Stacey Tookey, dancer and Emmy-nominated choreographer, has worked with some of the best talent: Justin Timberlake, Bette Midler, and Celine Dion (just to drop a few names). More frequently, she’s recognized for having been a judge on So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), both the American and Canadian versions.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Stacey and learned that she is much more than a gifted artist. She’s inspirational and passionate about spreading her love for dance.
Here’s some of what Stacey had to say.
I’ve read that your mom was a dance teacher. Is that how you originally became interested in dance?
My mom owns a dance studio, “Shelley’s Dance Company” in Edmonton, Canada. Her first studio was in the basement of our house and I was in class at the age of two! I don’t remember wanting to do anything else. I think being surrounded by it definitely helped. I believe watching my mom teach with such passion definitely rubbed off on me.
Photo Credit: Michael Rozman
Who were some of your (dance) idols growing up?
I had so many dance idols growing up. I looked up to Karen Kain, Syd Charisse, Gelsey Kirkland, Gene Kelly, and Alyson Reed (“Cassie” from the Chorus Line movie).
Is there a person you have particularly enjoyed working with up to now? Who would you love to work with in the future?
I really enjoyed dancing and assisting Mia Michaels throughout my career. She is so talented and I have really learned a lot from her. I am dying to work with Kenny Ortega and Julie Taymor. Both are such visionaries of dance in our time. Their work inspires me.
What was it like leaving Canada to come and work in the United States? How old were you? Was the transition or finding work difficult? Any setbacks?
The moment I got to NYC on vacation I knew I had to live there…the city made me feel alive. I was 19 when I finally saved enough money to move and start my new adventure. Like any good plan you run into some obstacles. The first one was being Canadian and having no working visa. Legally, I couldn’t get a job. I did what I could to improve my craft by working and training.
Finally, I was sponsored by an amazing director/choreographer who is now my good friend, Michele Assaf. She believed in me and helped me with getting my first work visa. Life was much easier after that. I also had to deal with a very serious injury at a very young age. I had a stress fracture through both my shins. It was a major setback but it taught me such a good lesson: treat your body with love and respect, it is a dancer’s instrument and can easily give out on you if your don’t take care of it.
Are there any differences between the American and Canadian dancers who compete on the US and Canadian versions of So You Think You Can Dance?
I think this is the question I get asked the most and it’s the hardest to answer. Generally the Canadian dancers are a little more “polite” or “reserved” and the Americans are a little bit more competitive. Canadians generally have really good technique and Americans usually have a few more crazy tricks. That being said, there are ALWAYS exceptions and I feel blessed to get to work with ALL of the dancers.
How did you become involved with Rising Star Outreach? Can you share what your work was with Rising Star Outreach and what it was like visiting the leprosy colonies in India last February? How long were you there?