Tara Nicole Hughes

My Golden Mentor

I lost my dance teacher and mentor to ovarian cancer 8 years ago.  I was very aware, as a young girl, of what a positive impact Cathy had on my life.  And now as an adult, experiencing my own inner strength, growth and lens through which I look, I continue to see how Cathy’s ways influenced the deepest parts of me.  

Rooted in a deep spiritual practice of her own, she thoughtfully stepped towards inspiration, worked hard to protect her own happiness, and was able to hold a space of loving and understanding with me in a way that only one who walks that path can.  She was passionate, alive, dignified, graceful, earnest, honest, and a real friend.   

Her goal of building self esteem, while teaching dance to her students, was her core gift, and I received that message in every gesture, every class, every talk, both in the quiet moments just between us, and also during her inspirational talks to the group.  Dance was never about competition, attention or outside gain. It was only about sharing the best of ourselves, bringing joy to others, and enhancing the camaraderie of our community of dancers.  She was a dancer through and through, and the consummate performer who lit up the stage.  It didn’t matter how high her leg, or how many pirouettes, her heart burst with the joy and the love of dance.  

I remember her standing at the front of the classroom during my first jazz class at a mere seven years old, dancing to Michael Jackson’s PYT.  Her bright hair framing her face, the gold ballerina necklace that danced with her, and a knowing smirk that seemed to say “there’s nothing as good as dance.”  She invited me to the dance floor that day and I never looked back.  From a young girl with a rhythm for dance to a grown woman expressing my life through the professional arts, Cathy was with me every step of the way.  My teenage years, my college dance performances, my first Broadway show, my first tour, my first everything! 

I have a million stories, thousands of moments, hundred of cards with inspiring words, dozens and dozens of pictures of my life with Cathy.  I haven’t wept for her in a long time, but tonight I do.  Tears of gratitude for the gift of this amazing woman.  May we all be so lucky to have that beacon of light that reflects all the brightness within each of us.  I know how lucky I am.  Until we meet again . . . 

 

Cathy Gillaspie

Is

Golden

In my memory you stand ready to lead the troops.

You speak of the altruistic vision; and the heart of every dancer beats, sky above and earth below.

Our work, heart to stone, meets the vision.

Like the opening at the end of a labyrinth we feel reborn and alive.

Do you, a person of integrity and grace, feel the love that pours?

Like a song that penetrates and transcends, your impact stays and grows.

As you explore, as you strive, as you pray, as you receive, you share.

I ask for no more.  

Strongly you strive for a supreme life based on connection to source.

A bird . . . you are soaring, settling sometimes at the top of the mountain, but ready for the next adventure.

What a life.

I wish for you all that you give to me.  A flowing river, changing the rocks that it glides over day after day, year after year.  

Golden is always Golden.

                                    Cathy J. Gillaspie  

                                  Cathy J. Gillaspie 

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A Conversation with Choreographer/Director John DeLuca

I owe so much of my career to director/choreographer Rob Marshall and his creative partner John DeLuca.  It’s hard to put into words my deep respect and admiration of these two artists and men.  I find it rare to experience talent, instinct and brilliance with the kind hearted, soulful personality that exudes ease, grace and diplomacy in a work setting.

They always say the tone of a set is established from the top, and trickles down to every department and every person working to bring something special to stage or screen.  Rob Marshall and John DeLuca are such class acts, moving forward with every beat in the most respectful, loving, admiring way, and bringing each individual along for the ride.   

It makes working for and with them an absolute pleasure and creates a safe space for actors, singers, dancers, everyone involved, to bring the best of themselves.  How they operate and run a project has been my reference and I have to admit, I don’t really tolerate much less anymore.  It’s not worth it to me to be miserable making art.  I know it’s possible to work hard, be absolutely committed, and make something beautiful and worthwhile, while experiencing true collaboration, joy and fun.  

From the Academy Award winning Chicago, Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean, to the Emmy winning Tony Bennett: An American Classic, John's choreography has graced many mediums.  I’ve been lucky enough to work on many of these projects, and have learned from him and Rob in the most incredible way.  

John took time out of their very busy schedules to talk with me for my interview series.  So thankful he did.  I’ll always cherish my time with Rob and John, and our conversation was a reminder of all that I love about these two.

Enjoy!           

TNH:  How does being a dancer and choreographer inform you as a director?

JD:  Being a dancer and choreographer makes you so aware of the music and the tempo and the mood of scenes.  I had a great drama teacher in college who told me we had to do the scenes without the words and he said, “if you’re really connecting with the feelings and letting it become a part of you, you don’t need the words.”  That was a great exercise and it is true.  I always enjoyed the physical side of acting and singing, or whatever I was training in, and it allowed me into that.  There is a rhythm and a physical dimension; and the architecture and the staging of a scene is the same as a dance.  

TNH:  It’s like the scene has movement and choreography, and flow as well.  

JD:  Absolutely, and then there is also a certain detail and specificity that comes from that developed eye that you get from being a dancer, then a choreographer.  There is something in that detail that can’t be matched.

TNH:  It’s almost like being able to read nuance and seeing all the fine pieces.  I remember during Chicago, shooting All That Jazz, and Rob yelling “cut” and then coming over to fix my hair.  You and Rob see ALL the details that make the whole.

JD:  It’s like painting a picture.  All those dots that do come together.  A good choreographer knows, as a good director knows, that it’s not only about the words or the steps, it’s about telling a story and communicating feelings within your concept.     

TNH:  How is choreographing for stage different than choreographing for film? 

JD:  Choreographing for stage is different than film.  For film or tv, you have to know where the camera is, and choreograph within that framework.  It opens it up to that 360 dimension.  Both are really fun.  The art of creation is similar, but the craft is different.  It’s like acting.  People always ask me how acting for film and stage is different.  And the basics are the same.  Sometimes you have to bring it down a little, classically, for film.  As long as you are feeling those feelings as an actor or dancer, it translates.  

TNH:  I remember Marion Cotillard during our Nine shoot.  Her gestures were so simple and small, but emotionally she was so expansive.  

JD:  She just freaked me out.  She was brilliant.  There is no way she doesn’t tell the truth.  A beauty inside and out.  

TNH:  All those actors on that film, I just fell in love with.

JD:  I know, I know!  And the nicest people too.  Having a good disciplined rehearsal period can’t be beat for getting to know and trust each other.     

TNH:  Do you read reviews of your work and if so, how do you separate the courage to create from the fear of how it’s received?

JD:  I don’t ever, ever read reviews.  I keep myself so far away from that because it can be torture, and it’s really just one person writing down their thoughts and everybody reading it, and it’s so subjective.  I got a review in college.  It was very positive for me, but it did say my singing voice wasn’t as powerful as my operettic leading lady.  You see, I still haven’t forgotten.  I said no, I don’t need that in my head.  I am very sensitive, so I decided to keep out of it.  

TNH: We can be our own worst critic anyways, and if we have people around us that we trust to give productive feedback, then maybe that’s enough for one’s creative process.  I imagine it could be paralyzing.

JD:  And really, no one really understands what you went through getting there.  There are so many different aspects, it’s so complex.  I am so skeptical and hard on myself that I already have enough of that in my own brain, I don’t need that outside feedback from someone I don’t know.  

TNH:  I guess that’s part of it, knowing yourself well enough to know if it will be productive for you and if you can handle it.   

JD:   And then there are people who just dive into the next project, without getting stuck in the success or failure of something.  And I think that’s great, move on.  Since film takes so long and the process takes at least 2 or 3 years, I need to stop and fill up. 

TNH:  And maybe it’s also a shedding experience.  I remember Daniel Day Lewis talking about how much time it takes him to shed the role, shed the experience.  Because you give so much, you need that time to replenish.

TNH:  When you cast dancers, what do you look for?

JD:  It always depends on the piece.  I really look for a personality, a point of view.  I love someone who throws themselves into it 110 percent, and just looses themselves in the movement and the expression of what they are doing.  You know from working with me, I almost strive for the imperfections of everyone’s personality to come out, which is different than a lot of choreographers who want that perfection of every little thing.  That doesn’t excite me.  I would much rather prefer them staying open and having a point of view about something so their unique story comes forward.  As a choreographer and director, you want to be inspired too.  I don’t love sitting in my little office creating a scene or a dance.  I like having a shape and then throwing it on people and seeing what they bring.  That’s going to be better than anything.  That is the collaboration that is gold for me.

TNH:  And when you might meet a young performer with big dreams, what advice would you give to someone who wants to work as a professional dancer, singer, actor?  

JD:  I remember as I was doing my little climb, and people would say to me “You made it!” and I would respond “It’s just a different door.” It could be a non-equity door or The Broadhurst Theatre.  It’s just your attitude toward it.  Even when I was working for no money in Boston, I felt the same way walking on that stage as I did walking out on the Broadway stage.  

TNH:  That’s a huge gift.  Because you can have this bigger vision of dreams, but it’s really accepting where you are, surrendering to the process and just showing up and doing the work.  It’s really true.  You can be on the smallest stage and make the biggest impact.

JD:  You can have these dreams, but it starts right now.  You have to find that love in anything you do.  I know working with you, you are going to give 110 percent, to whatever it is. We can be working on the movie The Terminal with Catherine Zeta Jones and Tom Hanks or at a little barn here by my house.  I know you.  I know dancers and choreographers I respect.  It’s the same thing.  It doesn’t matter where you are, you show up and give.

TNH:  Thank you, John, for your wisdom.  I love how passionate you are and I am so thankful for your sharing.  xoxo

                                               John working with Penelope Cruz during the film Nine

                                               John working with Penelope Cruz during the film Nine

                              John and Renee Zellweger on the film Chicago

                              John and Renee Zellweger on the film Chicago

                                                   Emmy winning Tony Bennett:  An American Classic

                                                   Emmy winning Tony Bennett:  An American Classic

                                                                 John teaching Zhang Ziyi during Memoirs of a Geisha 

                                                                 John teaching Zhang Ziyi during Memoirs of a Geisha 

                                                              Gorgeous dance from Memoirs of a Geisha

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"Believe in yourself and others will follow." The Wisdom of Dancer/Teacher Scott Fowler

Scott Fowler is easy to love and is loved by many!! I’ve had the privilege and honor to have worked alongside him as a dancer on many projects and as a choreographer and creative being.  

His work as a dancer spans from the stage to the screen in six BROADWAY shows, national tours, a three year run with CHER in Las Vegas, to numerous Feature Films including the Oscar winning film CHICAGO and countless Television appearances.  The list is endless, and so is his passion and love for dance!  

Scott danced early in his career with the NEW YORK CITY BALLET and the BOSTON BALLET and shares his knowledge, passion and expertise with our younger generation of performers around the country.  What lucky dancers to receive his gifts!!   

I am so grateful to be inspired by my friend, and very happy he joined me for my Choreographer Interview Series.  Please enjoy the insight and gifts of Scott Fowler.

TNH:  How did dance influence your life as a young person?

SF:  Dance and the dance studio was my refuge, a place I could go where I was accepted and felt safe. It was my playground and learning space where I could explore, be creative, express myself and be with like-minded people. It was my reality, my fantasy, my DREAM and eventually my career and lifelong PASSION.

TNH:  What do you love about dance?

SF:  I love the dedication it takes, the friendships you make, the children you can INSPIRE.  The freedom it gives my body and the life it has provided for me. It hugely defines who I am.  It has been my life since the age of 4 and I was taught by my Uncle Bill Fowler, so it's a family affair. I, in turn, am passing it on to my 12 year old niece Julia. I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT DANCE.  The art form, the discipline, the people, the fun, the creativity......the LIFE!!!!

TNH:  You’ve had such a prolific, amazing and diverse career.  What advice would you give to a young dancer/performer who’s just starting out with big dreams?

SF:  Dream BIG and continuously. Be kind and have courage. Be open and versatile. Say yes to everything, yet honor your body and soul and be WILLING to stand up for yourself and say no when your intuition tells you so. The dance community is small.  Your REPUTATION is everything. Live your life with INTEGRITY.  Fasten your seatbelt and ENJOY the ride!!!

TNH:  The entertainment business can have lots of ups and downs and rejection.  How have you stayed confident and self-accepting throughout your career?

SF:  These are a few things I say to myself in regards to show business and the audition process...

  • Suit up, show up and stay out of the results. 
  • What people think of me is none of my business.
  • I'm powerless over people, place and things. 
  • Do your BEST.  Say "THANK YOU" and leave with a smile and your head held high.
  • One person can't be right for everything but completely right for some things.
  • Believe in yourself and others will follow.
  • Acceptance is the answer.
  • Everything that happens in my life, happens for my benefit! 

TNH:  What principles do you bring to your teaching and mentoring?

SF:  To inspire…

  • To pay It forward.
  • To have integrity.
  • To be kind.
  • To respect the art of dance and the dancers who came before you.
  • To work hard, have dedication, self respect and be disciplined. 
  • To be of service and share the art.
  • To tell the truth and go out of your way to nurture the potential.
  • To have FUN and feel safe to explore and take chances.
  • That we are the lucky ones and to be GRATEFUL.
  • To cherish the dance studio and the MAGIC that happens inside its walls.
  • That your EGO is not your AMIGO.

TNH:  Who and what inspires you to be creative and do the work that you do?

SF:  My Uncle Bill Fowler who is my mentor, teacher and inspiration to this day. He owned a school in Medford, Massachusetts for over 40 years and has touched the lives of countless dancers throughout the country and world, and at 75 years old, continues to do so. The children and the passion and desire I see in their eyes when I teach them inspires me. My fellow dancers and the commitment and drive I share with them to just keep it moving and working. My 12 year old niece Julia who has "it" and LOVES to dance... the joy I feel working and dancing with her is limitless. My 93 year old neighbor Barbara Perry who is a dancer and has lived a life and had a career that is BEAUTIFUL. The countless "gypsies" I'm friends with who completely give themselves to this life because it's in our blood and we HAVE TO DANCE!

TNH:  Can you share a career highlight?

SF:  There have been SO many highlights.  What a journey it has been and continues to be!

I'd have to say the opening of my first Broadway show JEROME  ROBBINS BROADWAY was an amazing and magical experience. Curtain up, cast walks downstage to a 5 minute standing ovation before the show even starts... first time on Broadway..........AMAZING.

The film version of CHICAGO.  Hands down one of the best experiences of my life and a film that will stand the test of time. What an absolute JOY to be a part of. Director/Choreographer Rob Marshall and John Deluca created a masterpiece and it won the OSCAR for best picture.

My last Broadway show MOVIN OUT.  It was life imitating art or art imitating life but like the show, I found redemption and not only survived but prospered in SO many ways. It was the best of times and the worst of times, but I'm a better man because of it so for that it's a highlight.

TNH:  Do you have any other thoughts and insight to share?

SF:  We are a SPECIAL kind of people.  Sensitive, determined, driven, passionate, insecure, confident, colorful, generous, independent, neurotic, free and loving....we are DANCERS!!!! Embrace ALL of what we are and be OPEN, WILLING and most importantly KIND to each other. I'm SO GRATEFUL that I've been given this DANCERS LIFE to LIVE.  Thanks to my Uncle Bill and my mom who drove me everywhere and was and is my biggest supporter!!!!!

TNH:  I love you, Scott!  Your words bring tears to my eyes and remind me of the soul and fabric of a dancer and a dancer’s life.  Yes, a gift for sure.

Thank you to those who have visited this page.  For more inspiring Dance and Choreographer Interviews, subscribe to my Newsletter below!  And share with those who might be inspired by this.  Let's Dance! 

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The Wisdom, Grace and Talent of Choreographer/Director Keith Young

I was captivated by choreographer Keith Young for years from afar.  His movement always felt otherworldly to me, and was uniquely, consistently and undeniably his.  Ethereal yet grounded, expressive yet intimately quiet and internal, like a secret held by the dancers.  Technical, yet strangely pedestrian.  Beautiful, beautiful movement!!!

I learned later that his movement quality, a feeling like you’re underwater and listening fully, was influenced by his hearing impaired sister and the sign language she used to communicate.  Yes, this makes sense.  Very expressive and occupying another sphere of space and time.

Keith’s history weaves from the concert world to commercial dance, dancing with notable dance companies in New York and eventually joining Twyla Tharp’s company as a principal dancer. He later became her assistant on the film Amadeus and served as rehearsal director in the staging of The Sinatra Suites, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Twyla Tharp for American Ballet Theatre.

His movie credits are extensive, including It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give, Rent, and the memorable dance scene with Mel Gibson in What Women Want

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Keith numerous times and his humanity and artistry is unmatched.  Very honored that he joined me in my ongoing Choreographer Interview Series.  

 

TNH:  How did you develop your unique style of movement?

KY:  I have developed my style of movement by marrying my discovery of what it is I feel a need to express, and embracing the musicality of that expression. I love, and employ the technique and architecture of ballet, the earthiness of modern, and the spirit of jazz.

TNH:  What first drew you to dance and then to choreography?

KY:  I played sports all through school, and I also loved art and music. When I once saw a friend in her dance class, I was amazed at how this activity seemed to incorporate all the things that I deemed worthy at the time...athleticism, sculpture, architecture, music and composition. It took my breath away.

TNH:  What does dance mean to you?

KY:  Dance, for many years has meant so many things to me. It is such an integral part of my life, and how I see the world around me.  It is joyous, revealing, enlightening, and especially healing. It has the ability to bring change, and encourage compassion; things I aspire to.

TNH:  There can be ups and downs and rejection in the entertainment business.  What tools have you developed to keep your confidence and belief in yourself?

KY:  The single tool I have developed within, to help deflect the rejection and callousness of this business is, I never let anyone else determine my self worth.  It is up to me to be honest with myself and do the work.

TNH:  When you are casting dancers, what do you look for?

KY:  When I am casting dancers, it is first of all paramount that I address the specificity of the particular job. Primarily, what I look for in the dancers is desire and willingness, their determination and tenacity, their ability to co-exist, and of course, their talent.  And to those that don’t get cast, I refer them to question 4.

TNH:  What advice would you give a young performer with big dreams?

KY:  My advice to young performers (dancers) with big dreams would be to remind them of the lifetime of learning, the necessity of perseverance, the importance of being susceptible to growth, the aches and pains of hard work, the frustrating financial disparity . . . and then I’d tell them there is nothing in the world as fulfilling.

TNH:  Who/what have been the biggest creative influences in your life?

KY:  Creatively, I would say my biggest influences have been George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, Joni Mitchell, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr, Maya Angelou.  But there have been many that have touched me and inspired my journey as I hope to do for others. 

TNH:  How has your sister influenced your movement?

KY:  I always look at my work without the sound, for two reasons.  To make sure my sister or someone who's hearing was impaired "got it” and understood the story and saw the MUSIC IN THE MOVEMENT.  And secondly, to keep myself honest, movement wise, and not reliant on the music.  That way both elements exist wholly on their own, like in a relationship.  You/I  don't want two half hearts that make one, I'd prefer two whole ones that, when are together, make a stronger more empowered one.

TNH:  Thank you, Keith!

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