Broadway Connection Teaching Artist Maria Rodriguez has just been cast in the new On Your Feet! National Tour, which will bring the hit Broadway musical sharing the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan to 31 cities nationwide beginning in September.
Set to dance in the ensemble of On Your Feet!, Rodriguez will perform choreography by Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo (known for Jersey Boys) to iconic songs like “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, “Conga”, “Get On Your Feet”, “Don’t Want to Lose You Now”, “1-2-3” and “Coming Out of the Dark”.
As the final Broadway performance of On Your Feet! is August 20, and the national tour launch nears, we caught up with Rodriguez to hear about her professional background, this tour’s audition process, what she’s doing to prepare for the demanding choreography and how she seeks to inspire young artists in her Broadway Connection classes.
Maria, can you first share a little about your background in the performing arts?
“I began dancing at three years old in my hometown of Brandon, Florida. My studio was what is known nowadays as a competition studio. So I trained in every style I could, including ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, tap and acro.
For high school, I went to a performing arts school where I emphasized more in ballet and modern. About two weeks after graduating high school, I moved to the big city to continue my training in the contemporary program at Joffrey Ballet School. This is where I got my first true introduction to musical theater, and I fell in love!”
So what were some of your first professional gigs? What do you consider your ‘big break’?
“My first professional gig was doing CATS at a regional theater in North Carolina. I was 19 and over the moon to play Victoria, the white cat! After that, I did a few more regional theater shows before being cast in my first national tour of the classic show Guys and Dolls. But I would really consider being cast in the national tour of On Your Feet! to be my big break, as it is a first national tour right off Broadway, and I will finally be joining the actors equity. Yay!”
On Your Feet! will launch its national tour in September in Buffalo, NY. What was the audition process like?
“Whoo. For me, it was brutal and challenging and amazing. I auditioned for the Broadway cast multiple times before auditioning for the tour. The first time I auditioned, I was told I needed to work on the authenticity of my salsa; they wanted more of a club-style feel. Luckily, in NYC there are plenty of salsa clubs where I could go and immerse myself in exactly what they were talking about. I came back feeling very confident with my salsa, and then I was told I needed to work on my singing. So I went home, found a voice coach and did just that. By the time I felt very confident with my singing, they were casting for the tour. So I went in knowing I had worked very hard for this and feeling very hopeful. I was thrilled, to say the least, when I got that phone call!”
In general, when approaching auditions, do you have any tricks to calm nerves?
“When I’m feeling nervous before an audition, I give myself a little pep talk. I remind myself that the choreographer and the casting agent know exactly what they are looking for in that room before I walk in, and that may or may not be me. But all I can do is go in there and be myself and do what I’ve been training my whole life to do. Stay focused, pay attention to details and give it all I have every time. The most important thing to remember is that if this one doesn’t work out, that’s okay. Don’t take it personally. Just wake up and do it all again tomorrow.”
Can you share a bit about your pre-tour rehearsal process?
“We haven’t started rehearsals quite yet for the tour, but I did do a couple promotional performances for them in the last month and got a taste of what rehearsals will be like. All I can say is, I am in class and in the gym every day making sure my cardio is the best it can be.”
For this production, you will be performing the Broadway choreography by Sergio Trujillo, which has been called ‘smoking hot’ by The Wall Street Journal. What’s your favorite part of his movement language?
“I have seen the show on Broadway multiple times, and I’m most excited about learning the final number that is a mega-mix of Gloria’s top songs. I’ve seen the show five times now, and every time the audience jumps out of their seats to clap and sing along to this high-energy mix. Sergio’s choreography is undeniably amazing!”
Based on your experience thus far, what does it really take to be a successful professional dancer? To go from training to being a paid performer? Is this different from what you originally expected?
“Making the switch from training and being in a program where you’re dancing five to eight hours a day to being a paid professional can be very difficult. You have to remember that as a dancer, you are never done training, there is always more you can learn and more room to grow. In my experience, to be a successful professional, you must never get comfortable or settle for what you already have. You have to always maintain a certain level of hunger to grow and reach new levels in your career.
And I must say, I learned this the hard way. When I got back to NY after completing my first show, CATS, I suddenly realized I was not in the same shape I was in when I started the show, which makes sense because I had gone from dancing eight hours a day at Joffrey to dancing two hours a day doing the show. That’s a big difference, but I never made that mistake again.”
As a Broadway Connection Teaching Artist, how do you seek to inspire young artists in the classroom?
“I hope I can inspire them to break out of their bubble and try new things, to push their limits even if it means falling down or looking ugly for a second because that is the moment when you will grow.”
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with young, aspiring dancers who might be reading this? Students who dream of being on Broadway or in a national tour?
“As long as there is a will, there is a way. No matter how small your town is or your financial situation or your ranking at the last competition, if you have a true passion for what you do, you can be successful. You are good enough.”
By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.