inspiration

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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The Beauty and Power of Kitty McNamee

Kitty McNamee is a highly regarded choreographer, earning distinction from Dance Magazine as an artist with “an outsize talent for that most elusive gift, originality."

Kitty’s work as a choreographer is completely satisfying to me, on the most primal level.  Her vision and voice come from a very inspired place that is uniquely original and yet taps into the sensuality, the confusion, the passion, the desire, the fear, the struggle, the joy that is life, and common for all of us.

Non-presentational, the dance happens unapologetically and without any need for approval.  This is SO refreshing as an audience member, as an observer.  Don’t ask anything of me, just do your thing and let me soak it all in.  Like a beautiful painting that comes to life, or the intimacy of a couple fighting for power, or the internal dialogue that keeps us trapped, Kitty’s work is multi-layered and very special.

Kitty brings her passion and unique voice to tv, film and live performances.  Recent work includes choreography for Lifetime's Petals on the Wind, Gwyneth Paltrow's The Restart Project, Secret Cinema’s ground-breaking live performances with Laura Marling in London, LA Philharmonic and Wet Design.  She is also the artistic director of Hysterica Dance Company, a consistently prolific and invigorating force in the LA dance community.

A dear friend who I am constantly inspired by, I am happy to highlight her and her incredible work.  Here is a taste of what she does and my interview with her to follow.

TNH:  When did you find dance and when did your desire to make dances develop?

KM:  I remember very clearly...the Joffrey 2 came to the small town I lived in in Ohio.  As soon as I saw the company on stage a light bulb went off.  I remember thinking "That's it! that's what I have been looking for!"  Until then I had only seen dance in movie musicals. I wasn't able to start taking class until I was 16, and have been in love with it ever since.

TNH:  What do you love about dance and being a choreographer?

KM:  I think my favorite thing is how the dance and music fit together.  I love music and it's exciting for me to unravel it's mysteries.  I also enjoy connecting with my dancers and learning from them.

TNH:  What are some of the challenges and rewards of running a dance company in Los Angeles?

KM:  The reward is definitely working with amazing dancers who are as passionate about dance as I am.  I think there is a very unfair stereotype that dancers in LA are not as well trained, talented or serious as dancers in NYC...which is completely inaccurate. The dancers here have a great range and because they also work commercially, they are very interested in digging into the more artistic side of things.  Greatest challenge was always budget, not a lot of funding for dance in LA.

TNH:  Do you read reviews or listen to feedback of your work?  If so, how do separate the courage to create from the fear of how your work is received?

KM:  I think it would be best to not read reviews, but who can resist!  If you read them you will have to take the good with the bad.  I can't really be worried about how the work will be received or I will freeze.  I do welcome feedback from people who are knowledgable and sensitive, dancers who have worked for me in the past are a wonderful resource.  Creating work is so personal, no one can do what I do...so i just get down to business and do it. 

TNH:  When you're casting dancers for a project, what do you look for?

KM:  Professionalism, passion, drama and clarity. 

TNH:  What fuels your creativity?

KM:  Challenge fuels my creativity.  I think that is why I enjoy working in different mediums (opera, concert, TV, videos).  They each have their own challenges which I find stimulating. Great dancers and great music fuel me as well.  Curiosity fuels me; why do people relate as they do? What mystery can I discover within my dancers and the music?

TNH:  Who have been the greatest creative influences in your life? 

KM:  That's a big question!  I think at the beginning I was very influenced by the masters of modern dance...all of whom were women.  I was fascinated by the way Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham were able to create something so original.  I was inspired by their maverick spirit.  At the height of Hysterica, my dancers and collaborators were a tremendous influence...tremendous inspiration.

TNH:  What would be your ultimate dream job?

KM:  I'm not sure that I have one ultimate dream job.  I love mixing it up, going from TV/film work to opera and ballet.  I find the tension between the "high and low" art very stimulating.  I would love to create original choreography for a Broadway show. . . that would be amazing.  I love telling a good story through dance!

TNH:  Do you have any other thoughts or reflections to share?

KM:  I feel very, very fortunate to make a living doing what I love!

Thank you, Kitty, for sharing with me.  And thank you to those who have visited this page.  For more monthly choreographer interviews and dance love, sign-up below, it's FREE!

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This is It, with Travis Payne and Stacy Walker

While sharing my own experiences about this wonderful dance business, I’ve been inspired to call on fellow artists whom I’ve had the privilege and honor to have worked with, to share a piece of their own journey.  To inspire, to share, to connect.  What inspires them?  What words of wisdom might they impart on a young performer with big dreams?  Choreographer/Director Travis Payne and his associate Stacy Walker are two such artists that I am very happy to include in my interview series.  

Travis Payne is an acknowledged innovator of screen, stage, and song, whose work encompasses some of the most influential visual and musical moments of contemporary pop culture, created for and performed by global entertainment icons from Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Lady GaGa to Shakira, Usher, Jennifer Lopez, Mick Jagger, Mariah Carey and Madonna.  Payne and Walker (both as assistant and associate) have teamed on dozens of groundbreaking credits, including their work together on Michael Jackson’s This Is It both the tour rehearsals and subsequent film.  Their prolific, creative and vast careers are so impressive, but more impressive to me are these two as human beings. 

Thank you, Travis and Stacy, for your work, your time and your truth!  

Photo by Levi Walker Photography

Photo by Levi Walker Photography

TNH:  How do you compliment each other as a creative team?

TP:  Stacy Alexis Walker and I compliment each other by having different perspectives, as well as the understanding of how to best enhance each other’s strengths.

SW: I've always felt that Travis and I make a great team because we balance each other really well.  We bring different things to the table which allows Travis to concentrate on doing what he loves and me to concentrate on doing what I love.  We are both capable of working a job alone, but I feel our best work happens when we're together.  I've always felt so grateful to be able to work with someone (Travis) who allows me to be "me".  That's when I do my best work...  Most importantly, we both genuinely respect and love one another.  We always want the best for each other.  There is such a sense of safety in that.

TNH: From your experience, how does choreographing for tv and film differ from stage?  

TP:  Choreography for the camera is like Science and Choreography for the stage is like Math.

SW: TV/FILM is so fun to me because you can force the audience's perspective.  You have so much control.  If it's not right, you shoot again and again until it is.  This allows for more difficult and even dangerous movement.  The choreography can also be so much more intricate because you have the luxury of shooting close ups.  STAGE is exactly the opposite!  The audience generally sees everything from one angle, the front.  If someone makes a mistake or gets injured, too bad.  You get one shot to do it right and do it great!  This makes choreographing for stage really exciting but also can limit your choices.  For example, if you have a couple doing a difficult lift that they can only land half the time, better to find something safer and less tricky...  I love choreographing TV/FILM and STAGE, but for opposite reasons.  It's nice to have the balance of experiencing both!

TNH:  What was one of your dream jobs and why?

TP: One of my dream jobs was the very first music video I danced in, Cameo’s “The Skin I’m In”.

SW: I feel like I've had so many dream jobs but I really, really loved working on This is It I had been a dancer for Michael Jackson in the past, but as a woman, I only performed certain dance numbers.  On This is It, I was part of the choreography team which allowed me do (teach) all of the choreography, male and female...  It was so fun for me to dance those numbers that I never had a chance to prior.  Plus, there is nothing like working with the best of the best.  Our cast and crew were exceptional.  When you are surrounded by such awesome talent, it makes "you" work harder and brings out your best.

TNH:  Where do you find inspiration?

TP: The spa

SW: I find inspiration everywhere.  Walking my dog, tv, magazines, friends, conversations...  It's all around us, all the time!

TNH:  You both have had such longevity and success in this business?  What do you attribute that to?

TP:  Stay HUMBLE or STUMBLE

SW:  I think Travis and I are good at delivering what the client is asking for in the timeframe that is given.  It's really that simple.  It's important to remember that this is a business and we are being hired to perform a service.  I think that a choreographer working in commercial dance has to be able to separate the art from the business.  I'm not saying that commercial dance can't be artistic.  I'm saying that many times you may be asked to choreograph to a piece of music you don't particularly find inspiring or go in a direction that is the opposite of your preference, but it's not always about "your vision" coming through, it's about the clients!  Keeping this in mind makes the journey a lot easier and keeping your clients happy will lead to repeat customers!

TNH:  What advice do you have for a young dancer wanting to make it in this business? 

TP: 

  1. Protect your body
  2. Save more than you spend
  3. Surround yourself with the most positive influences you can
  4. Keep those who love you close
  5. Do not think it will be easy
  6. Have a plan/keep lists
  7. Take criticism and compliments respectfully
  8. Be fearless
  9. Don't burn bridges
  10. Call your mother

SW:  TALENT can get you a job but having a great WORK ETHIC can get you a career.  If you're not pleasant to work with, prepared or consistently show up late, no matter how talented you are, it's not worth it...

TNH:  Do you have any other thoughts or reflections to share?

TP:  Document the experience.  You will appreciate having the memories!

SW: I love what I do and I'm so grateful to be doing it!  ... especially when I get to do it with Travis Payne

 

Check out the Travis Payne shoe and apparel line at www.travispayneapparel.com

Photo by Hanser & Hue Photography 

Photo by Hanser & Hue Photography 

Travis and Stacy are represented by Go 2 Talent Agency

                                                                                                                   

                                         

                                                                     

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The Incomparable Debbie Allen Interview

Debbie Allen is quite frankly a force to be reckoned with.  She was larger than life for me as a child watching Fame, but meeting her and working with her has surpassed that iconic image I held in my mind as a young girl.  Her reverence and respect for the arts is so powerful that every project she touches invites the dancer, actor, performer involved to bring the best of themselves to the room.  I recently read a quote from actress Sandra Oh who said, “One of the reasons I am an actor is directly because of Debbie Allen.” 

Debbie makes things happen, she is a believer in possibilities, and even though she directs huge television shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, she always comes back to the dance.  She is a dancer, through and through.  

I’ve had the privilege and honor to have danced for Debbie on many projects like the Academy Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors with Stevie Wonder, and many live shows with incredible artists like Lena Horne, Tito Puente, Thelonious Monk Jr, among others.  My time with her will always be a special and beautiful highlight of my career.  She is an inspiring woman to me, creating no matter what, showing up in the biggest way as she guides our youth through the arts, balancing a family with a powerful business life.  She does it all!  And, has a wicked sense of humor and can make a fabulous margarita to boot!! :)

I’ve been curious how other artists handle the ups and downs of the entertainment business.  This is why I started this series of interviews.  The guidance, feedback, insight from those who have done it successfully may help a young performer on their path, or anyone along the path of life really.  Debbie Allen has done it with such grace.  I am thankful that she agreed to my interview.  May we all take a little something from her words, including the funny ones.

 

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

DA:  It’s all about movement and designing where the camera goes.  Starting as a director for dance first, it’s always been the camera that moves and dances. 

TNH:  What fuels you to stay creative and make things happen?

DA:  The young people that I work with that look at me with big bright eyes every day, hopeful about their future and what is possible.

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

DA:  My mother, my sister, Katherine Dunham. 

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?

DA:  I’m not afraid of reviews. It’s always one person's opinion and the paper is used to clean up dog shit the next day.

TNH:  How do you find a work-life balance — as a woman, a mom, a professional?

DA:  You do one thing at a time.  You wake up and you make breakfast. You go to work, where you’re in charge all day.  You come home and you walk your dog and watch TV with your husband and you catch up with your children.  My personal life is very sobering for me. 

TNH:  What do you believe are some of the reasons to you having longevity and success in this business?  

DA:  I’m still a kid when it comes to inquiry and discovery. 

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

DA:  Dreams are great, dreams are the lens through which you project yourself into the universe.  And then you have to be willing to do the work, the work to make your dreams come true. 

TNH:  Thank you, Ms. Debbie Allen, for your wisdom and insight.  I'll be posting more interviews monthly so please subscribe to the Newsletter below for more!!

                              This picture is an oldie but goodie!  Love you Debbie Allen!

                             This picture is an oldie but goodie!  Love you Debbie Allen!

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