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By Lauren Kay
In Josh Bergasse’s advanced theater dance class at New York’s Broadway Dance Center, most students are dressed in loose sweats. But not Kristin Piro. Her leopard-print skirt and black top fit trimly on her slender frame, while her heart-shaped face is expertly made up, lips glowing a deep red. As the 26-year-old tackles Bergasse’s choreography, she accents her turns and jumps with a sassy flip of the head. She blends the glamour of an old-school Hollywood dancer with the attitude of a 21st-century go-getter.
Piro’s work ethic and her ability have earned her gigs on tour and in regional theaters. Now choreographer Jerry Mitchell has hired her for her first Broadway job as a swing, covering 10 roles in Catch Me If You Can. “I had my eye on Kristin for a while,” Mitchell says. “She is striking and has a presence. In a room full of people, you notice her.”
Piro’s road to Broadway has been a dream pursued with steady focus. The self-proclaimed “Jersey girl” from Howell began dancing at age 2 at the Gallery of Dance in Freehold, NJ. There she studied ballet, jazz, tap, and modern and participated in competitions. An audition for a local production of Aladdin steered her toward musicals. “From that day, I never thought I’d be doing anything but musical theater.”
By the time she reached her teens, Piro had set to work on her goal. She went to Freehold Regional Fine and Performing Arts High School and performed in school shows. But all the time, she says, “I felt like ‘I have got to be in New York now!’ I was 30 when I was 10.”
So she started going to Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway. “I took Andy Blankenbuehler’s class,” she says. “I learned from being around people who were better than me. Andy would teach class before he went to the theater. Knowing that pushes you.”
Piro started auditioning in the city, eager to get a jump start on her future. She graduated high school early and quickly nabbed a role understudying two leads and dancing in the ensemble in a national tour of Saturday Night Fever in 2003. As she gained experience, Piro continued getting cast in regional productions. Then she headed to Japan, where she had her first experience in a musical as a swing. When she got back to New York, she decided to try out for Catch Me If You Can. “At the initial call I thought, If this is as far as I’m getting, I’ll die happy. Jerry Mitchell is incredible. His commitment to choreography for the story’s sake makes him my hero.”
After four callbacks, Piro was chosen as a swing. “During rehearsal, I felt like a sponge. I couldn’t write things down fast enough. Director Jack O’Brien and Jerry know how to make every onstage moment count. If it means cutting a dance step, they cut it. Learning about that firsthand was mesmerizing.”
She helped Mitchell create numbers during pre-production and was often asked to jump in during rehearsal. However, Piro admits swinging 10 parts has been challenging. “Once we were in the theater in tech, a lot was changing,” she explains. “Since I’m a perfectionist, my fellow swing, Sara Andreas, and I decided to rent studio space and rehearse the new material ourselves.”
Looking ahead, Piro dreams of playing featured roles, but hopes Catch Me has a long run. “Once people know you can swing, it’s valued because you’re the superhero of the day,” she says.
Mitchell thinks Piro will have a big career. “Sometimes I watch Kristin and get a huge grin on my face,” he says. “I’ve seen great change in her in the past two years. She has become sexier. Her presence has become even more confident. It’s been a joy to watch her grow.”
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer in New York.
Photo by Nathan Sayers.