Why I Choreograph: Joshua Bergasse

April 13, 2016

Bergasse is inspired by classic movie musicals. Photo by Lee Cherry, Courtesy Bergasse.

It might seem like I was born to be a
My mom gave me my first pair of tap shoes when I was 3 years old, and I grew up at her dance school. But it wasn’t until I was a teenager that something clicked, and suddenly dancing felt right in my body. I started taking every class I could. I became hooked on the old movie musicals: Fred and Ginger, Gene Kelly,
Guys and Dolls, Kiss Me Kate
. The style, the finesse, the storytelling all spoke to me like a language I’d always known.

I began experimenting with choreography when I started teaching at Mom’s school, first just playing with steps and musicality—simple movement that gave me a feeling of joy or a connection to the music. Recital routines for my students grew into passion projects. Later, once I was teaching in New York City, class combinations became exercises in developing a specific style of movement that was uniquely mine. I loved creating athletic and explosive choreography that was technical, with quick directional changes, and drew upon the classic styles of theater and jazz dance. All the while, my main source of inspiration would always be those great movie musicals. I studied the way the choreography not only told a story but gave a sense of each individual character. I realized that’s what I wanted, what I
to do.

One of my first professional jobs as a dancer, a national touring company of
West Side Story
where I played Baby John, was the turning point. Learning and truly understanding the Robbins choreography for that show was a masterclass in storytelling through dance, and a new world of theatricality opened for me. Stories are an integral part of the human experience. We see, hear and read them all day everyday through television, from our friends, in books and in other media. When the story is told in dance, there’s an added artfulness to it and there’s no language barrier. I feel an enormous sense of gratification in being the one telling the story, in sharing a piece of myself with others.

Working as a choreographer is not only a creative outlet but an emotional one, as well. Creating a new piece can be daunting at first, and I often have to dig deep, not just for the creativity but also the strength and confidence. It forces me to focus inward, to trust myself and my choices, much like a meditative or therapeutic process. After each new project, I become a more complete person, with new skills to deal with the twists, turns and jetés of life.