Becoming Bruce Lee

(Photo by Gregory Constanzo)

Cole Horibe first made his mark on the dance world on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 9, where he showed off his unique “martial arts fusion” style. But Horibe actually grew up dreaming of a future as an actor. Now, he gets to combine his three passions—martial arts, dance and acting—for the role of a lifetime: martial arts legend Bruce Lee in the off-Broadway play Kung Fu. Dance Spirit chatted with Horibe about this exciting career step. —Rachel Zar

Dance Spirit: How did you get the part of Bruce Lee?

Cole Horibe: Kung Fu writer David Henry Hwang had been looking for an actor to play Bruce Lee. Then his wife saw me on “SYTYCD,” where I referenced the fact that I was an aspiring actor. They reached out, and I sent in a video audition. They brought me to NYC for callbacks, and I got the part!

DS: “SYTYCD” choreographer Sonya Tayeh is creating the movement for the show. What’s it like working with her again?

CH: It’s fantastic. I loved working with her on “SYTYCD.” We have similar spirits, and we work well together. As a “SYTYCD” choreographer, Sonya was so good at catering to contestants’ strengths, and that’s what she’s doing with me now.

DS: What’s the choreography like?

CH: It’s a mixture of martial arts and dance, but it’s not like what I auditioned with on “SYTYCD.” My style on the show was contemporary dance with a martial arts flavor. This is more martial-arts–based jazz or Broadway-style dance. There’s a fight scene Sonya choreographed that I love—it’s a father/son epic showdown, and we battle each other with staffs. It’s really interesting.

DS: Are you a big Bruce Lee fan?

CH: When I was a kid, I was a bigger fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme. As I got older, I realized it’s because of Bruce Lee that people like Van Damme even have a market. Bruce Lee paved the way for martial arts in cinema. He’s the one who came up with the whole concept of mixing martial arts—taking different styles and putting them together. That’s something I’ve learned as a dancer and an actor, too. I pick and choose the things that work for me—and the things that don’t, I leave behind. If I step back and think about representing Bruce Lee, this huge icon, it’s a heavy responsibility.

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