By Amanda Lehnerd
Q1: Where does your love for theater and dance stem from?
A: I think it stems from my grandfather. When I was a little kid, my grandfather was a professional jazz musician in the area, and he was playing gigs all over the town. When I was younger than age five, I would see his shows, and I would always be dancing on the dance floor. People kept telling my parents they needed to put me in dance lessons, and they did. When I was five, I started taking tap lessons in the area. When I was about 12, I got involved with the Youngstown Playhouse, and I figured out what I wanted to do with my abilities.
Q2: Was being on Broadway always a goal of yours?
A: Oh yes, I have always wanted to tap dance on Broadway. I was met with mixed reactions when I was growing up. I would tell people I wanted to be on Broadway and their responses ranged from ‘that’s a cute dream to have’, or ‘that is an unattainable dream’. I ended up attaining my goal pretty quickly.
When I was in middle school I was recruited to be in different musical productions Youngstown State University was having. I was 13 to 15 years old doing shows with a bunch of college children. Christine Cobb latched on to me and noticed my potential, and she gave me my very first professional gig as a dancer at age 15.
Q3: Why is your favorite type of dance Tap?
A: I like the percussiveness of it. I always wanted to play the drums when I was a kid, but I ended up studying the piano and French horn. There is just something innate about the percussion. I grew up listening to early hip-hop, it had very simple backbeats, and I really enjoyed it, which lead me to love the way tap sounds.
Q4: What is the hardest role you have had to prepare for in professional musical theater?
A: I just recently played the role of Phil Davis in the show White Christmas. It is a stage adaptation of the movie. It was a big challenge in the sense of stamina. The character I played in this stage adaptation of the show doesn’t leave the stage for the first hour and 15 minutes of the show, and we only have nine days of rehearsal. This was a challenge; it was a lot of material to learn regarding the scripts, songs and choreography, and then beyond that, it was the stamina. The performance was at Hilton Head Island, so to prepare for the show I would go running on the beach while singing my songs at full volume for about a half-hour at a time. The pace of the rehearsal process was also difficult. We didn’t have time to stop and analyze what we were doing, so if I made a mistake, I had to keep going with my performance and fix the problem later.
Q5: What are you teaching during your master class?
A: I taught a master class Sunday specifically for Dance Ensemble. It was an advanced class where they learned a theater jazz piece. It is what I like to call action based dancing, and it is an excerpt of choreography. Once the dancers learned the steps, I tell them to forget about the steps and encourage them to explore what they are dancing about.
On Tuesday I taught two classes, one was a lab where I choreographed a number for a musical version of “Footloose” and the second was a lecture where I spoke about the ins and outs of the business, what the rehearsal process is like and how to navigate a career.
Today, I am doing a community tap class. We have reserved time and space from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Beeghly Center, room 119 for people of all ages and all levels to come and participate. The class is all free, and if you don’t want to dance you can some observe.