suited for the job. Of course they had to be talented, and of course they had to be able to master that branded “Single Ladies” ring-finger point and Beyoncé stomp-walk-strut. But The Mrs. Carter Show women come from a wide variety of backgrounds. There’s Ashley, the master of all styles who trained at The Juilliard School, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the School of American Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem School and American Ballet Theatre and then went on to become a Radio City Rockette. There’s Hajiba Fahmy from Paris, who boasts a contemporary dance background as a former member of Jean-Claude Gallotta’s company. And there’s Kimmie, who worked at McDonald’s (“It taught me how to remain calm in stressful situations,” she says) before going on to join the Philadelphia 76ers dance team. The Beyoncé “camp,” as the dancers call the group, hails from California, Australia and everywhere in between.
What brings the multifaceted group together is the carefully crafted choreography. A total of seven choreographers worked on The Mrs. Carter Show tour, but Gatson, Knight and Grant handle the bulk of the work. “We show Beyoncé at least four versions of each song,” Gatson says. “She wants options to choose from because she’s done all kinds of dance, from ballet to tap.” (When Gatson and Knight were choreographing “Single Ladies [Put A Ring On It],” they spent three weeks on the choreography and created 10 versions of the number.) In the end, Beyoncé makes the final decision about what she likes or dislikes. “She wants to have fun dancing onstage for two hours, so she has to love all of it. She wants to do everything the correct way—the best way. She doesn’t want watered-down choreography,” Gatson says. “She has such respect for dance. And she will do almost anything as long as she remains a lady. She has class with everything she does, even a booty shake. She knows technique will keep your movement classy. When you mix ballet with street movement, you get the Beyoncé brand. We call it country fried chicken with hot sauce.”
“Once in a Lifetime”
When rehearsals are done and it’s time for the show to hit the road, the work really begins. It can be a tough adjustment for the dancers. “You’re in and out of hotels and airports,” says Kimmie, who takes her zebra-print Snuggie on tour with her so she has “something familiar” on the road. “The hardest thing about tour life for me is the lack of rest,” Ashley says. “Aside from doing the show five times a week, I want to sightsee, teach, shop, go out, eat and experience the world. We do all that and then perform and jump on a tour bus to drive all night to the next city—and we keep doing it over and over again. It can be draining.”
Despite the sore feet, muscle aches and exhaustion, each of the eight girls makes one thing clear: This is their dream job, and it’s all worth it when they’re onstage in front of thousands of screaming fans. “I love those moments onstage when we make eye contact and connect with each other—the band, the audience and Beyoncé,” Kimmie says. Adds Ashley: “I’m doing what I love night after night. I’m living my biggest dream.”
(L to R) Amandy Fernandez, Tanesha "KSYN" Cason, Kim Gingras and Kimmie Gipson (photos by Erin Baiano)
MEET THE LADIES
Ashley Everett (Dance Captain)
24; Chico, CA
First Beyoncé job: The Beyoncé Experience tour, 2007
On being one of the original “Single Ladies”:
“I get recognized, and it’s so weird when I do. I’m like, ‘Really? You were paying attention to me?’ ”
24; Paris, France
First Beyoncé job: A commercial filmed earlier this year
On the best part of working with Beyoncé: “She does everything well. Dancing, singing…she’s like nobody else. You have to be a woman before you’re a dancer in order to work with her. You have to know your essence.”
26; Perth, Australia
First Beyoncé job: “Revel Presents: Beyoncé Live,” 2012
On how she scored it: “I was living in L.A., went to an open audition and got the call from my agent that I had booked the job. Everything I’ve done with Beyoncé since then has been a direct booking.”
25; Austin, TX
First Beyoncé job: “Revel Presents: Beyoncé Live,” 2012
On rehearsals: “You have to be ready for anything at any time. There are so many elements—the band, the dancers, the stage—and you don’t always have every piece of the puzzle at once. Your job is to be on your game and master your field.”
First Beyoncé job: “Run the World (Girls)” music video, 2011
On getting to know Beyoncé: “I helped workshop for the ‘Revel’ show [Beyoncé’s first performance after giving birth to baby Blue Ivy] with Beyoncé and two other dancers. It was just the four of us, so I got to do a lot of dancing with her. She’s a sweetheart. She’s down-to-earth and really nice.”
Tanesha “KSYN” Cason
29; Bronx, NY
First Beyoncé job: The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards
On her favorite Beyoncé routine: “ ‘Diva.’ It’s the perfect blend of hood and sexy choreography with a bit of acting.”
27; Montreal, Canada
First Beyoncé job: The 2013 Super Bowl halftime show
How she got the job: “When I saw Beyoncé’s ad about the Super Bowl show, I said, ‘This is it.’ I’m a strong believer in positive thinking and visualization. I listened to her songs over and over and pictured myself with her onstage.”
29; Plainfield, NJ
First Beyoncé job: I Am…World Tour, 2009
On taking the stage each night: “I anticipate the moment when the lights go out and everybody starts to yell. It sends chills all through my body and my nerves turn to excitement. We all hear it onstage, we all feel it, and then we’re like, ‘Let’s do it.’ It’s so powerful.”
Larry (left) and Laurent Bourgeois (by Erin Baiano)
Larry and Laurent Bourgeois—known in the dance industry as “Les Twins”—are easily recognizable by their big hair, chiseled jawlines and so-far-out-there style. They wear their pants backward and topped with kneepads down around their ankles, and rock enough bling, bracelets and accessories to arm an entire competition team. The youngest of 18 siblings, these 24-year-old French party boys don’t seem to take anything too seriously—and that includes their dancing. “I just freestyle,” Laurent says. “I have no talent.” Though Les Twins don’t boast a resumé filled with training credits—they’re self-taught hip hoppers—the “no talent” point is worth arguing against if you’ve seen them in action.
Beyoncé would certainly stand against Laurent’s claim: According to her choreographer since 1997, Frank Gatson Jr., it was Beyoncé herself who spotted the twins and told Gatson to bring them onto the team. “Beyoncé is a monster,” Laurent says. “That’s her name—I call her that all the time. I give her power when I don’t have any power left.” Larry and Laurent danced alongside Beyoncé at the Billboard Music Awards in 2011 and now they’ll join her on The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour as the only male dancers. “I want to bring everything onto the stage. I want to sleep on the stage,” Larry says. “I just want to go out there and kill the stage.”
Alexia Meyer performing her title-winning solo at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in 2012 (photos courtesy NYCDA)
For years, Alexia Meyer struggled with comparing herself to other dancers. “I would feel confident going into a competition, but as soon as I saw other dancers’ abilities, I would second-guess what I was capable of,” says Alexia, who just graduated high school. “My self-consciousness definitely hurt my performance. When I wasn’t confident, I couldn’t dance 100 percent.” Alexia consistently placed among the top dancers at competitions, but never won at Nationals.
Then her studio, The Dance Club in Orem, UT, brought in performance psychology consultant Justin Su’a, who counsels elite athletes (including a few Olympians) and artists such as “Dancing with the Stars” pro Chelsie Hightower on improving mental skills for physical performance. Su’a led three group sessions at TDC. “He talked a lot about managing stress and fear, and getting rid of self-doubt,” says TDC co-owner Allison Thornton. “All of our dancers were excited to try the techniques he offered, but Alexia really took his advice to heart.” After the team sessions, Alexia kept meeting with Su’a one-on-one—and his advice worked. At 2012 Nationals, Alexia overcame her confidence issues and was named New York City Dance Alliance’s Senior Female Outstanding Dancer.
How could a sports psychologist’s methods improve your own performance? Here are five strategies you can take from the field, the pool and the rink to the studio and the stage.
Stop Negative Self-Talk
“Anytime you’re being judged on your performance, it’s easy to beat yourself up,” Su’a says. The first steps in silencing the inner voice telling you you’ll never be good enough are recognizing the thought and realizing you don’t have to listen. “People think, If I have this thought, it must be true,” he explains. “Believing that negative inner voice can lead to a physiological response that affects your performance.”
Alexia getting her start at NYCDA
Turn the tables by thinking about what you want to be saying to yourself before a performance or competition. For example, Su’a helped Alexia come up with “power statements” to repeat when she starts doubting herself or questioning her capabilities. “I say things like, ‘I’m here to dance, and that’s all I care about,’ ” Alexia says.
Have you ever heard an athlete use the phrase “Be the ball”? Just as a soccer player might visualize the ball sailing past the goalie and into the net, dancers can visualize what they hope to do onstage. Picturing what you want to happen—rather than what you don’t, like falling or messing up—can help you relax and let your training take over.
Dr. Kate Hays, a performance psychologist who works with athletes and dancers, uses both realistic and metaphorical imagery with her clients. “For Swan Lake,” she explains, “realistic imagery would focus on the music and envisioning particular steps. Metaphorical imagery would be thinking about ‘swan-ness’—being a swan rather than being a dancer.” Try both types of imagery to see what resonates with you.
Breathe Through the Nerves
“Nerves aren’t bad—they’re your body’s way of telling you it’s show time,” Su’a says. However, if your nerves affect your breathing, your performance can falter. “When your breathing becomes erratic in a high-stress situation, carbon dioxide gets trapped in your muscles and you get stiff,” Su’a says. Slowing down your breathing can stop the cycle.
Alexia demonstrating during NYCDA convention classes. After winning the Senior Outstanding Dancer title at Nationals in 2012, Alexia began traveling with NYCDA as an assistant.
Hays teaches dancers and athletes a technique called diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing. To try it, put both hands on your stomach, middle fingers touching, and breathe in. Your fingers should separate at the depth of the inhale, showing that you’re fully engaging your diaphragm, and your middle fingers should come back together on the exhale. You can also curl up on the floor in yoga’s child’s pose and feel the inhale expanding your back, just below your ribs. Breathing like this for several minutes can help you regulate tension and calm down.
Create a “Pre-game Ritual”
Athletes use pre-game rituals as a way to get into the competitive mindset, and you can do the same before performances. “There are a lot of uncontrollable factors about performing, and a pre-show routine can help you feel in control,” Su’a says.
Hays adds, “What helps you feel most ready to be onstage? Do that, while avoiding things you know psych you out.” You might need to be surrounded by friends, or be alone. You might do a set warm-up backstage before every show, or listen to a specific song over and over. Whatever it is, establish a routine and stick to it.
Remember Your Motivation
Whether you’re hoping to dance with American Ballet Theatre or you want to play in the NBA, staying motivated is important. “Do you dance to win trophies, or because you love it?” Su’a asks. “It’s easy to lose motivation if you forget why you do what you do. If you reconnect with your purpose, you can be more effective in your behavior.”
For Alexia, thinking about her motivation for dancing helped her relax in stressful situations. “I remembered that I dance for myself and not for others,” she says. “I can’t let outside influences hurt my motivation for dancing.”
Change doesn’t often happen overnight. “Mental skills, like physical ones, take time to develop and practice,” Su’a says. But if you’re willing to train your mind just like you train your physical body, you can look forward to major benefits.
There's nothing we love more than a dancer who goes beyond the classroom to give back. And Kyle Hanagami's doing just that. You probably know him as the smooth-moving, super-cute hip-hop choreographer. (Remember this video?!) Well, now we're seeing a different side of him. After a recent injury sidelined him, he started thinking beyond dance and decided he wanted to make a difference in the world by raising money for cancer research.
Kyle started out by donating all of the proceeds from one of his classes to the cause—and the studio matched the amount. Inspired, he decided to take it one step further and give everyone else a chance to get involved. Enter, letters of love. Here's how you can help:
1. Write a love letter. Talk about any kind of love and decorate it however you'd like.
2. Send it:
P.O. Box 6339
North Hollywood, CA 91603
3. For every 10 letters Kyle receives, he'll donate another dollar of his own money to cancer research.
Watch Kyle talk about the whole process here:
So easy, so awesome. Now, grab some paper and get writing! Together, we can be dancers who make a difference.
It's no secret we loved Beyoncé's Super Bowl halftime show. So naturally, we were dying to know more about the making of the production. We caught up with Just For Kix designer Alexandra Clough—who performed in the "Single Ladies" number and designed the leotards the dancers wore!—to get a behind the scenes look at the performance.
Five things you didn't know about the fiercest Super Bowl halftime ever:
1. "There were 74 dancers onstage during the "Single Ladies" number." 30 were Bey's dancers and 44 were dancers (mostly local New Orleans girls) who auditioned and scored a coveted spot.
2. "Beyoncé rehearses full-out. What you saw on TV was the same performance quality we saw in every practice." Okay, so maybe this isn't too surprising, but it makes sense: Kill it in rehearsal, perform it like a boss.
3. "Beyoncé is not a diva." Sure, she's got enough talent and star power to justify major diva status, but Alexandra says she was "very humble and down to earth."
4. "The whole cast only rehearsed together 5 times." Three of the practices were full dress rehearsals with everyone (including all of the fans that ran onto the field to their set places). Fun fact: It took 500 stage crew members to get the set on and off the field!
5. "The leotards I designed had a special pocket in the back for our radios and headphones." That's right, every dancer onstage wore ear pieces so they could clearly hear the music and dance together without fear of echoes or getting off count.
And no, Alexandra didn't get to meet baby Blue Ivy. (Of course, I asked.) She did, however, spot Jay-Z after the performance when they all posed for pics.
Now for a special treat. Check out this awesome vid of Bey and her dancer rehearsing for the big performance:
by Michael J. Moore
If you truly felt for Billy Bell during the “Mad World” number on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 7, or gasped aloud at Witney Carson and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp’s duet to “I Will Always Love You” on Season 9, you’re in for a treat: Stacey Tookey, who choreographed both those memorable routines, has formed her own company. Still Motion, her diverse troupe of dancers, will perform plenty of Tookey’s signature contemporary style. But the Emmy-nominated choreographer also has a whole lot more up her sleeve (including baton twirling!). Dance Spirit chatted with Tookey to get the scoop.
Dance Spirit: How did you make the decision to start your own company?
Stacey Tookey: After five years of seriously thinking about it, I finally decided, “This scares me, so I should definitely do it.” And why not now? There’s so much talent here in L.A., and there are so few venues for concert dance. If it weren’t for my experience in companies [including Mia Michaels’ company, R.A.W., and Parsons Dance Project], I don’t think I would be who I am today. Companies are where dancers learn dedication and hard work. It’s all about giving young performers opportunities.
DS: Will the choreography be similar to what we’ve seen from you on “SYTYCD”?
ST: I obviously love contemporary dance, but my training and background are diverse. A lot of people don’t know that. I was in a tap company, danced on an NBA cheerleading team, twirled baton competitively, figure-skated, was a Scottish Highland dancer, did Chinese dance, was in a German dancing troupe and trained in jazz and modern. Of course, “SYTYCD” has to label you, so there I’m a contemporary choreographer. But in my company pieces, I want to express more sides of myself. I want my audiences to walk away feeling like they’ve been through an experience.
DS: What do you look for in dancers?
ST: I work with energies. It’s all about how dancers present themselves and how open they are to being vulnerable. As far as genres, I usually look for dancers who are versatile. But, I’ll also feature artists who only do one thing really well, like Anthony Morigerato, who recently set the Guinness World Record for most tap sounds in a minute. I mainly look for special artists who are ready to go on a journey with me.
SAVE THE DATE: Stacey Tookey's Still Motion will present its first performance November 9-10 in L.A.
Photo by Deen van Meer
Extra! Extra! Read all about it: Newsies is the hottest new musical on Broadway! That’s right: The cult ’90s Disney film, a fictionalized retelling of the 1899 newsboy strike, has landed on the Great White Way. And the pedigreed dancers playing its scruffy, paper-peddling, lovable newsboys are the new kings of New York. Remember the high-octane dance sequences Kenny Ortega choreographed for the film? Now multiply their energy by 10, add tap shoes (for the showstopping “King of New York” number) and sub in “So You Think You Can Dance” alums and Broadway dance veterans for the movie’s rough-hewn group of kids. (Christian Bale and company were adorable in the film version, but this crop of dancers? Now you’re talkin’.)
Here at DS, we were totally blown away by the talented Newsies musical cast. Meet four of the standout dancers—Aaron Albano, Ryan Steele, Ephraim Sykes and Alex Wong—who backflipped and switch-leaped their way into our hearts.
The True Story Behind Newsies
Newsies follows the daring, dashing Jack Kelly as he leads a group of his fellow newsboys to strike against domineering newspaper baron Joseph Pulitzer. While there was no Jack Kelly in real life, there was a newsboy strike in 1899, spearheaded by the Jack Kelly–like Kid Blink and buddy David Simons. They got their peers to unite against Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in protest of the higher prices the moguls had begun charging newsboys for papers. And like the fictional newsies, the real newsies did force the publishers to make small concessions.
DID YOU KNOW? There are four “So You Think You Can Dance” alums in Newsies: Thayne Jasperson, Evan Kasprzak, Jess LeProtto and Alex Wong.
DID YOU KNOW? There were lots of now familiar faces dancing behind Christian Bale in the film version of Newsies, including Brian Friedman, Dee Caspary and Wes Veldink!
Photo by Jacob Pritchard
MEET THE NEWSIES
Aaron Albano (Finch, Ensemble)
A California native, Aaron caught the theater bug early, performing in local musicals and training in jazz and tap. After studying musical theater at the University of Cincinnati—“I knew that I needed more training after high school, that I wasn’t quite ready for prime time”—he landed a spot in Broadway’s Bombay Dreams, and has been hopping from show to show on the Great White Way (A Chorus Line, Wicked, Mary Poppins) ever since.
Aaron got into Newsies on the ground floor: He performed in the show’s off-Broadway run at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. “As soon as I got wind of the production, I knew I had to go for it,” he says. “It was a childhood dream come true.” While he says he’d be “happy to do Newsies for the rest of my life,” Aaron also has offstage aspirations. “I was taking graduate classes in teaching for a while, and I’d like to continue that at some point,” he says. “I’m a math person. If I could find a high school that needed a math, drama and dance teacher, I’d be set!”
Favorite dancer of all time: “Ryan Steele. Please put a smiley face after that.” :)
Favorite food: “Cookies—specifically the chocolate chip cookies from the DoubleTree hotel. It’s an inside joke at work, actually. My nickname is ‘Cookie.’ ”
Dance crush: Abby Lee Miller from “Dance Moms.” “Is that weird? It’s my favorite TV show. She’s such a crazy, whacked-out character.”
Photo by Jacob Pritchard
Ryan Steele (Specs, Ensemble, Dance Captain)
Ryan grew up in a dancing family: His mom, dad, brother and sister have all trained. After studying a variety of dance styles as a youngster, he decided to go ballet all the way as a teen. In fact, the Michigan native was about to sign with Ballet Austin when he found out he’d also been offered the part of Baby John in the Broadway revival of West Side Story. He took the role, and was plunged into the foreign world of musicals. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into, especially when it came to singing,” he says. “Luckily, it was a great cast to learn from—and good thing, because I had a lot to learn. Take voice lessons, everybody!”
After a stint in Billy Elliot, Ryan joined the Newsies Paper Mill Playhouse cast. “I couldn’t have been more thrilled, because I’m such a fan of the movie—it made me realize that dancing was a cool thing for guys to do,” he says. “As a 10-year-old I was making up dances to ‘Carrying the Banner’ in my living room.” He’s also a dance captain for the show, working alongside choreographer Christopher Gattelli to refine the hard-hitting choreography.
Most-played on his iPod: [Ryan says:] “Dearest” by The Black Keys. [The other boys say:] “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen and “Watch What Happens” from the Newsies soundtrack.
His dance crushes: “My roommates, Jakob Karr and Grace Buckley. They’re both
so amazing and talented.”
Weirdest thing in his dance bag: “A piece of coal from one of the coal mines in the county where Billy Elliot takes place. All the ensemble members in the show got one. It’s like a good luck charm now.”
Photo by Jacob Pritchard
Ephraim Sykes (Mush, Ensemble)
Ephraim started out boogieing along to Michael Jackson videos as a kid. Later, he refined his technique at Florida’s Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, and further polished his skills in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program and as a member of Ailey II.
His decision to start down the musical theater road was actually a return to his roots, in a way: “My mom is a singer, and I grew up singing in church,” he says. He landed a role in The Little Mermaid on Broadway, and his career took off from there.
Though Ephraim hadn’t seen the film version of Newsies before he was cast in the show, he became “an instant fan” after watching the DVD that came with his script. “I was late to the party,” he says. “My friends have all been obsessed with the movie for years!”
Eventually, he’d also like to try out more television and film roles. “I’m hoping the industry comes back to the old-school dance movie model,” he says. “My dream is to be the next Sammy Davis Jr. or Fred Astaire.”
Favorite dancer of all time: “Matthew Rushing from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Watching him changed my life.”
Hidden talent: “I’m a musician. I play the piano and the saxophone, and played snare drum in the marching band in high school. I also like writing music.”
If he were a superhero, his power would be: “The ability to read people’s thoughts—and make them say what I want!”
Photo by Jacob Pritchard
Alex Wong (Scab, Ensemble)
We’re guessing you’re already well acquainted with Alex Wong. The former Miami City Ballet principal soloist and “So You Think You Can Dance” star has been on a roller coaster ride for the past couple of years. After tearing both of his Achilles tendons in succession, Alex put dance on the back burner for a bit and began exploring his other passion: singing. “I was in L.A. competing on ‘American Idol’ when my agent called about Newsies,” he says.
Since his Achilles were finally healing, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back onstage—and to make use of his vocal skills. Plus, he’d seen fellow “SYTYCD” alum Evan Kasprzak in the Paper Mill production and knew he loved the show.
Newsies marks Alex’s first time on Broadway, and its eight-performances-a-week schedule has been an adjustment. “Initially, I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with doing the same show every day,” he says. “But it’s been so rewarding.” And there’s probably more Broadway in Alex’s future: “I’d love to do a show that’s even heavier on the singing.”
Favorite dancer of all time: “Can I say three? Ethan Stiefel, David Hallberg and Mark Kanemura. They’re just rock stars.”
If he were a superhero, his power would be: “Flying! I used to have these amazing flying dreams as a kid.”
Weirdest thing in his dance bag: Chocolate mochi candy from Japan.
DID YOU KNOW? Alex, Ephraim, Aaron and Ryan have all performed on the TV show “Smash,” along with several other Newsies boys.
Photo by Deen van Meer
NEWSIES SOUND OFF
DS: How did you all master the Newsies “New Yawk” accent?
Ryan: We have a dialect coach who works with us a lot. But we also get help from Tommy Bracco, who plays Spot—he’s from Staten Island and had the accent to begin with! For brushups we go right to Tommy.
Ephraim: I’ve also found that anytime you’re not sure how a word should sound, just talk out of the side of your mouth. That usually does it.
DS: What’s it like working with Newsies’ choreographer, Christopher Gattelli?
Ryan: He’s the best. He makes it great to come to work every day.
Aaron: His choreographic style balances storytelling and power. If it were all power, we’d be going for platinum constantly for no reason. If it were all storytelling, everyone would be like, Why are you wasting these great dancers?
Alex: He’s able to show us off individually and yet also have us dance as a real unit.
Ephraim: None of his choreo is arbitrary. We’re jumping because we’re trying to jump over the hurdles in our lives! It’s rare that you get to speak so truthfully with your body.
DS: What real-life roles do each of you play in the cast?
Ryan: Aaron is definitely the big brother. He’s been in a bunch of shows already, so he knows what to expect, and looks out for all of us.
Aaron: Alex is the secret teenybopper! Every time you turn around he’s singing Legally Blonde.
Alex: Ephraim is the fashion-forward one, for sure. He’s super-stylish.
Aaron: And Ryan is the most popular. We have these Newsies trading cards, and his is the most requested. Everyone loves Specs!
DS: Do you guys prank each other a lot?
Ephraim: Oh my gosh, Alex played the worst prank on me our first week in the theater!
Alex: For some reason at that point I had everyone’s phone number except Ephraim’s. I got his from a friend, and sent him a text: “Is this Ephraim?” He texted back, “Yeah, who is this?” And suddenly I saw my opportunity…
Ephraim: I got this string of texts: “Hi, my name’s Christine, I saw you in the show, I’m your hugest fan, I love you soooo much, I’m coming back to see you soon.” It was so creepy—I got legitimately scared, like, How did this girl get my number? I locked my door and told the stage manager that I thought I had a stalker!
Alex: He had no idea it was me texting. It was amazing.
DS: But you get real fan mail too, right?
Ryan: Yup, we all do. The sweetest letter I got said a little boy had started taking dance classes after seeing us in the show. I mean, that’s why we do this, right? It’s awesome to hear that we’re inspiring others.