Few college dance programs can boast as many success stories as Oklahoma City University—in fact it's hard to go to a Broadway show or national tour and not see an OCU grad. Fewer still can lay claim to as much talent from their male alumni. We asked four male OCU dance grads how their alma mater contributed to their success in show business:
From left: Lanham at OCU, courtesy OCU; Lanham in An American in Paris, Matthew Murphy, courtesy Lanham
Ben Lanham had his sights set on Broadway long before he applied to OCU. "I was considering not going to college in the first place," says the 2013 graduate. "I am so happy that did not happen because OCU helped me beyond just dance training." The rigorous academics, top-notch technical training and industry-related classes were the trifecta that helped Lanham land his touring contracts. His credits include the West Side Story European tour, the national tours of Cinderella and An American in Paris, and currently, the Hello Dolly! national tour.
"As a guy in the industry, it's imperative that you can partner safely and successfully," Lanham says. "My exposure to partnering early really prepared me for An American in Paris."
Unlike many other dance programs, OCU sets its students on a direct path to employment. "Going to audition rooms in New York, there are always going to be incredibly technical dancers," he says. "But I think the guys from OCU are well-rounded. We graduate with a songbook ready, able to walk into an audition with confidence."
From left: Pfluger as a OCU student, courtesy OCU; Pfluger in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Erick Velazquez, courtesy Pfluger
Since graduating in December 2017, Tanner Pfluger has been on the go. Whether it's The Music Man in Florida, Jerome Robbins' Broadway in Texas or Guys and Dolls in California, it seems there is no stage he can't grace. Now performing the role of Henry Buttons in Newsies in Washington, D.C, Pfluger is grateful for OCU's rigorous curriculum and thorough training. "In addition to our dance classes, we had acting classes, private voice lessons and mock auditions," he says. "We also learned about what goes on behind the scenes."
That preparedness, which the OCU faculty prioritizes, has given Pfluger the confidence to tackle whatever comes his way. "Jo Rowan, the dance chair, had a lot of sayings," he says. "One that sticks with me is: 'Success is preparation meeting opportunity.' That's one of the rules that I live by. As long as you're prepared, an opportunity will present itself and you will be successful in whatever endeavor you choose."
From left: Rivera as a OCU student, courtesy OCU; Rivera in Moulin Rouge!, Matthew Murphy, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Benjamin Rivera felt the love from OCU before he even walked through the doors. "I was a transfer student and the school went above and beyond to make my transition a dream," he says. The faculty helped Rivera enroll at the eleventh hour, five days before the semester began. "I could tell that they really cared about me right away."
OCU rotates faculty for technique classes, which Rivera feels was some of the best preparation he received for the industry. "Every two weeks I had a different professor for ballet, jazz and tap," he says. "You end up being a chameleon which is a major strength. The structure of the program turns out performers who can take anything you throw at them."
Since graduating in 2014, Rivera has appeared in tours of Anything Goes, Elf, Dirty Dancing and The Bodyguard, on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Get Down," and is currently in Moulin Rouge! on Broadway. He credits OCU with giving him the wherewithal to pursue his dreams. "OCU has done something far beyond just creating a strong dance program," he says. "They're teaching us to be human in an industry that can be very inhuman."
From left: Sparks at OCU, courtesy OCU; Sparks performing at Tokyo Disneyland, courtesy Sparks
Thanks to OCU, Matthews Sparks has been able to take his talent around the world. After graduating in 2018, he began his professional career performing on Royal Caribbean cruises. Now a performer in One Man's Dream II: The Magic Lives On at Tokyo Disneyland, Sparks dances in five 30-minute shows a day. "The repetition can strain the body," he says. "But OCU taught me how to take care of it. The way OCU's program provides rotating professors and all different kinds of styles, I really learned how to warm up and stay injury-free."
One of his most valuable takeaways from school was the industry knowledge he gained. "We had a class designed to prepare you for life as a dancer," says Sparks. "So, building your resume, making business cards and your website. Each week we had a guest speaker from a different field. It was one of my favorite classes because it showed me that there are so many different opportunities."