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Interview: Dancer/Choreographer and So You Think You Can Dance Judge Stacey Tookey

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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

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?

I became involved with Rising Star Outreach by dancing/choreographing for a benefit concert for the organization through a friend. I heard the stories of the leprosy-affected over there and just knew I had to go. I was there for only a week and it changed my life. Visiting the leprosy colonies and washing their wounds, watching them adapt their daily lifestyle to cope with this disease, and seeing them living in such poor conditions really pulled at my heartstrings. They were so happy to be visited by people who would accept them, look at them, talk to them, and we even got them up to dance a bit. The smiles on their faces and joy in their eyes will stay with me forever. It was exceptionally humbling. I now have a new appreciation of how lucky I am.

What was it like teaching the kids from India to dance? Did any one child in particular inspire you?

Teaching in India was so rewarding for me. I always thought that I would get the most joy out of teaching the best dancers—professionals from dance companies or Broadway shows. But as it turns out that’s not true. The children in India were not at an advanced level BUT they wanted to learn so desperately and would practice over and over again as if it was their only mission in life. They have so much joy and love to share, and simply just wanted you to be around them, teach them, hold their hands as you walked to lunch or sing to them at night. They stole a piece of my heart and I hope to go back (and stay longer) very soon.

You developed a clothing line. Can you share the name of the line and where people can find it? Do all the proceeds go to the Rising Star organization or does it go directly to the children in India, living in the leper colonies?

I have designed a clothing line of T-shirts, tanks, sweats, hats, and socks. It can be purchased online at sugarandbruno.com. I wanted to design cool clothes that could be worn inside and outside of the dance studio. The designs all have positive, encouraging messages like “SOAR” or “LIVE.” I even have a T-shirt [that says] “STRENGTH-JOY-TENACITY” which I think are characteristics I find most appealing in people—they also happen to be my initials, SJT!! I have a charity shirt where part of the proceeds go towards helping the people I met while I was in India.

How would you most like to be remembered: as the Emmy Nominated artist or as a “Good Will Ambassador” making a difference in the lives of children?

I want to be remembered as someone who was passionate about spreading her love for dance and someone who was inspiring to be around.

What’s next for Stacey Tookey?

I am working on various projects. I will be working with both the Cincinnati Ballet Company and Los Angeles Ballet Company setting full -length pieces of work for their 2012 seasons. I am also very excited to be choreographing a brand new musical with the working tittle Dancer featuring an entire cast of Canadians that’s being developed in Toronto. I am currently in talks about choreographing an upcoming dance movie as well. In between all that, I still love teaching on NUVO Dance Convention and working with pre-professional dancers. I love to think I have a part of shaping our very talented future.

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About Luanne Stevenson

Published Ghost Writer; Freelance Writer
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