DANCE THE TRAINING-GROUND FOR LIFE
By Joanne DiVito – Administrative Director – Career Transition For Dancers/L.A.
“Are you sure you want another dancer out in the world? Said a friend of mine…” I thought about this question, considering my job as Administrative Director for Career Transition For Dancers on the West Coast, and my concern about the difficult transitions dancers go through throughout their lives and careers. My question was, “What does a dancer get out of dancing that one cannot get anywhere else, and how does it help them in life?” So I went on my hunt to get answers from none other than those who have done it…my fellow dancers.
My first interview was recommended by a well loved mentor of the Las Vegas dance community, Garald Gardner, who told me a fantastic story of a young woman, who epitomized the best in the world of dance and life. Of course my curiosity got the best of me, and I put in a call to Greenberg Traurig International Law Firm, made my appointment to speak to Gerald’s friend and was on my way to prove my thesis that dance and dancers are rich contributors to art and life.
Finally the day came to meet Lauri Thompson, former dancer and now Attorney- at-Law. She made my head spin with her achievements not only in dance but in her chosen civilian career after dance - the Law. She was an early starter as a performer and made sure she learned it all, working in ballet as a dancer with Ballet West and The Jackson Ballet Company, in musical theater productions, and got her BFA at the University of Utah in Performing Arts, with pre-law being her undeclared major.
Even though Lauri took a few years off to perform, she admits, “I’m glad I waited to go to law school. I learned a lot. I started Encore Productions, doing the trade show business and learned so much about what the convention business meant to Las Vegas. I worked on TV shows and Films, I did the second season of Star Search, and “Glow” as Suzie Spirit-Cheerleader.” And with a sparkle in her voice she said with delight, “It’s all over You Tube now.” All of this she did along with being a principal adagio dancer at Follies Bergere for 13 years.
Lauri’s transition happened gradually. Since here were no law schools in the Las Vegas, she flew, Monday through Friday to San Diego to the University of San Diego School of Law, coming home each evening to perform two shows per night.She did this for three years. Because of her tremendous desire and persistence, Lauri is now an attorney at the prestigious law firm of Greenberg Traurig International, specializing in intellectual property and entertainment law with a focus on marketing and advertising, along with her professorship at UNLV teaching Entertainment Law.
Reudi Arnold’s transition was not so gradual. It was the result of a career changing incident. Reudi began his dance career at 19 as a hip hop dancer. He trained in Switzerland as a gymnast with the Swiss National Team and then studied ballet and tap in Zurich for a year. He came to dance already having a degree in Civil Engineering and Drafting.
When Ruedi got to the U.S., he studied and joined the River North Dance Company in Chicago. He later auditioned for La Reve. After a year of waiting, he was hired as a swing and moved to Las Vegas. He was with the show for several years, when he got injured.
“I hit part of the stage that was under water – my left heel exploded. I was in the water and in shock - I don’t remember the pain, I went into survival mode. I knew this was a pretty bad injury. La Reve and the Wynn organization were very supportive, but it was clear my career was over.
“Transitions are always scary. However, I’m fortunate, because of Wynn and La Reve, I got maximum vocational rehab and I’m now going to UNLV studying entertainment engineering and design. I finish this December. I’ve seen a lot of jobs I can do now.” With his additional skills he will be designing stages and apparatus. That’s what the UNLV program is geared for.
When interviewing Connie Chambers and Kirk Offerle, they told me about their journey, their transitions choice was to start a new business. Both had very successful careers in Italy, London, New York, California and finally Las Vegas.Connie said, “When Kirk had the idea of opening a restaurant, we had known each other just a year.” Connie remembers, “What I would do, is work during the day at the restaurant, then I did two shows in the evening and then came back to the restaurant and closed at three a.m. We did everything, groceries, supply, we cleaned the restaurant ourselves. We did all the preparation.” Connie admits, “That was the hardest job I ever did.”
Kirk explained, “We wanted our restaurant off the strip with quality food and a place to hang out after the show. I performed in Legends in Concert and got ready to open our first restaurant, Jazzed Café and Vinoteca. When we opened it was just a wine bar and it took us 1 ½ years to put in a kitchen. Then we expanded it into a restaurant. We were voted ‘Best Late Night Dining’ by Las Vegas Review; ‘Best Patio Dining’ and ‘Best Undiscovered Restaurant’ by Las Vegas Weekly.We had an article in Frommers in Market Watch and was voted in Las Vegas Life as one of the ‘ten best restaurant chefs to watch.’” Our Café was open from 1996 -2005
“In 2000 we decided to open the second restaurant, eventually closing our first restaurant. That was our downfall. We got away from our core mission, casual fine dining for late night people. We moved into Summerlin, a bedroom community. It did well, but never merited keeping it open.”
Kirk then recreated himself and his business, moving into a small wine distributorship for 6 months. “And in 2006 I opened my own wine brokerage/distributorship. Kirk admits, “Because of my experience with the restaurant for nine years, wine, sales and relationships that I had established, it translated into the business I have now.” It also afforded Kirk the opportunity to start a new dance company called “Vibe,” once again combining both business and art.
During all this activity and hard work, Kirk and Connie got married. Connie continued to perform as Dance Captain with Lance Burton. However, with the closing of the Lance Burton show, she is now considering going back to school to get her business degree and would like to be involved in the production side of shows.
Kirk’s experience is expressed very well by Lauri Thompson. Her philosophy is to,” constantly take inventory of your assets and continue to develop new ones, then find a market for those assets, then make a business model that makes sense and that builds revenue …then reinvest in your assets.” This was definitely Lauri and Kirk’s formula for success.
Lou Garcia, Cuban born dancer, came to the U.S. when he was 11, He combated his shyness with the urging of one of his teachers, making his leap into show biz with the song “Abadaba Honeymoon.” With that, he never looked back. His career spanned 45 years, even with his family’s move to Alaska, it never squashed his desire to be in show business.There in Alaska he found Margaret Webber, a Broadway dancer who taught him a great deal, including the original choreography for Oklahoma and the King and I.
“When I finally got to New York I was well prepared, I auditioned for the great Yuriko who showed the original choreography to the King and I, which I knew already. “I ended up staying in New York and did Broadway, nightclubs, cruise ships, summer stock on the East Coast, and eventually Industrials brought me to Las Vegas.”
“I remember thinking when I was a college kid, “One of these days I will work for Don Arden, even though a friend of mine said, ‘Lou, your too short’.” But in 1973 my singing partner heard that Don Arden was putting together a show at the MGM. We auditioned and he was so good to us. He hired us and he was very honest. Don said, ‘I don’t make stars. If you’re smart you will save your money.’ Don was right Lou saved his money and he worked for Don for many years. Lou says, “I’m continuing to perform even today.”
Lou’s transition was lucky and graceful. He remembers, “I was hired in about 1999 for the County Parks and Rec Department, a local government.entity, The Winchester Cultural Center which started as a community center, then they built a little theatre and art gallery . I was hired to be Cultural Program assistant. I was still in show business when a friend of mine and I were talking about things I could do after retirement.”
“They said, ‘You have people skills, I want you to go to meet some people.’ “Well, when I met the folks at the Winchester Center, I loved these people. They said right away, “We would like to hire you.” I asked, “Doing what?”
Their answer, “To be in the Cultural Department.” I was lucky I spend 11 years with Winchester Center – I loved it. In reflecting on my life I tell people, ‘once you sign the contract, fulfill it.’ Throughout my life whenever I saw things put on the road for me, I followed it, I learned from it, and it paid off for me.” Lou certainly read the signs guiding his career and believed them. Says Lou, “Now that I’m retired and just performing, I feel like a kid again.
Reudi Arnold admits, “Being a performer is such a great career, “You can do anything afterwards. Dance transfers to everything. We forget that we’re more than dance. Just put yourself out there. Stay open minded – believe in the work that you did before. But most important, find something you like to do, you don’t have to love it, but just see where it brings you. Everything you do in life is constantly giving you different choices…different paths, and often it takes you to a place you couldn’t have gone without your prior experience”
Kirk articulated an extremely important insight, “In reflecting on my life as a dancer, I realized there’s a learning curve – what’s common to all business is ‘hard work’ most dancers have to be extremely tenacious and if you take that and apply it and apply it to your new life, it’s the same work ethic.”
Any employer would be thrilled to have these extraordinary people in their businesses, their shows and their lives. They are using their skills as dancers to parlay from dance to civilian life…hard work, discipline, versatility, they are persistent, committed and creative. Certainly dance is truly the training ground for life. .