By Deborah Searle.
Canadian born dancer and choreographer Stacey Tookey is an all round dance fanatic. Starting dance at a young age alongside her siblings at her mother’s dance studio, Stacey has gone on to take the contemporary dance world by storm. She has danced with numerous ballet and contemporary companies, choreographed for both Broadway and television, and enjoyed dancing in Celine Dion’s A New Day Vegas Spectacular for its five year run. A teacher and choreographer in high demand, Stacey will be teaching at this year’s World Dance Movement in Italy.
Gearing up for WDM and season seven of SYTYCD US, Stacey took a moment to speak with Dance Informa.
Tell us about your training and what got you into dancing.
My mum is a dance teacher and owns a studio in Canada. She has for 40 years now, and she’s still open and running strong. I guess I got thrown into it really young because of convenience, but it just turned out that I absolutely loved it. I trained in ballet, tap and jazz. I was even a Scottish highland dancer at one point.
From there I went off to train at some ballet schools; Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal and Dance School of Fine Arts. From there my professional career took me first to Vancouver where I was an apprentice with Ballet British Columbia. Alongside a lot of other jobs I was also a Grizzlies Extreme Dancer for the NBA in my first year in Vancouver. I’d do a little ballet and a little hip-hop at the same time. People thought I was a little crazy, but it was part of my up-bringing. I trained in every sort of dance. So in my professional career I kind of wanted to do a little bit of everything.
Then from there I moved to New York. There I was able to work on projects with Bette Midler, and I worked in a creation for an audition process with Madonna. I danced with Mia Michaels’ contemporary company. I also worked on assisting the Broadway show, A Few Good Men Dancin’. From there I auditioned for Celine and did the whole five year run of Celine Dion in Las Vegas.
What would you name as your career highlight?
As a dancer my highlight would definitely be the Celine Dion show. Working from the very beginning of the very first step of the creation of the show, to the closing night, was such a journey. It was over almost six years of my life. It was just all encompassing, the most brilliant experience I had in my dance career. And I think it really was the dream job. I felt very blessed and was with such a great group of people. Celine Dion was an absolutely amazing role model. She’s just an unreal woman. The whole experience would definitely be my highlight so-far.
Tell us about your role with World Dance Movement?
I’m going to be joining the World Dance Movement faculty for the first time this year. I will be teaching during the first week of the three week intensive. I’ll be offering classes in contemporary and things that relate to contemporary dance. We might do some partnering and some more jazz, but it will mostly be based on contemporary.
Do you teach at other dance conferences?
Yes, I teach all over at dance conventions and I’ve taught some classes internationally. I do a lot of work back home in Canada too, whenever I can. I do tonnes of master classes everywhere.
This year for World Dance Movement they are offering on-line virtual classes for the first time. Do you think dancers can really learn from on-line videos as opposed to being there in Italy?
I think it is an excellent option for dancers that maybe can’t afford to make the trip to Italy and take part in the World Dance Movement live. Of course I think live is always going to be better, but this is an incredible way for the dancers to still learn and get the feeling like they are taking class from these extraordinary teachers. They will be getting new material, and still feel like they’re part of it, even though they’re not there.
It’s a really interesting concept. I’m excited to try it. I think it will be a challenge for the teachers to make sure they’re teaching the classes in a way that they are offering themselves a lot to the camera, as well as the students that are there, so that the virtual dancers still get a real, personal feeling, like they are taking the class with you.
When choreographing and teaching what do you seek to get out of your dancers?
The most important thing for me is for a dancer to be open and willing to try. A dancer that is vulnerable in a sense that they can bring what they have to the table and maybe feel a little bit silly sometimes, but explore different movements that they are not used to.
If your dancers could walk away with one thing after working with you, what would you want it to be?
I just want them to walk away feeling like they have learnt something. That they have grown and that I have pushed them to a new level, in a positive way. I really want them to walk away feeling good and like they have accomplished something. I want them to look back and say ‘before that four days when I worked with her I didn’t do that’ or ‘I didn’t look at it that way’.
You’re known for your contemporary choreography. What is the secret to making a powerful contemporary dance?
Anytime you’re creating a piece of contemporary movement, I think the number one thing is that you have to tell a story. Whether that’s in a minute and a half, like it is on SYTYCD, or whether it’s on a company for twenty minutes. My whole goal is for the audience to feel something. If you can’t give the dancers something that lets them express emotion while they’re dancing, and give them a story to back it up so they have a reason to do the movement, then I don’t believe that the audience is going to feel it. I always decide what I want to say, create a story, and then create the movement around that so that the audience really feels it, and the dancers do too.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Right now we’re just starting the next season of SYTYCD in the States, so that’s definitely in the foreground. That’s what I’m working on right now. I’m also working privately with some different studios and youth companies to create choreography. I have an amazing agency that’s backing me and giving me amazing opportunities which I can’t name yet, but they are in the works. I’m kind of taking it all in and seeing what comes next.
Will you be choreographing for SYTYCD US Season 7?
Yes, I’ll be seen as a guest judge for one of the auditions cities (that will be airing very soon), and I will be choreographing for both the US and Canadian shows.
What do you think about the return of the ten all-star dancers this SYTYCD season?
I think it’s interesting. I think it’s fun and after this many seasons you’ve got to mix it up. It’s going to put a spin on things and I think change is good. It will make for an interesting show for sure. No one really knows how it will turn out. We’ll see how it goes. But I’m happy to see some of the all-stars back because I know I like to work with those dancers.
What are your dance dreams and goals?
I would absolutely love to have my own company. That would be so great. I’d be shaping my dancers, saying exactly what I want to say and putting on the shows that I want to put on. That would definitely be a dream of mine. Also I’d like to keep exploring the different possibilities of choreography and different avenues that I haven’t explored, like film and television besides SYTYCD. Dance is everywhere, they use it in episodic TV and in movies. It would be so fun to be on a movie set and be creating the whole dance sequence. Who knows? Something along that line for sure.
For more information about World Dance Movement visit www.worlddancemovement.com
Dance Informa is a proud sponsor of World Dance Movement.