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Dancing in Vegas: So Much More Than Showgirls

By Emily Yewell Volin

In the words of three dancers currently thriving in the Las Vegas dance scene, Vegas dancers are tough, trained, diverse, driven, and supportive of other dancers in their community.  Sound like a place you’d like to work?  Dance Informa spoke with Miguel Perez, a featured dancer in Viva Elvis for Cirque du Soleil, Courtney Combs, the Dance Captain for Phantom the Las Vegas Spectacular, and Richard Havey, Affiliate Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.  Dance is booming in Vegas; check it out.

What surprised you most about dance in LV?

The group of artists I’ve met.  It’s a small community and everyone tends to know each other.  It’s all very supportive and there’s a lot of work to do.  I thought all there was were the shows on The Strip, and it’s not that way.

How many shows do you perform a week?

Phantom is on a regular Broadway schedule so we perform eight shows a week.  As Dance Captain I’m in charge of maintaining all of Gillian Lynne’s choreography.  My job is to keep the choreography and the blocking clean.  And with any new people who come into the show, it’s my job to put them into the production.  And, I’m also the ballet swing so if anybody gets sick I go in.  I’m usually on every night unless I have a new understudy I need to watch from the house.  Even then I swing on at least 2-3 times a week.

Miguel Perez of Viva Elvis, Cirque du Soleil. Photo by Tomek Rossa

Viva Elvis performs ten shows a week, two shows per night, Tuesday through Saturday.  It’s probably the hardest show I’ve ever done.  By the end of the week I’ve performed 100 dances.  So, for me, it’s about being mentally and physically prepared for the show.  You have to give it your all.

Do you have time to take class? 

We get class once a week at work and I try to take a yoga or dance technique class every week to balance my body.  It’s very important to find other things that stimulate the mind and body. I like yoga and Pilates and I work out five days a week.

I try.  I’d love to take class seven days a week. As Dance Captain most of my rehearsals start at noon so I miss most 10 am classes.   I’ve found different ways to stay fit.  I earned my Pilates certification when I was living in LA so I do Pilates and yoga and try to take at least two technique classes a week.

I have professionals come take my class (at UNLV) quite often, but with their schedules they do not come regularly.

Courtney, you and Heather Sirois-Arnold co-directed the cityMOVES Dance Concert this October.  Tell us about the project.

Heather Sirois-Arnold and I were interested in a benefit concert featuring contemporary dance.  I’ve been involved with Family Promise, an organization that helps homeless families get back into homes, for a long time and it’s a really great organization.  We wanted to give Las Vegas dancers a showcase outlet to choreograph and/or dance without being limited by a theme.  Heather and I sent requests to every show in Las Vegas inviting dancers to contact us if they were interested. More than 70 dancers were involved with the show, including the Nevada Ballet Theatre and The Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater.  The College of Southern Nevada donated the theater, flooring and great lighting. 

Dancers perform INTREPID, by Courtney Combs at cityMOVES. Photo by Corey Fox

Miguel, what was your involvement with cityMOVES

Twenty-one dancers from the Viva Elvis show volunteered our time as choreographers and/or dancers.  I choreographed a duet and a company piece. I also performed in the show. 

Richard, what other projects are you involved with in Las Vegas?

I co-direct a project called Nevada Dance Project that was funded by the city to create dance for the community using the performers from the shows to choreograph and perform. 

What’s the current role of dance in LV shows?

Dance was elevated in Vegas when Celine Dion came with her 50 odd dancers.  (A New Day, 2003-2007).  Then the rest of the shows had to step up to what had arrived.

Dance has grown a lot in Las Vegas.  Viva Elvis is the biggest dance show in Cirque. There are dance companies and different concerts people volunteer to put on, as well as college dance at UNLV.   It’s a smaller pond than LA and I can establish a name for myself.  It’s communal and supportive here.

Do any shows feature traditional show girls performing on the Strip?

Richard Havey, Affiliate Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Nevada Las Vegas

Yes, there are still the traditional show girl shows like Jubilee which just celebrated its 30th year.

What is the biggest perk of dancing in a Vegas show?

For me it was living a more normal every day life while still dancing.  Yes, you work at night but you don’t have to be on tour.

The steady paycheck.  It’s so hard for dancers to find work in this economy.  Dancing in a Vegas show gives you benefits, a stable job and insurance.  There’s also money available to go back to school if you need it.

What is the most challenging aspect of dancing in a Vegas show?

I guess it would be the hours if you are not a night person.  Sometimes I’m at work from 2-11:30pm.  It’s 2:30am by the time I get home, eat and wind down. 

I adore my job. It’s really my dream job.  Still, I’ve been doing the same show eight times a week for five years.  Trying to come up with other ways to stay artistically fulfilled is my biggest challenge.

What training and skills are required of a Vegas dancer?

I realize especially now, after having been Dance Captain and assisting with auditions, the more diverse you can be, the better.  I come from a classical ballet background and that foundation is important.  You have to diversify yourself, but at the same time have a strong background in classical dance, ballet or jazz, and if you can sing all the better! 

Anything goes, it depends on the show for skills.  Some look for the beautiful gymnastic girl while others look for good dance skill. 

It’s important to be versatile.  You can’t just be a modern dancer, a ballerina, or a jazz dancer.  It’s all a fusion, it’s all meshing together.  The more tricks you have in your bag when you audition the stronger you’ll be.  Don’t be afraid to take any kind of dance.

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