Interview: Steven Blandino
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Q: What has been your professional dance journey, and how did you come to be on the Cats tour? What is the most recent show you have been a part of and how did you come to be a part of it?

I trained when I was younger in Brooklyn at my home studio and didn't venture out too much until I was a senior in high school. That is when I auditioned and got into Pace’s commercial dance program. I got my BFA there with minors in choreography and arts entertainment management and graduated in 2016. When I left, I focused on choreography and then randomly booked a few regional musicals in Utah. That was my first professional music performance. We did three shows and repertory there. When that finished, I came back to New York in 2018 and honed into teaching and choreographing, which is what I love and is my main focus. I want to teach and choreograph for the rest of my life. I presented work at a few different places and was hired by Peridance Capezio Center and then by Steps on Broadway in 2019. A few months later, BDC [Broadway Dance Center] reached out. It all just added up and I was choreographing, teaching, and setting pieces a lot. In the midst of that, I took a few months off to perform in a few West Side Story’s, some dance performances, and I toured with ‘Sleeping Beauty Dreams’. Throughout all that, I stayed as close to New York as I could. I wanted to keep my performance contracts short so that I could teach and choreograph, mostly. The summer of 2019, I decided to put out my own show. I did an original show I wrote called Bridesmaids: A Dance Narrative. The first time we did it, it was only a dance narrative to automated music, and then I did a concert version of the show with live music. I had a music director write original songs and had live musicians I met from different walks of life perform it with the dancers. The musical adaptation was in February 2020. The show is about love and how it relates to everyone differently. It is surrounded by a wedding and follows six stories of the bridesmaids and the bride. It is a dance-driven show — a full dance narrative, no stops, just one story, about an hour and 20 minutes long. I did it at Symphony Space in February and the run in August was at Dixon Place. I brought on a director I knew from Pace, and then we revived that dance performance in February of 2020. After that, I was exhausted from teaching and choreographing so much, so I went back to the audition scene and out of nowhere got the call for CATS on Broadway. I joined the tour in March and was about to make my debut… And then COVID happened, and it got suspended, so I’m in no man's land now. Thankfully, I’m still getting health insurance and a few payments here and there. We are scheduled to resume May 10th, but this is the fourth postponement date we have gotten. 

Q: Do you have any mentors or important people in your life that have shaped the way you dance and or think about dance?

It is different when a dancer has a mentor throughout their career than when a young dancer wants to emerge into choreography and teaching. A lot of my mentors growing up were younger and closer to my age, maybe six years apart. As you continue to approach choreography and teaching, all of a sudden there is no competition, so the mentors I had in the dance setting faded in a way as I pursued choreography professionally. Through my venture to become a choreographer and teacher, I met new people that took me under their wing. The director of Eglevsky Ballet, Maurice Curry, is one of my mentors. He hired me to set work on his company. He has been a mentor to many people in the business. I met him three years ago when I started pursuing this and he has been brutally honest and kind and always writing recommendation letters. I am thankful that the mentors I had relied on have moved on and are pursuing their own careers. I met new mentors along the way: Ronda Miller, Lauren Gaul, were so incredible and taught me about the real world and have provided opportunities for me. My true mentors came later in my career for me. I am trying to do that for people now and be present for them while I am pursuing my own career, learning from my own past experience with mentors.

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre-professional or professional dance career?

The challenge for me has been the balancing act. I want my career to be multI-versed. I love to do a lot — I love to perform, teach, and make art. I think the challenge has been figuring out my path and having people tell me where I should go and what I should be doing out of college. I think my biggest challenge was finding my path, and now looking back, I realize it wasn't a path. I was just doing what was correct for me at that moment. I would also say staying true to myself. A lot of my friends were performing and I felt guilty, like maybe I should be performing too. I had family and teachers asking me why I wasn't performing in these amazing contracts, but in the moment, I was truly trying to do what I wanted to do. I feel like it paid off, and I have established myself as a dancer and a creator. Now when people are reaching out, they say this person says I should do this and I say to them, “I went through that and it was the hardest part of my career. You just need to figure out what your priorities are.” Now fast forward… I think as long as you are motivated to pursue the career, support yourself, and make money living every day doing what you love –– that is the priority. 

Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how? Have you used your art form to make a difference?

Yes... As an audience member, a lot of the time I go to a show to escape the craziness of the world and the separation of everything in the world. As dancers and artists, 90 percent of the time we are more progressive (than the rest of the country), but I do think there is a balance. Sometimes… talking about certain injustices is a little overbearing, even if you do believe the stuff on stage. They might have come to escape everything after reading about it on the news and their phone all day. I think there is a place for it, but I think it comes with a balance. For example, if you are an artist presenting a show, maybe one piece is political or is about something you are really passionate about — like in my show, there was a piece about a same-sex relationship and how that was shunned. We did it in a way that was seamless and justified throughout the piece. I really think those speak louder than just doing it to be political and progressive. I always go back to the Lady Gaga Superbowl performance in 2017. It was in the heat of the election with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. You have this main artist performing, and all she did was sing a medley of “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land,” and it made you think, ‘Wow, we are a country that is inclusive and about being free.’ She made her statement without making it so upfront that the other side could hate it. I think it's important to make a statement, but to show your opinion with a sense of art and abstraction. I think social justice needs to be executed in a way for everyone, because at the end of the day, art needs to bring people together. I have been to performances where the sound is 12 minutes of the news talking about Donald Trump. Even for me, as someone who believes solely in so many things he doesn’t, it is off-putting, because I want to escape that when I go to a show. It is a balancing act, and that is a great question. Important to talk about.

Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist and a person?

Trying not to be someone else. I think I found myself watching people’s videos or watching the work of others and people’s careers and thinking, “I should be doing that.” Finally, I’ve reached a point where I am experienced enough to not do that and stop myself short. This has driven me to make more art and be more true to myself. Sometimes I make things and I don't love them, but I am also not loving it because I see that other things look better. But I keep trying to push myself and make more art, as well as one up myself and not one up other people…It is about motivating yourself and not comparing yourself to others. 

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

Number one — I lost my brand new job, which I would have made good money on. (As a dancer), you work so hard to get that one job that will give you enough money to afford rent, and it finally happened for me. Then, within two weeks, it has been put on suspension. That is one. Two, usually as an artist and you lose something, you have a base to fall back on. I can usually fall back on my teaching and choreographic jobs when I don’t have a performance job. Now, I have lost my performance and teaching jobs. I can’t make work with other dancers and I am not making money off of it. And then, I think it affects the artists’ world because we are all sad. The country has become even more divided, and it feels like, not only are you struggling as an artist but also as a human being. The first day, I was like, “What am I going to do?” Then you realize everyone is in the same boat as you. I have been teaching on Instagram Live and holding classes on Zoom, all for free. I think it's important in a time like this to give back where you can. Luckily, I built a foundation where I can afford my living right now, so I am trying not to charge people who are struggling. It hit hard financially — you don't have a lot to fall back on when you're an independent worker. You hope the government can help you. You are not salaried, and you don't have insurance, really. You don't have the place that other people have to feel secure when things get crazy. I think artists have it the worst, honestly. But I am trying to flip the situation to make it better, to feel like I am winning. If you want to create, or teach, or draw, and haven’t had the chance to, you have the time now. This is the perfect time to try all of these things. I have been trying to follow that too by waking up at a reasonable time and giving myself a schedule, but, of course, we would love to go back to work. It's the one thing that keeps us all sane in this world. It all toppled, like a domino effect. 

Transcription courtesy of