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!
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?
- Protect your body
- Save more than you spend
- Surround yourself with the most positive influences you can
- Keep those who love you close
- Do not think it will be easy
- Have a plan/keep lists
- Take criticism and compliments respectfully
- Be fearless
- Don't burn bridges
- 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
Travis and Stacy are represented by Go 2 Talent Agency