Photo by James Jin, courtesy Jin

Broadway Standout Jess LeProtto on His Dance Idols, Dream Roles, and Pet Peeves

Jess LeProtto's fiery energy and jaw-dropping jumps and turns have earned him a place in the Great White Way spotlight. LeProtto started singing and dancing at age 5, and performed in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in Nashville, TN, as a kid. He made his Broadway debut in The Boy From Oz in 2003, followed by stints in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and Bye Bye Birdie. In 2011, he made it to the Top 8 on "So You Think You Can Dance." It was his role in the original cast of Newsies in 2012, though, that truly solidified his trusted-veteran status. Since then, he's performed in On the Town, CATS, and Hello, Dolly! Currently, LeProtto dances in the Broadway revival of Carousel, which opened earlier this year. Read on for The Dirt.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Ben & Jerry's lol

Who's your dance crush?

Georgina Pazcoguin: She's the cat's meow! I love her!

What's your go-to stress reliever?

Jazz music

What are you most nervous about?

Forgetting things

Who are your dance role models?

Gene Kelly: Watching him sing and dance in the rain.

Michael Jackson: Captured all the soul and groove in dance.

Baryshnikov: Combined dance and acting that I never saw before.

John Selya: Movin' Out changed my life!

Al Blackstone: The way he dances is movement for the soul.

What are the most-played songs on your playlist?

"New York State of Mind," Billy Joel

"Follow Your Road," Seawind

"Everyday Rapture," Sherie Rene Scott

"Peg," Steely Dan

What are your most-watched TV shows?

"Seinfeld," "The Muppet Show," "Stranger Things"

What are your favorite dance movies?

West Side Story, Singin' In the Rain, White Nights

What's something no one knows about you?

I know all of the lines to the movie Center Stage. ("Get out of my class!")

I also attend Pace University part-time, getting my BFA musical theater degree.

What can always make you laugh?

Dancing mascots, physical comedy, Martin Short

Do you have any nicknames?

Jessifer, Jessman, Jester

Who would play you in a movie?

J.T. Church from "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation"

Have you had any embarrassing moments onstage?

Fell into the orchestra pit in Newsies during "Seize the Day," and climbed back up in time to hit the final pose of the number. I also ripped my bright green pants right down the middle in Bye Bye Birdie.

What's your advice for young dancers?

Research: There is so much to learn and read about. YouTube is a great tool for that. Always observe, take in and appreciate how other dancers interpret choreography. Be adaptive in the elements surrounding the movement (music, other actors onstage, setting).

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Italy, Paris, Australia

What's the last thing you do before you go to bed?

Have a cup of tea with a little after-show snack

What's your favorite book?

Lucky Man, by Michael J. Fox

What non-dance things would you consider yourself expert at?

Garage Band, paddle ball, awards-show trivia

What would you be if you weren't a dancer?

Teacher, orchestrator, arranger

Do you have any hidden talents?

I play piano, keyboard, and drums. Just started learning the bass, too!

If you could work with any choreographer, who would it be?

Twyla Tharp, Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, or Fosse!

What are your pet peeves?

People walking down the street glued to their phones who don't know where they're going

What are your dream roles?

Cosmo, Singin' In the Rain

Eddie, Movin' Out

A-Rab or Action, West Side Story

Mike, A Chorus Line

Little Chap, Stop the World: I Want to Get Off

Anything originated by Joel Grey

What's your biggest fear?

Strange noises

A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "The Dirt with Jess LeProtto."

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Auditions rarely fail to deliver on suspense. But this? This was the nail-biter to end all nail-biters. Hayoung Roh and Chelsea McCloskey, both professional dancers based in NYC, had made it through what felt like endless rounds of cuts, both on Zoom and in person. Out of the nearly 500 dancers (from 30 states and nine countries) who'd answered the Knicks City Dancers' open call for video submissions, just 20 remained—McCloskey and Roh among them. "We were separated into six holding rooms, where we kept trying to figure out the math," Roh recalls. "How many girls are there in total? Who was called back?"

Finally, the women returned to the audition room to dance one last time—or so they were told. Instead, KCD head coach Alyssa Quezada dropped her bombshell: All 20 women had made the final cut. They would be 2021–22 Knicks City Dancers: the latest and greatest edition of one of the most prestigious NBA dance teams. "It was the biggest celebration and the coolest moment of my dance career so far," says McCloskey now. And that was just the oh-so-perfectly-dramatic beginning.

Chelsea McCloskey stands on her left leg while kicking her right leg up with her arms crossed, a smile on her face. She is auditioning for KCD. Chelsea McCloskey Photo by Tess Mayer

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