Jakob Karr (by Joe Toreno)
Our July/August issue is here! We're so excited to present our NYC Issue featuring musical-theater newbies Jakob Karr and Kamille Upshaw. We met up with them in Tempe, AZ, on the route of the Flashdance: The Musical tour, where they posed for photographer Joe Toreno, rocking huge smiles despite the 100 degree heat. Plus, they shared their anecdotes about transitioning from comp kids to musical-theater buffs. (Read advice from Jakob, Kamille and others in "Your Name in Lights.") Want to learn more about these two triple-threat dancers? Read on for some Fast Facts:
Birthday: June 21, 1990
Hometown: Orlando, FL
Childhood studio: Shooting Stars School of Performing Arts in Clermont, FL
Most-played on his iPod: “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey
Who would play him in a movie? "A hybrid of Jennifer Lawrence and Ryan Reynolds"
Favorite teacher/class: “I’m a huge fan of Joe Lanteri’s class at Steps on Broadway. If I’m in town, I’m there, and I’m in the front row.”
Favorite dancer of all time: Gene Kelly. “He’s talented, captivating, subtle, cool, crisp and sexy.”
Favorite food: Mexican
Hidden talent: “It’s more of a birth defect. I can breathe air in and out of my eyeball, like I can blow bubbles out of my eye underwater. It’s kind of disgusting, but it’s a pretty cool party trick.”
If he could be a superhero, his power would be: “Obviously I’d want to fly, but I like to believe that in my superhero land all superheroes fly no matter what. So I’d love to be able to live underwater and become the cooler, modern Aquaman.”
The first thing he does in the morning: Listen to music. “I have to start the day with some jams.”
The last thing he does before going to bed: Check Instagram
Dance crushes: Ryan Steele and Grace Buckley. “They’re my roommates, and they’re so talented. I’m in love with both of them and I can’t get enough of them.”
Favorite dance movie: Dirty Dancing
Must-see TV shows: “Game of Thrones.” “I would never recommend it to anyone under 17, but I’m addicted.”
Dance BFFs: “Again, my roommates. We’re all obsessed with each other. We just really, really like each other.”
Three words that describe his personality: Bright, silly, determined
Three words that describe his dancing: Big, bendy, explosive
Kamille Upshaw (by Joe Toreno)
Birthday: September 9, 1989
Hometown: Upper Marlboro, MD
Childhood dance studio: Spotlight Studio of Dance in Millersville, MD
Most played song on her iPod? “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars
Who would play her in a movie? Amandla Stenberg from The Hunger Games. “She’s a complete lookalike of me when I was younger. As she gets older, she could just continuously play me.”
Favorite dancer of all time: “I can’t narrow it down to one dancer, so I’ll say a company. Nederlands Dans Theater will always be my ultimate favorite. They have the most beautifully artistic dancers.”
Favorite teacher/class: “My home studio teacher, Wyndee McGovern. Every time I go home to take her class it’s like I’ve started dance all over again.”
Favorite food: “Anything with goat cheese on it.”
Something people don’t know about her: “I aspire to be a photographer. It’s something I’d like to delve into as I get older.”
If she could be a superhero, her power would be: “The ability to make everyone happy. I’m such a people pleaser.”
The first thing she does in the morning: “Check my phone to see if I have any emails, texts or Instagram comments. Then I roll my ankles.”
The last thing she does before going to bed? “It’s never the same. But I’m a big journal person. Writing is very relaxing."
Dance crush: “My boyfriend, James Boyd, is amazing. But other than that, my dance crushes change quite a bit. It’s whoever catches my eye in the moment. If I chose one, I feel like I’d be cheating on everyone else.”
Favorite dance movie: West Side Story. “I have two VHS tapes and a DVD, and I have it on iTunes.”
Must-see TV shows: “I am a ‘Dance Moms’ fan always and forever. Since I grew up in that world, it fascinates me, no matter how crazy it seems. I also love ‘Revenge.’ ”
Guilty pleasure: “ ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ or anything that has to do with the Kardashians.”
Three words that describe her personality: Caring, confident, corny
Three words that describe her dancing: Passionate, strong, fluid
When I find out there is a video on the internet featuring Jakob Karr that I somehow haven't seen, my day is immediately halted. Must. Watch. Jakob.
Choreographer Lauren Adams recently released a new project she had been working on (and hinting at heavily on Facebook!). A project including Jakob Karrrrrrr!
A shot from "Angel(s) on Fire"
But not just Jakob Karr. Also a whole handful of other awesome, strapping men: Jason Parsons (the bald, mysterious one), Joey Arrigo (the comp kid turned technical whiz), Corey Snide (the tapper who can also do everything else well, too), Austin Goodwin (the scruffy, captivating redhead) and Danny Tidwell (no intro needed, am I right?).
Adams directed and produced this piece, called "Angel(s) on Fire," and I keep watching it because there's so much to see. The video was filmed and edited by Allison Schultz, who does an incredible job shooting from crazy angles and layering the shots throughout the four-minute routine.
So yes, I have this love thing (from afar, of course) going on for Jakob, but I actually found myself most drawn to Corey Snide as I watched the "angels" in action. Corey, weren't you, like, just New York City Dance Alliance's Mini Oustanding Dancer? (You may also recognize Corey from our September 2013 cover—he's a Juilliard man now!)
The choreography seamlessly blends contemporary elements with tap-like movements, a boxing series and the guys playing with feathers.
Click here to watch "Angel(s) on Fire." I think you're going to like it.
Every now and then, we come across a dance video that's so lovely, so breathtaking, so special that we just let it roll on repeat for days at a time.
The latest video we can't stop reloading and re-watching is "Silhouette" starring three of our favorite roommates: Ryan Steele, Jakob Karr and Grace Buckley. Set to hauntingly beautiful music by Active Child featuring Ellie Goulding and choreographed by Buckley, this piece is nothing fancy—it's just clean, simple, elegant dancing. Plus, the three dancers are best friends, making it even more fun to take a trip into their little world. Bonus: The video was shot and edited by Andrew Keenan-Bolger, one of Steele's castmates in Newsies!
For your viewing pleasure...
This is totally what you and your roommates do in your spare time, right?
Photography by Joe Toreno
(L to R) Broadway performer Charlotte D'Amboise, 2013 Ambassador For The Arts Catherine Zeta-Jones and NYCDA Founder/Executive Director Joe Lanteri
At Dance Spirit, we love comp kids, we love college dancers, we love Broadway performers, and we especially love when all of these people come together for one exciting performance. That’s exactly what happened last night at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation’s gala event, “Bright Lights Shining Stars.” This year’s performance celebrated 2013 Ambassador For The Arts Award winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was looking radiant in head-to-toe sequins. But the real stars of the night were the dancers, who came from far and wide to pay tribute to CZJ.
The opening number featured one of our September 2013 cover girls, Marymount Manhattan dancer Zoey Anderson, who took the stage opposite our July/August cover guy Jakob Karr. What a great match! And later, I was so proud to spot 2012 Cover Model Search finalist Alyssa Ness and CMS winner Megan Skalla looking stunning on stage, both of whom have won generous college scholarships from NYCDA this year.
Then came the Broadway tributes, each one representing a chapter from CZJ’s career. There was “Go Into Your Dance” from 42nd Street with Mara Davi of “Smash,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” from Rock of Ages featuring Mamma Mia’s Felicia Finley, and “All That Jazz” from Chicago starring Charlotte D’Amboise of Pippin.
One of the best moments of the night featured another Broadway star, tiny tapper Luke Spring, who comes back to the Great White Way this December in A Christmas Story. The 10-year-old cutie stole the show with an improvised tap solo. The crowd went absolutely wild and gave him a standing ovation.
This year, the Foundation has already awarded $3.4 million towards talented teens' college educations—including a $10,000 scholarship sponsored by our sister magazine Dance Magazine (that went to stunning dancer Sasha Alvarez). And last night, NYCDA handed out even more college scholarships, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. I have to admit, I got a little choked up seeing the excitement on these dancers’ faces.
All in all, it was a fabulous night to celebrate the past accomplishments of one dancer-turned-celebrity—and the futures of a whole bunch of talented kids.
It takes more than just looking AMAZING in spandex to make it on Broadway. You have to sing, too! (Photo of Jakob Karr in Flashdance the Musical by DRGPhotography)
For our July/August issue, we talked to cover stars Kamille Upshaw and Jakob Karr about making the transition from dancer to dancer/singer/actor, and they gave us tons of good advice—including a few tips on choosing a song to sing at auditions. (As Jakob learned the hard way, "Happy Birthday to You" is not the best option.) This, of course, made the Dance Spirit editors think about what we would sing if we were trying to make it in musical theater ourselves. I asked each editor, “If you were trying out for a Broadway show, what would your audition song be?” Here’s what they said:
“ ‘The Power of Love’ by Celine Dion. It's not a Broadway song, and I really can't hit any of the high notes. I would definitely not get the job, but this song is my jam, so I’d go for it with a ton of passion and a smile.” —Alison Feller, editor in chief
“ ‘All That Jazz.’ Classic and easy to belt out—plus I could throw in a few Fosse-esque moves to distract from the wrong notes, because there’d be a lot of them.” —Margaret Fuhrer, associate editor
“Ah, the question that crushed all my Broadway dreams. I’m tone deaf and have the worst singing voice ever—it wouldn't matter which song I attempted, I'm sure I'd be shown the door immediately.” —Michael Anne Bailey, assistant editor
What would mine be? “Out Tonight” from Rent. I practice in the shower ever morning, and I haven’t had any complaints from my neighbors yet. (Read: I sound amazing.)
The verdict: The DS editors should stick to our day jobs. Collectively, we’d probably make the worst ensemble in Broadway history!
Now it’s your turn. What would your go-to audition song be?
Jakob Karr in Flashdance: The Musical (DRGPhotography)
Jakob Karr, with his amazing extensions, and Kamille Upshaw, with her captivating stage presence, made names for themselves by snatching up award after award on the competition circuit. The two were hired for their first professional dance jobs in 2007—performing together during the halftime show of an alpaca auction in Virginia. And from there, their paths continued to cross: They both moved to NYC for college and then traveled internationally with Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance. But this past year, Jakob and Kamille switched gears and joined the touring cast of Flashdance: The Musical. Now the two friends are officially in love…with musical theater. “From the first day, I just thought, this feels right,” says Jakob. “This is something I could love doing over and over again.”
It’s not unusual for competition dancers to discover they’re destined for musical theater. And with the number of dance-heavy shows on Broadway today, technical dancers are more in demand than ever before. But it takes far more than a killer solo and an impressive collection of platinums to make it on the Great White Way. Read on before you book your ticket to the Big Apple.
Dance This Way
So what kind of dancers do Broadway casting directors covet? Annie choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler says the key is versatility, which many comp kids have in the bag. “The biggest asset young competitive dancers have is the ability to mimic a choreographer’s style,” he says. “At a convention, students take class from five or six teachers, each with very different styles. They’re smart enough to adapt accordingly.”
Kamille Upshaw in Flashdance: The Musical (Courtesy Kamille)
Being a smart dancer also means knowing your strengths and understanding what kind of dancing is expected from you at an audition—a lesson Jakob learned the hard way. “My very first audition was for Mary Poppins, and it was so humiliating,” he admits. “They made us tap, and I’m probably the world’s worst tapper. When I had to perform for the casting directors, I just did time steps over and over again. Believe it or not, I didn’t get the job.” Do your homework before the big day, and take classes in any styles you’re unfamiliar with so you won’t be taken by surprise.
No matter how many dance styles you’ve mastered at your studio, don’t expect a job offer unless you can carry a tune. “I can maybe hire one person per show who can’t sing. Maybe,” says Blankenbuehler, who’s worked on productions including In the Heights and Bring It On: The Musical. And rocking out in the shower or along with your car radio doesn’t quite cut it. “Just as your body is your instrument for dancing, your vocal cords are your instrument for singing, and you have to know how to work them,” says former comp kid and “So You Think You Can Dance” alum Ariana DeBose, who’s currently in the ensemble of Motown: The Musical. “Find a vocal coach,” she says. “Then choose at least three songs and work on them until you can present your best you no matter what.”
Kamille walked into the Flashdance audition—her first musical theater audition—armed with only one semester of voice lessons from The Juilliard School. But she decided confidence would be her greatest weapon. “I figured they were looking for someone who could sell the performance,” she says. “You don’t need to be able to belt like Whitney Houston to be in an ensemble. Even if you don’t feel like you have the best voice, prepare something that showcases your personality.” For Kamille, that was Estelle’s “American Boy.” Jakob’s first audition song? “ ‘Happy Birthday to You,’ ” he says. “I was as clueless as they come, but the next time I had a song prepared. And now I see a vocal coach whenever I’m in New York.”
Ariana DeBose (right) in Bring It On (Joan Marcus)
While some studio kids may have taken voice lessons in addition to dance class, there’s a third component they must master before being a true triple threat: “You have to be a performer,” Blankenbuehler says. “In a musical, dancers won’t necessarily have to sing solos, but they will always have to project emotions.”
Newsies dancer John Michael Fiumara, a past New York City Dance Alliance Senior Outstanding Dancer, says the hardest thing about his transition to musical theater was getting into character. “I never really thought of myself as a musical theater person, but just to be safe, I took voice lessons throughout my dance training,” he says. “The biggest challenge for me in Newsies was understanding the story and imagining myself as my character, Specs. But the directors told me they chose me because they liked the flavor I gave to the role and the look on my face when I danced.” Unfamiliar with acting? Sign up for a class or join a local community theater production.
Even if they’ve never had an acting or singing lesson, competitive dancers have a built-in resource many others don’t: a wide network. “It’s amazing how many people I danced with at competitions who are doing Broadway right now,” John says. “Competing as a kid gives you so many connections to help you get there.” Blankenbuehler, who teaches at NYCDA conventions nationwide, commends the rare dancer who approaches him to ask about upcoming auditions. “The resources are there—you just need to take advantage of them,” he says.
John Michael Fiumara with childhood teacher Abby Lee Miller on the Newsies set (courtesy John)
Once you’ve left the competition circuit, viewing every audition as a chance to expand your network will make lasting impressions that may lead to more auditions. John auditioned twice for Newsies to no avail, but the casting directors remembered him and called him back for a third, invitation-only audition when the role of Specs opened up. And a casting director from an unsuccessful audition for the show Memphis called Ariana back to audition for what would become her Broadway debut, playing Nautica in Bring It On. “That’s how a lot of auditions happen,” Ariana says. “You go in for one thing and you don’t get the job that day, but they’ll like you for something else. That’s why I never turn an audition down.”
“You’re probably going to get a lot of ‘no’s’ before you get a ‘yes,’ ” adds Kamille, who auditioned for many shows while taking a short break from the Flashdance tour this spring. “This industry is hard. You audition more than you work.”
After countless auditions and callbacks, nothing beats the feeling of finally nabbing that role. “I got the call and had to leave for the Flashdance tour the next day,” Kamille remembers. “There were so many emotions happening at once. But jumping into it like that has been one of the highlights of my career.”
If you’re a comp kid who’s caught the Broadway bug, these dancers prove it’s never too late to start tuning your vocal cords, brushing up your acting chops and getting into musical theater auditions. “I didn’t grow up singing or acting—I was at a ballet barre in a dance studio,” Jakob says. “But with musical theater, I get to do what I love and get paid for it. I’m a part of this world now, and I hope to be part of it for the rest of my life.”
The annual Destiny Rising gala benefits the awesome New York City Dance Alliance Foundation, which is dedicated to helping young dancers fund their college educations. So how fitting is it that at last night's Destiny Rising performance, it was a college dance company that stole the show?
That would be the Conservatory Dance Company of Point Park University, which performed Garfield Lemonius' Memoirs. I have this terrible stereotype in my head of college dance groups doing sedate, solemn, stuffy pieces, but Memoirs allowed Point Park's beautiful dancers to show us the full range of their talents. Clad in flowing red dresses, the company's guys and girls tore through the intricate, emotionally wrenching choreography.
The best part? The cast included two of our favorite NYCDA alums, Kali Grinder and Victoria McWilliams, both recipients of NYCDA Foundation scholarships. And they were in top form. It looks like college has allowed them to both grow as dancers and mature as artists—and that's what the college dance experience is all about, Charlie Brown.
That's not to mention all of the evening's other fun performances. For the bunheads, there was the ABT Studio Company's exceptional Catherine Hurlin and Oliver Oguma in the kicky Flames of Paris pas de deux, followed by New York City Ballet's Brittany Pollack and Jonathan Stafford (real-life couple alert!) in the White Swan pas. For the contemporary buffs, there was Cedar Lake standout Jon Bond's lush The Devil Was Me, featuring several other CL dancers (including our baby-who's-all-grown-up-now, Ida Saki). And for everyone, there was Grace Buckley's gleeful Sing, Sing, Sing, starring the likes of Amber Jackson, Corey Snide, Ryan Steele and Jakob Karr. They dared us to stop smiling. I couldn't.
Want to find out more about the NYCDA Foundation and how you can apply for scholarships? Take a look at the organization's website.