L.A.'s Golden Girl
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.
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
As more states legalize cannabis, it seems the sales pitch for cannabidiol—or CBD—gets broader and broader. A quick internet search turns up claims that CBD helps with pain, depression, acne, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress, epilepsy and cancer. But the marketplace is unregulated, which makes it tricky to find out what CBD actually does.
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.