Dancers Over 40 ARTS Legacy
What inspired you to become a dancer?
The Jackie Gleason Show with the June Taylor Dancers was the first time my father noticed I had an interest in dance movement. I was about 11 years of age. Then I was always being ex-posed to live theater with my family. Around that same time, I remember seeing a play in Amish country, in PA, and singing and dancing all the songs. I had the gift of learning movement and songs quickly and retaining them too. That helped later on at auditions where that aptitude was finely tuned with all the classes I took. Also seeing Bonnie Franklin in Applause really inspired me. She was a triple threat and I wanted to be her. Also muses for me, Bob Fosse and Ben Vereen.
Who were the most influential people in your career and what teachers had the most influence in your career??
Hannah Kroner, my first dance teacher who never gave up on me. She taught dancing until her mid-ninties. She inspired me to also teach dancing for almost 30 years after my dancing career. Her legacy lives on with Hannah Kroner School of Dance in Albertson, NY, with a majority of her students teaching at the school.
My mother, Margaret Kotulski and father, Therman Alderman encouraged me and financed all my extra classes after school, so I could develop my skills. And my teachers. They were the best! Besides Hannah: Luigi, Phil Black and The Joffrey School.
What were your most memorable dance performances?
I was a dancer for Steve Martin in his famous King Tut routine on SNL; 42nd Street, both Broadway and Los Angeles companies; Leslie Ann Warren impersonation, performing in Chicago and LA, Triple Threat, a 7-piece show band that traveled all through Canada and the USA, and Film: Body Chemistry as Kim, a performance artist.
What was the most frightening or funny story?
I was 29 years old and had Spencer, my first daughter. When Spencer was a baby, I would sometimes need to take her to auditions. I think she liked all the movement with the 100 plus dancers in a room at one time, the music blaring and the choreographer demonstrating the steps. For a second, there was silence, and the choreographer asked, “Does anyone have any questions?” Spencer, immediately responded, “AHHHH!!” No one actually laughed, but I thought it was so funny and cute. Spencer was trying to tell the choreo-grapher that we needed to continue to entertain her!! I knew she had an interest at 6 months old!!
What inspired you to want to become a dancer?
I started dancing at a very early age, about 4 years old. Probably not much of a choice then. My parents intro-duced my sister Suzan and I to an after-school per-formance class that Marjorie Marshall ran (mother of Penny and Gary Marshall). I performed at the NY Worlds’ Fair, and also in recitals and shows locally. That was when I was first introduced to theatre and film professionals. I got my first Broadway show when I was 6 years old: Harold Prince’s original musical Zorba, starring Herschel Bernardi. From there, I continued to work professionally as a quadruple threat (actor, dancer, singer, musician), but I always considered myself to be a dancer my whole life. Even at the ripe old age of 58, I am still dancing professionally; most recently, doing hip-hop on Kelly Clarkson’s TV show, and currently as “Petey,” an older ballroom dancer in a newly revised stage version of Michael Bennett’s Ballroom.
Who were most influential in your career?
I have many influential people in my career, and it is very hard to narrow down because everyone has played an important part and been inspirations. Of course, all the iconic people I have worked with in my career; actors including Kirk Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, F. Murray Abraham, Shirley Knight, Tom Hanks, Kelsey Grammer, Marisa Tomei; creative icons including Harold Prince, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, John Guare, Joseph Stein, Jule Styne, Kander & Ebb, Des McAnuff, Barry Brown, Fritz Holt, Andrew Lloyd Weber; choreographers including Jerome Robbins, Robert Tucker, Ron Field, Wayne Cilento, Lisa Mordente, Joey Pizzi, Arlene Phillips, Kenny Ortega, Vince Patterson, Marguerite Derricks, Adam Shankman, Anne “Mama” Fletcher, Michael Rooney, Mandy Moore, Travis Payne; and musical artists including Jennifer Lopez, B-52s, Queen Latifah and Pete Townshend. But of all the people I have worked with, Angela Lansbury has been the ultimate role model with a career I strive to duplicate. Of course, her work ethic is amazing, which had a strong influence on me. And her discipline in her craft, making sure to practice or rehearse every day and rest between shows, or shoots.
But most of all, it is Angela’s amazing love and respect for other people. For someone of her stature, she never put on airs and always gave her fellow performers so much respect and warmth. Not only did I do the National Tour and Broadway Production of Gypsy with her, but also appeared with her a few times on Murder She Wrote. And she always remembered me as one of her children, even as an older man when we met again on her recent tour of Blithe Spirit. She continues to inspire, and her endurance and lengthy career is something to admire. She is still working today in her 90’s!
What teachers were most influential?
I think I owe my love of dance and the core of my dance education to Phil Black. He was an iconic dance teacher in NYC. I began studying with him very early in my career, from the age of 8, and continued taking class my entire life until his last years. He not only taught me so many styles of dance, but also the discipline and strength to maintain a career in the arts, and as a dancer. I also was greatly inspired by my acting teachers and coaches: Bill Esper, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, HB Studios, AADA, Andrew Visnevski at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, the Groundlings and currently, Joseph Pearlman.
With Angela Lansbury in the 1974 production of Gypsy
What was your most memorable dance performance?
My most memorable dance performance was in The Question, a wonderful contemporary concert story told in Dance by Director/ Choreographer JT Horenstein. I was the oldest in the cast, probably by 20 years, in an amazing group of dancers. This was the only show I did that was all strictly dance, told in story form, like a ballet – AND it was featured in the 2013 DO40 CARES dance concert at the Ailey Citigroup Theater! It was great to come home again and be part of the DO40 NYC clan!
Do you have a most frightening or funny story?
I performed as the Dustin, the coal car, on roller skates in Starlight Express in London, the International Tour and the US National tour. During a performance in Los Angeles, with my co-star Sean McDermott, who played Rusty, there was a scene towards the end of the show, where Sean sings the iconic 11 o’clock number “I am the Starlight.” I come out from under all the set scaffolding and cages, and he asks me to be his co-racer for the final big race. Right after his big note, the stage started shaking and bits of plaster and dust fell from the ceiling of the Pantages Theatre. We were having an earthquake!!! Well, coming from the school of “The Show Must Go On!” I continued to skate a bit wobbly, out to Sean and sing my lines to him. However, I did change the lyrics a little bit to reflect the recent shake-up and calmed down the audience, eventually bringing them back to their seats. I don’t think it was the safest choice, but the show went on to the end. We did get an extended standing ovation that night.
What experience or legacy would you like to pass on to the next generation?
I think my experience as a dancer has only helped my career in other fields. It is the discipline of the dancer that keeps me working as an actor, and also maintains my sense of family on a set. It is a very different experience when you work as a dancer as opposed to working as an actor. Dancers are very team oriented and tend to help and look out for each other, whereas an actor tends to focus on their own role and self - two entirely different approaches for the same result. But, I must say my dance jobs are always more fun, and at my age tend to be reunions most of the time.
I would like to stress that whatever fields you pursue in the arts, always maintain your sense of worth. We put in a lot of time developing and perfecting our crafts and that is worth a lot. I have become more involved in our unions, SAG-AFTRA and AEA, and try to pass on to the younger generations, that we have fought for these wages and working conditions, so no one should take them for granted. Keep up the good fight.
And also never give up. In this career, people get discouraged if they don’t “make it” by a certain age or achieve a certain celebrity. This can be a very rewarding career, not only in monetary terms, but also in self-fulfillment. If this is what you enjoy and feel it is what you were born to do, then do it. Things always have a way of working out. As for me, I am planning to work until I can’t stand up, and then, probably will keep on going anyway.