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Dancers Over 40 ARTS Legacy

DO40 - Arts Legacy - Teak Lewis


What inspired you to become a dancer?

I came from a theatre family. My grandfather ran a minstrel show called The Great Mastodon Minstrel Show, in Rome, N.Y.  As a kid I rolled out of bed and right into my parent’s dance studio where we lived, in Morristown, N.J.  It’s just a part of my life.  My father (Coley Worth) was an actor/tap dancer who got his Equity card in 1927 and worked all the time, and my Mother (Marcia Ray) who’ll be 103 years old this year, was an great dancer & did a vaudeville act with my dad. Needless to say, they were my inspiration. 

Who was the most influential person in your career?

My mother and father. They opened a dance studio in Morristown, N.J. called The Ray-Worth School of Professional Dance. My father taught tap and mother taught ballet. I remember my father teaching me a terrific tap number to Ravel’s “Bolero.” I was always in the recitals and we would do dances from West Side Story and Jerome Robbins’ The Little House of Uncle Tom from The King & I.  It wasn’t Miss Suzie’s dance school. 
When it was time for me to go to college, I wanted to go to Adelphi in Long Island because they had a dance program. My mother and father said “don’t go to Adelphi, you’ll know more than they do, don’t take dance.”  So, I went up to Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. and took communications.  I interned at WNET, which is Channel 13 during my senior year, in high school and then, came here to New York City and got a job at WOR FM Radio playing Rock music. I was promoted to Assistant to the Program Director and got a couple of raises. However, I’d go to see a Broadway show and say to myself “Why am I sitting at this desk?”  I quit the job; my mother was mortified, she said, “We wanted you to be Barbara Walters.” I said “you know what, if I don’t get a Broadway show in a year, I’ll come back and be Barbara Walters.”

I was trying to find myself and on the way home from a cross-country trip that year, I stopped off in Hyannis, where my sister (Caroline Worth) was playing Gooch in Mame with Stritch.I remember seeing Vicki Fredrick dancing in the ensemble. She had such great feet and was a terrific dancer. I thought to myself, when I get back to New York, I’m gonna start auditioning. 

 What were some of your earliest dancing jobs?

I was 16 and my very first job was in Williamstown while I was baby-sitting for my sister, who was doing a show there.  I met the director Nikos Psacharopoulos & Peter Hunt and they decided that they would put me in Annie Get Your Gun as the lead Indian dancer, which most times was danced by a boy, so I could help assist.

After Williamstown, I got a job doing musicals at the Club Bene Dinner Theater in Sayreville, N.J. for $42.21 a week and all the Italian food you could eat. We would all meet on Ninth Avenue and carpool in a Volkswagen bus out to Sayreville & back every day. I’ve loved dancing in all the Broadway shows that I did . My first was Cabaret on the road (Bonnie Walker hired me), and then as a replacement in Coco on Broadway

I Did Debbie Reynolds’ act in summer stock at Valley Forge and became dance captain. While doing this, I also learned how to sing harmonies.  We were her back up singer/dancers. Five girls and five boys billed as “The Unusual We.”

I went back to NYC and started studying acting with Valerie Harper’s teacher Mary Tarcai, and began auditioning again. Debbie was coming to Broadway in Irene and asked me to be in the show.  She also asked me to teach her daughter Carrie (who was 15 at the time and going to be in the ensemble of the show) ballet, and to travel to Europe (without her mother, because Debbie didn’t want to be hounded for autographs) for a couple of months as her chaperone & dance teacher. 

When I came back both Peter Gennaro and Jack Lee were furious because they had already cast the show. Debbie recommended me but they didn’t know my work and they didn’t want a dud in the show. Peter Gennaro asked me to come on the stage and ballroom dance with him. The minute I did, he loved me, and then he gave me an Irish Jig combination and I was quick with the feet, so I got the job and then I got the national tour doing the role I understudied on Broadway (Helen McFudd). Peter is my favorite choreographer; I loved him for his sweetness & niceness. The tour was over, I came back to New York, Peter Gennaro called and said we’d like you to be in Annie and cover Dorothy Loudon’s Miss Hannigan. I said “yes”, and got to go on in the role a lot. 

I left Annie to play the role of Roxie in the first national tour of the original Chicago with Carolyn Kirsch as Velma. Fosse had auditioned me a million times. First, for the role of Fastrada in Pippin, then he saw me in Debbie’s act at the Minskoff and also as Miss Hannigan in Annie and he never hired me. When I auditioned I went in for both parts. Roxie is very vulnerable and Fosse saw my vulnerability. After about three or four auditions he said “Now, I want you to go home and make up your own number to Roxie.  I went to Sandi Campbell to learn the music (she was the pianist on Annie), and then to Mary Jane Houdina (who was the dance captain on Annie) who helped me choreograph the number. I got the job and then Carolyn & I did a second tour of the show as well.  Fosse pulled things out of me, he’d shout at me on the stage & ask me questions while rehearsing Roxie’s monologue, so that I could make sense out of it. I remember every single thing he told me. I really loved him. He was always very clear & specific about what he wanted. 

By the way Carolyn Kirsch, has remained a life-long friend and has been my biggest influence and role model these past latter years. She's an amazing talented lady and never stops growing as an educator, director and performer. I admire her most of all and cherish the way our friendship has grown. I am lucky to have her in my professional and personal life and lean on her for her insight and advice.   
My last show on Broadway was Grand Hotel. Thommie Walsh put me into the show. I remember dancing with him at our Opening Night Party. He was my favorite dance partner of all time. What a beautiful charming man he was.  

I miss him terribly and know that he’s dancing with the angels. 

 What teacher or teachers had the most influence on your career?

As I said, my mother, father and Jan (Bodenhoff) Smithers, and also Luigi was really influential. I studied with him when I was about 16 years old when he had a live trio playing for classes.  He helped me with balance because with his warm up exercises, he does his warm up exercises  (all the ballet barre) in the center of the floor, not holding on to the barre. He builds the body and so balletic and really centered, always pushing and stretching in opposition.  He always helped me. After any kind of injury or pregnancy, I would go back to Luigi’s class and he would help me build my stamina & strength. His lyrical style is unique and he was the only one doing it.  Kids today are hip-hopping away and don’t have any sense of style. 

I studied with John Boy’s mother Barbara Fallis, who taught at her & her husband’s   Fallis/Thomas Studio on 82nd St. I also studied with Finis Jhung, Maggie Black and David Howard.  I learned so much from each and everyone of them, however Luigi was always the teacher who would get me back into shape. 

What was the most memorable dance experience you can remember?

In Chicago when Roxie gets drunk and falls off the piano……… eight times a week. I was black & blue, but I loved every minute out there playing this wonderful role. 

What legacy would you like to pass on to the next generation?
You gotta want it so bad, you can eat it, or else don’t do it. Be a sponge and learn everything you can learn. Study singing, acting, and whatever else you think might help you get the job.  There is no more summer stock, so, audition and work wherever and whenever you can. 

Do you have any regrets? 
None, I’ve worked with the best in the business, I took six years off to raise my two children and I don’t regret a moment of it. They’re both terrific and have wonderful, productive lives.  My life is so full these days. For the past ten years I’ve been the coordinator of a program called “Look Good, Feel Better” which is a free program at Sloan Kettering with classes designed to help people with cancer look their best during treatment. Everyone has always helped me & now it gives me great joy to help others. 


What inspired you to become a dancer?

I grew up in Cincinnati and around five years old, my parents sent me to dancing school, because they said I was shy. Being so young, I thought it was normal, just another part of schooling. I had a little partner and our teacher would send us out on weekends to perform somewhere. I grew very fond of the performing part, and bye-bye shyness. As I grew older, I began taking the dancing more seriously, so I guess performing inspired me to become a dancer.

Who was the most influential in your career?

Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse and Peter Gennaro because they were on Ed Sullivan alot. In fact, the Sullivan show was a big influence in my wanting to be on Broadway. Every week you could see a number from a Broadway show, an Opera singer or Ballet dancer. His show was an eye opener for alot of us. So, by the time I came to New York, I knew Fosse's and Gennaro's styles and was in love with Gwen, and I desperately wanted to work with them, and I did. So Bravo Ed Sullivan.

What teacher had the most influence on your career?

Back to that teacher in Cincinnati, his name was Pep Golden, he was an old vaudevillian who had worked with the greats, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Ted Lewis. He would  make us impersonate them while dancing and we would perform in their style, and I truly believe, because of his training, when I got to New york, I could follow the style of whoever I was auditioning for, and that’s why I worked for Fosse, Robbins, Champion, Gennaro, Layton and Bennett.

What was the most memorable dance experience you can remember?

Holding Doris Day's ass in Pajama Game. Just kidding.....not. Doing ‘’Cool’' in West Side movie and ''Step In Time'' in Mary Poppins movie, both incredibly hard.  Auditioning for Jerry Robbins as the first Jet replacement in the original Broadway production of West Side Story was a highlight of my dancing career. There were only a few guys there and he was working on his new piece called New York Export Opus jazz, and he used us to try things out.  He was in a great mood, and he would actually do the steps with us.....a day to remember.  And I got West Side.

Do you have a most frightening or funny dance experience you can remember?

Playing Za-Za in ‘ La Cage’'in San Jose, California, we were doing a number in full drag on stage, and we had an earthquake. Being wobbly in heels anyway, I didn’t feel it, but everybody ran off stage, and I saw dust falling from the balcony, and the audience start to panic and leave their seats. Maybe I channeled it from my teacher Pep Golden, but I started talking to them, and told them I was not going to die in San Jose in a dress. They calmed down, the stage was swept and the show went on.

What experience or legacy would you like to pass on to the next generation.

Don't work so hard, the little steps are just as important as the big ones. Whatever job you are doing, big or small, do it the best you can, someone will notice. Love show business more than you love being a star. Thanks for reading this.




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