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By Jen Jones Donatelli
Talent and versatility have made Tyne Stecklein in demand for stage and screen.
Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.
Whether snuggling in bed with Tom Cruise as a Rock of Ages groupie, dancing Burlesque alongside Cher and Christina Aguilera, or sharing a stage with the formidable King of Pop, it’s clear that Tyne Stecklein has more than enough star power to hold her own against Hollywood’s biggest and brightest. But don’t mistake her for a diva—thanks to her experience with the This Is It tour and the tragic loss of Michael Jackson, Stecklein doesn’t take her success for granted.
“It really taught me to give every audition, every dance class, every job 120 percent,” says Stecklein. “You never know what your next job will be or how long it will last. Nothing is certain, so it taught me to live in the moment and do things even more full-out than before.”
In just six years, Stecklein has worked an astounding amount and cemented herself as one of the dance industry’s reliable workers. Choreographers like Marguerite Derricks, Kenny Ortega, and Michael Rooney hire her for her fluid, refined style and effortless extension. Having recently added “actress” to her resumé, Stecklein’s dance and acting credits span genres from television to film to music videos. Dance Magazine sat down with Stecklein to find out more about how this Colorado-born dancer went about breaking into the Hollywood dance scene.
Like fellow rising stars Travis Wall and the DelGrosso sisters, Stecklein learned to love dance in her mother’s classroom. A former Colorado Ballet dancer, Andra Stecklein had once owned a studio but transitioned to teaching at Aurora, Colorado–based Miller’s Dance Studio after the births of Stecklein and her two older brothers. “My mom was my jazz teacher growing up,” says Stecklein, who began dancing at 3 and competing at 8. “I credit a lot of my training to her.”
Andra Stecklein took Tyne to spend summers in Los Angeles as early as age 12. “I’d take class at Millennium, EDGE, Debbie Reynolds—as many different places as I could,” remembers Stecklein. “My first time out in California, I knew that I wanted to pursue this as a career.”
Stecklein returned to L.A. the following summer on an LADF “Dance with the Force” scholarship, which enabled her to take unlimited classes at Hollywood’s EDGE Performing Arts Center and perform in its summer showcase. Throughout high school, Stecklein continued to train in Los Angeles, steadily honing her commercial dance pedigree alongside full dance training at Miller’s Dance Studio and International Ballet School back in Colorado.
Connecting with powerful dance mentors was another key to Stecklein’s eventual success. The young dancer cites both Justin Giles and Mark Meismer as influences during her high school years, having danced in both choreographers’ companies. The company experience itself also proved formative for Stecklein, who says it provided a stark contrast to her later work in the commercial field.
“I really enjoy doing commercial work, but I don’t always get to utilize my training. Sometimes it’s more about a look or a certain style and not as focused on the art form or the technical side,” says Stecklein, who was also once part of Boulder-based contemporary ballet company Lemon Sponge Cake. “I’m really grateful for those opportunities.”
From an outside point of view, it may seem like Stecklein was destined to head to Hollywood, but her choice was ultimately more pragmatic than dreamy. “I debated between going to New York or Los Angeles. In the end, I felt like you could start out in New York as an older dancer, whereas in L.A., it’s better to be young and fresh,” says Stecklein, who was barely 18 when she moved west in the summer of 2006. (Stecklein had graduated high school a semester early in order to go on tour as an assistant teacher with L.A. Dance Magic.)
It was a call from her agent that first sparked the move. The offer? A gig as a backup dancer on Latin pop star Chayanne’s world tour. Stecklein’s involvement ended up being short-lived but serendipitous. During her brief stint, she met fellow dancer Corey Anderson, whom she went on to marry in August 2011. At the time, Stecklein recalls feeling somewhat disheartened: “I was 18 and I’d just moved my whole life here and I ended up not doing the job,” she remembers.
Solace soon followed in the form of another opportunity: the chance to audition for the High School Musical tour and work with Charles Klapow and Kenny Ortega (names that have come into play throughout Stecklein’s career). Stecklein was one of four female dancers chosen for the job, which provided swift exposure to the intense limelight shining on Disney’s red-hot property. “I’d just gotten to L.A. and all of sudden I was dancing in huge stage shows and huge arenas,” says Stecklein, who went on to appear in the movie High School Musical 2.
The gig was just the jumpstart Stecklein’s career needed. Unlike many dancers new to L.A., Stecklein managed to book a steady stream of jobs, including music videos for Gym Class Heroes, Christina Aguilera, and OneRepublic; stage shows like Cher’s Caesars Palace extravaganza; commercials for Adidas and Old Navy; and movies like Step Brothers, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and 17 Again. It was official—the leggy blonde had arrived, and Hollywood had taken notice.
Yet Stecklein’s true breakout role came in 2009 when Ortega resurfaced with a new project: Michael Jackson’s This Is It. More than 600 dancers from all over the world flocked to L.A.’s Nokia Theatre for the invitation-only audition. “I never in a million years thought I would book the job,” she admits. “With hip-hop not being my strong point and also being a bit young, I was just excited to be asked to audition.”
The whirlwind that followed came as a shell shock for Stecklein. Not only did she make it past Day One, but she became one of just two principal female dancers to get the job after being chosen on the spot by Jackson the next day. (Stecklein says he later told them he had a “feeling” about each of them as genuine individuals.)
The plan: to rehearse for three months and stage a gigantic concert production in London’s O2 arena with performances stretching over two years. The reality: Eight days before the dancers and crew were to leave for London, they got the devastating news that Jackson had died.
“We’d been onstage with Michael until midnight the day before,” remembers Stecklein. The dancers had been rehearsing as many as six days per week for up to 12 hours a day, and Jackson had been there almost every day. “There had been no indication he was ill. It was so sad to lose him because he was such an amazing talent and so incredible to work for.”
Stecklein regrouped with the help of the other dancers, especially Misha Gabriel and Shannon Holtzapffel (who are still her close friends today), and took the stage at the lavish Staples Center memorial. “Losing Michael made us even closer,” says Stecklein. “That was one job where we really stayed like a family afterward.”
The show must go on—and, for Stecklein, that meant accepting a role as Jessie in Burlesque several months after the This Is It tour unexpectedly dissolved. Not only would the job reunite Stecklein with Cher, but it would also call on her recent training in acting. She’d auditioned for the job as a dancer, but was among several dancers asked by the director to read for parts. “This was the first job where I actually felt like a part of the cast,” Stecklein says.
Not that the job didn’t call for her to be on her A-game dance-wise—Stecklein recalls that dancing full-out in sky-high heels and doing chair prop work were challenging, especially in the number “Express.” However, the sexy style was right in line with Stecklein’s sensibilities. “I dance very feminine. I like to dance like a woman,” says Stecklein, who calls contemporary her favorite style. “My style melds technique with girly flavor.”
In 2011, Stecklein got another chance to sharpen her acting chops as one of Tom Cruise’s main groupies in Rock of Ages. She spent two months in Miami filming under choreographer Mia Michaels and director Adam Shankman, while also trying to put the finishing touches on her fast-approaching wedding.
That hectic pace is one that Stecklein and Anderson have become accustomed to throughout their relationship. “We both understand the crazy, late, long hours and the lack of a consistent 9-to-5 schedule,” says Stecklein. It’s rare that they have a week off to spend together, and the whirlwind doesn’t look likely to subside anytime soon. Stecklein has several Dancing with the Stars guest appearances booked, as well as parts in the upcoming films A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Shawn III (starring Charlie Sheen), The Campaign (starring Will Ferrell), and David DeCoteau’s upcoming independent film Hansel and Gretel: Witch Slayers.
Yet Stecklein is confident that the two will continue forging a successful path together. “It’s really great to have someone who understands what you do,” she says. And, no doubt, to have someone who lets Stecklein stay in touch with her first love: dance.
Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.
Jen Jones Donatelli is an L.A.-based writer who has been published in Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, and Pilates Style.