How and when did you start dancing?
In the sixth grade, my music teacher one day put on a piece of music and asked the class if anyone wanted to improvise a dance to the music. The only person in the class who was willing to take the dive was me. That was the first time I danced in public.
Those impulses got buried, though until my junior year in high school. I remember my sister took ballet classes in those days, but unlike some other boys – like Edward Villela – I did not take it up. I was very much into sports – baseball, football and basketball as well as tennis and golf. I am still a sports fan today, but not nearly so much as I was then.
It was in high school – this was in 1964-65 – that I began to become disillusioned with sports. Or at least I no longer felt like I fit in with the jocks. One by one I quit each sport. Football went first (I had dislocated my elbow). Then came basketball (always my worst sport, maybe because it was my father’s best). Baseball, my favorite sport -- still is –came last. My father had just bought me a new glove when I told the coach I was quitting. I am not really sure why I quit because I did not really know what else I was going to do. It was shortly after that when I auditioned for the summer musical at Littleton High (they had a really great summer program with Gil Oden, Gene Scrimpsher and Marcelene Dillion). I was cast as a chorus member in
The Unsinkable Molly Brown. It was just a lot of fun.
In the fall I auditioned for See How they Run
and won the part of Clive – the male lead in a Noel Coward farce. That was followed by other plays and musicals during the year and was capped off by my playing Fred/Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate..
I was mostly an actor in all of these things and actually won the best actor award at LHS my senior year.
It was not until I got to college that I started thinking about how much my body missed regular exercise and it seemed logical to me that an actor ought to study dance if he wanted to be really good.
The fisrt thing I auditioned for at the University of Colorado was Guys and Dolls. The competition was of course a lot tougher than at LHS and I was cast as Brannigan. No
dancing at all for me in this show just a really bad Irish brogue.
My second year I began to study modern dance with Charolette Irey and Marilyn Cohen. There were only two men studying dance at that time –me and a guy, Clint Brubaker, who was later killed in a car accident coming down from the mountains. Gerry Otte (who later danced for many years with Alwin Nickolais) was there at the time, but I don’t remember him from classes. He was just about to graduate when I came.
The first real dancing I did was in Oklahoma
both as Jud in the dream ballet and in the chorus. I was really great as Jud because I am quite a good villain. The chorus, however, was another story because I could not get by on my acting. We actually had to dance and I remember how hard it was to dance in cowboy boots in “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City.” I practiced for hours. Over and over again. And I was still terrible. It took me a long time to learn how to relax and not to throw my whole body into everything the way I did in sports.
Anyway, that’s how I got started. And there was the usual crisis of sexual identity but that’s another story. But, I will say that I did not really learn how to control and discipline my body until I started studying ballet with Valerie Roche in Omaha, Nebraska after I graduated from college. Ballet made sense to me in a way that the modern dance classes did not. There were specific things that I could work on and believe me I worked incessantly for two intensive years with Valerie to make up for lost time.
More Q & A coming soon!