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DO40 Arts Legacy Interview

Joy Serio Dunbar

What inspired you to be a dancer?

As a young child my family would go to the movies weekly. The downtown theaters also presented  live entertainment in between showings. Television came later when I was about nine or ten. Growing up watching live entertainers and the movie musicals with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and others at an impressionable age was magical for me. Gene Kelly was my idol. At home I would entertain myself trying to recreate all the moves and playing with all kinds of props imagining some as partners.

Who was the most influential person in your career

You can be influenced by different people at different periods in your life. My first dance teacher Miss Maybelle in New Orleans, encouraged me to work hard and never give up. Bernice Holmes my summer Ballet teacher in Chicago saw potential in me and suggested my Mother bring me to New York to continue ballet studies. Choreographer Lelia Haller who hired me at 12 years old to perform, in the corps de ballet for the New Orleans Opera.

As a young teen in New York I met and studied with Arleigh Peterson, who was a popular modern/jazz teacher in the city for a number of years. He became my mentor. He encouraged me to study acting which I did at the HB Studios and introduced me to choreographic workshops. Arleigh, saw in me what I could not see in myself at the time. He opened my eyes to how much more dance could offer. We remained friends until his death. I am forever grateful.  It was with “The Arleigh Peterson Dancers” at 17 that I first traveled to Canada. Doors opened and I eventually settled in Montreal. I spent 5 great years continually working for name Canadian Choreographers Alan Lund, Brian McDonald, Arleigh Peterson & others across Canada and as a regular dancer, appearing on live television shows at CBC. It was there I gained experience that was invaluable. 

What was the most memorable dance experience that you remember?

That is difficult as there are so many that are memorable. That’s like asking which of your children do you love more, my first professional job; opening night on Broadway in “Joyful Noise” for Michael Bennett; my tap shoe flying off and landing on Van Johnson’s plate ….or  traveling with the Milton Berle Show….. preproduction work with both Hanya Holmes and Danny Daniels ….. all the times performing as a soloist ….or when as a young dancer working for CBC television in Montreal on “Music Hall”  chosen to be GiGi performing with Maurice Chevalier singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”

There is one that is especially dear for me though. Auditioning for Gene Kelly for the Television Special “New York, New York“ and hearing my name called. Gene Kelly was my idol from childhood. On this day my childhood dream of dancing and working with him was fulfilled.

Do you have a most funny dance experience that you remember?

While working in a revival of “Music Man” at City Center there was an incident that happened to me and my partner that involved a lift in one of the dance numbers. Where you straddle your legs around your partner’s waist and then do a back walkover. During one performance when we got to the back walkover we quickly realized something was wrong. No matter what we attempted to do, nothing helped, I could not be raised up and could go no further back. I was stuck  Quite a site! Somehow my partner manages to get us to the wings. (Those of you who have worked City Center know how narrow that space is.) Two stage hands come to the rescue, all fails until a flashlight was found. I began to laugh as I hear my partner say “I guess we are married now” the tongue of his belt buckle had pierced through my under trunks and somehow we locked. Both of us cracked up.

What experience or Legacy would you like to pass on to the next generation?

Develop good work ethics, show up on time and be prepared. Remain curious, learning is forever.  Allow your personality to shine through. Dance is more than technique. Reinvent yourself.  After dancing I went on to choreograph and direct musicals, opera productions, revues and my own concert works and teach. In 2001 I co-founded the non-profit organization DanceLife Productions to promote breast cancer awareness & support, producing multi media presentations etc. The organization dissolved after more than 10 years. For decades, I have maintained a private practice as a movement coach working with those with physical limitations, giving workshops and coaching movement in the opera community.

Face your fears.  Experiencing a severe injury and told I would never dance again I returned to New York 10 months later from Canada. In New York I met the known dance performer & choreographer George Tapps who at the time needed a female tap dancer to be in his group. The rest is history, I toured the U.S. and Canada for two years, performing with George Tapps, all the time rehabilitating myself until I was at the level I was prior to injury and beyond. I had grown not only as a tap dancer but as a person. Leaving the group I went on to work for the choreographers, Gene Kelly, Hanya Holm, Danny Daniels, Michael Bennett, Matt Mattox, Larry Fuller and others.  Never give up, as you never know.

I pass on to you an adage that was told to me by my mentor many years ago and I still quote to my students.  Remember “Every knock is a boost.”


 

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